Broadening the scope of ecosystem services research: Disaggregation as a powerful concept for sustainable natural resource management

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Most assessments of ecosystem services to date are aggregate assessments. Despite their usefulness as a first approximation of how nature is valuable to people, they can obscure important inter- and intragenerational equity issues, which are vital in a policy context, particularly with regard to sustainability. In this conceptual paper, we aim to strengthen the position of disaggregation in ecosystem services research and policy making. Based on existing literature, we highlight four equity issues that remain hidden in aggregate ecosystem service assessments. We then suggest and discuss four disaggregation dimensions (beneficiary groups, value types, space, and time) that can address these issues and are directly useful for assessing the equity implications of ecosystem service appropriation. Building on our conceptual and methodological considerations, we present a generally applicable, structured approach to assessing ecosystem services in a disaggregated way. Finally, we look more closely at the role of disaggregated analyses in policy making, where they provide crucial information necessary to understand the implications of changing natural resource management and ecosystem services appropriation, and argue that our multi-dimensional approach to disaggregation may result in alternative understandings of ecosystem services as complex social-ecological phenomena.

Original languageEnglish
Article number101399
JournalEcosystem Services
Number of pages11
Publication statusPublished - 01.02.2022

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2021 Elsevier B.V.

    Research areas

  • Complexity, Disaggregated analysis, Ecosystem service flows, Ecosystem services appropriation, Intra- and intergenerational equity, Natural resource management
  • Ecosystems Research
  • Environmental planning