Cultural Ecosystem Services: A Literature Review and Prospects for Future Research

I would like to report on the latest published paper of our working group on cultural ecosystem services (CES) in the journal Ecology and Society. The paper not only aimed to bring together the big picture for a wide range of the literature dealing with this growing field of research but also to put some order within the variety of disciplines and research perspectives. We explained this heterogeneity in approaches to CES by three interacting circumstances: 1) A diversity of approaches and apparent lack of cohesiveness rightfully corresponds to the eclectic nature of CES; 2) CES are somewhat peripheral in most papers, hence are being assessed with methods initially designed to address broader research questions; 3) CES is a vibrant research arena where incipient directions are starting to crystallize and move away from the initial labels of a “generic” (Vihervaara 2010) or even “residual” ecosystem services category (Chan et al. 2012, Daniel et al. 2012).


photo credits: Andra Milcu

Using a cluster analysis, we identified five groups of publications: Group 1, conceptual focus, contained predominantly theoretical publications; Group 2, descriptive reviews, consisted mostly of desktop studies; Group 3, localized outcomes, dealt with case studies coming from different disciplines typically seeking to advance qualitative arguments for the conservation of a particular ecosystem or area; Group 4, social and participatory, dealt mainly with assessing preferences and perceptions emphasizing the social aspects of case studies; and Group 5, economic assessments, was centered around present or future economic values of ecosystem services.

We also found a paradox around CES being “under-studied and under-regarded” and at the same time more strongly considered by the literature than regulating and supporting services. We acknowledged the co-existence of these two apparently opposite trends and explained it by the tendency of CES research to focus on specific subcategories of CES (i.e. recreation, tourism, and sometimes cultural heritage) not on the whole range of CES. As with the secondary focus on CES in terms of research agendas, CES usually serve as a complementary—rather than a leading—incentive for orientating decisions.


photo credits: Andra Milcu

Our threefold conclusion was that: 1) Greater synthesis of these different research approaches may help reduce the production of disconnected understandings of CES and the divergent perspectives illustrated by the five clusters (or by parallel research communities for that matter) should not be in competition but, rather, complementary; 2) CES are an accessible and effective vehicle for the multistakeholder, holistic management of ecosystems since authors have suggested that including immaterial benefits in the management of natural resources can improve the social acceptance and legitimacy of management decisions; 3) CES can serve as stepping stones in today’s sea of ideas by being mobilized as binding elements between social and ecological conceptual constructs (e.g. social-ecological systems theory and the ecosystem services framework).

To read our paper on cultural ecosystem services go here. To read other interesting papers which have been recently published on the topic go here or here.

Chan, K. M. A., T. Satterfield, and J. Goldstein. 2012. Rethinking ecosystem services to better address and navigate cultural values. Ecological Economics 74:8-18.

Daniel, T. C., A. Muhar, A. Arnberger, O. Aznar, J. W. Boyd, K. M. A. Chan, R. Costanza, T. Elmqvist, C. G. Flint, P. H. Gobster, A. Grêt-Regamey, R. Lave, S. Muhar, M. Penker, R. G. Ribe, T. Schauppenlehner, T. Sikor, I. Soloviy, M. Spierenburg, K. Taczanowska, J. Tam, and A. von der Dunk. 2012. Contributions of cultural services to the ecosystem services agenda. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America 109(23):8812-8819.

Vihervaara, P., M. Rönkä, and M. Walls. 2010b. Trends in ecosystem service research: early steps and current drivers. AMBIO 39:314–324.

One thought on “Cultural Ecosystem Services: A Literature Review and Prospects for Future Research

  1. Pingback: ¿Cuánto vale un humedal? | articulaciones

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s