Assumptions in ecosystem service assessments: Increasing transparency for conservation

Research output: Journal contributionsJournal articlesResearchpeer-review


  • Matthias Schröter
  • Emilie Crouzat
  • Lisanne Hölting
  • Julian Massenberg
  • Julian Rode
  • Mario Hanisch
  • Nadja Kabisch
  • Julia Palliwoda
  • Jörg A. Priess
  • Ralf Seppelt
  • Michael Beckmann

Conservation efforts are increasingly supported by ecosystem service assessments. These assessments depend on complex multi-disciplinary methods, and rely on a number of assumptions which reduce complexity. If assumptions are ambiguous or inadequate, misconceptions and misinterpretations may arise when interpreting results of assessments. An interdisciplinary understanding of assumptions in ecosystem service science is needed to provide consistent conservation recommendations. Here, we synthesise and elaborate on 12 prevalent types of assumptions in ecosystem service assessments. These comprise conceptual and ethical foundations of the ecosystem service concept, assumptions on data collection, indication, mapping, and modelling, on socio-economic valuation and value aggregation, as well as about using assessment results for decision-making. We recommend future assessments to increase transparency about assumptions, and to test and validate them and their potential consequences on assessment reliability. This will support the taking up of assessment results in conservation science, policy and practice.

Original languageEnglish
Issue number2
Pages (from-to)289-300
Number of pages12
Publication statusPublished - 02.2021
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Open access funding provided by Projekt DEAL. We acknowledge funding from the Helmholtz Association (Research School ESCALATE, VH-KO-613, MB, JM, LH); JP has been supported by BIODIVERSA / UrbanGaia (contract No. 01LC1616A); NK’s work was supported by the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF; research project GreenEquityHEALTH, no. 01LN1705A). We would like to thank three anonymous reviewers for their constructive and helpful remarks. We thank Bartosz Bartkowski, Roy P. Remme and Christoph Schröter-Schlaack whose comments on earlier versions have helped to further shape the manuscript. We would like to thank Anna F. Cord and Kurt Jax for their fruitful participation in the workshops.

    Research areas

  • Assessment, Decision-making, Ecosystem services, Environmental ethics, Mapping, Valuation
  • Ecosystems Research