Looking to the Future of Ecosystem Services
Ecosystem services—the benefits that people obtain from ecosystems—are essential to human existence, but demands for services often surpass the capacity of ecosystems to provide them. Lack of ecological information often precludes informed decision making about ecosystem services. The Millennium Ecosystem Assessment (MA) was conceived in part to provide the necessary ecological information to decision makers. To this end, the MA set out to address the stated needs and concerns of decision makers and examine the ecological dynamics and uncertainties underlying these concerns. To improve our understanding of their information needs and concerns, we interviewed 59 decision makers from five continents. The respondents indicated that although most people generally agree about the ideal state of the planet—free of poverty and extreme inequality, replete with cultural and biological diversity—they often disagree about the best way to achieve these goals. Further, although nonspecialists are generally concerned about the environment and may have a good understanding of some of issues, they often have a more limited grasp of the ecological dynamics that drive the issues of concern. We identify some of the principal uncertainties about ecosystem dynamics and feedbacks that underlie the concerns of decision makers. Each of the papers in this special feature addresses these ecological feedbacks from the perspective of a specific discipline, suggesting ways in which knowledge of ecological dynamics can be incorporated into the MA’s assessment and scenario-building process.