Oct 10 2012

NATURAL CAPITAL by Peter Kareiva, Heather Tallis, Taylor H. Ricketts, Gretchen C. Daily and Stephen Polasky

Reviewed by Marina Alberti, University of Washington

Natural Capital uses a series of assessment models to translate the science of ecosystem services into practice.

Natural Capital: Theory and Practice of Mapping Ecosystem Services, edited by Peter Kareiva, Heather Tallis, Taylor H. Ricketts, Gretchen C. Daily, and Stephen Polasky Oxford University Press, 392pp.

The concept of ecosystem services has provided a useful framework to explicitly link nature conservation to human wellbeing. Although the inextricable links between natural processes and human society trace all the way back to Greek philosophers such as Plato, the explicit recognition of nature’s benefit to humanity is relatively recent. Daily’s Nature’s Services (1997) is perhaps the first attempt to systematically assess ecosystem values and advance the notion that valuing ecosystem services may provide an effective approach for conservation. During the last decades, we have learned a great deal about the role of ecosystem functioning to provide critical services such as clean water, carbon sequestration, and crop pollination. The Millennium Ecosystem Assessment (2005) has provided a powerful framework to assess global ecosystem services and a first synthesis of potential threats. However, we know much less about how to integrate the emerging science into everyday decisions.

Natural Capital takes on this challenge with an essential first step. A diverse team of scientists has put together a compelling synthesis of explicit links between ecosystem services and human benefits and has developed a series of assessment models to translate the science of ecosystem services into practice.

As the authors indicate, it is only a beginning. Next steps will imply refining methods and accounting for complex feedback loops, dynamic effects and uncertainty. Yet to fulfil the objective of translating the knowledge to practice, the authors recognize the need for the natural and social science to address some difficult questions about quantification, predictability and cultural values. I would highlight that among them, the greatest challenge is understanding the complexity of decision processes, the diversity of decision makers and dynamic of institutional change. Primarily grounded in ecology and economics, the science of ecosystem services will need to expand the disciplinary boundaries. Natural Capital poses important challenges and creates new opportunities for building bridges with a diversity of social sciences and humanities.



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