An operational model for mainstreaming ecosystem services for implementation

Richard M. Cowling, Benis Egoh, Andrew T. Knight, Patrick J. O'Farrell, Belinda Reyers, Mathieu Rouget, Dirk J. Roux, Adam Welz, Angelika Wilhelm-Rechman

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

514 Citations (Scopus)


Research on ecosystem services has grown markedly in recent years. However, few studies are embedded in a social process designed to ensure effective management of ecosystem services. Most research has focused only on biophysical and valuation assessments of putative services. As a mission-oriented discipline, ecosystem service research should be user-inspired and user-useful, which will require that researchers respond to stakeholder needs from the outset and collaborate with them in strategy development and implementation. Here we provide a pragmatic operational model for achieving the safeguarding of ecosystem services. The model comprises three phases: assessment, planning, and management. Outcomes of social, biophysical, and valuation assessments are used to identify opportunities and constraints for implementation. The latter then are transformed into user-friendly products to identify, with stakeholders, strategic objectives for implementation (the planning phase). The management phase undertakes and coordinates actions that achieve the protection of ecosystem services and ensure the flow of these services to beneficiaries. This outcome is achieved via mainstreaming, or incorporating the safeguarding of ecosystem services into the policies and practices of sectors that deal with land- and water-use planning. Management needs to be adaptive and should be institutionalized in a suite of learning organizations that are representative of the sectors that are concerned with decision-making and planning. By following the phases of our operational model, projects for safeguarding ecosystem services are likely to empower stakeholders to implement effective on-the-ground management that will achieve resilience of the corresponding social-ecological systems.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)9483-9488
Number of pages6
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Issue number28
Publication statusPublished - 15 Jul 2008
Externally publishedYes


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