tem service. Typically in these cases, the service is well defined, there is reasonably good ecological understanding of how the service is produced, and there is reasonably good economic understanding of how to value the service. Even when valuing a single ecosystem service however, there can be significant uncertainty about either the production of the ecosystem service, the value of the ecosystem service, or both. Next reviewed are attempts to value multiple ecosystem services. Because ecosystems produce a range of services that are frequently closely connected, it is often difficult to discuss the valuation of a single service in isolation. However, valuing multiple ecosystem services typically multiplies the difficulty of valuing a single ecosystem service. Last to be reviewed are analyses that attempt to encompass all services produced by an ecosystem. Such cases can arise with natural resource damage assessment, where a dollar value estimate of total damages is required, or with ecosystem restoration efforts. Such efforts will typically face large gaps in understanding and information in both ecology and economics.

Proceeding from single services to entire ecosystems illustrates the range of circumstances and methods for valuing ecosystem goods and services. In some cases, it may be possible to generate relatively precise estimates of value. In other cases, all that may be possible is a rough categorization (e.g., “a lot” versus “a little”). Whether there is sufficient information for the valuation of ecosystem services to be of use in environmental decision-making depends on the circumstances and the policy question or decision at hand (see Chapters 2 and 6 for further information). In a few instances, a rough estimate may be sufficient to decide that one option is preferable to another. Tougher decisions will typically require more refined understanding of the issues at stake. This progression from situations with relatively complete to relatively incomplete information also demonstrates what gaps in knowledge may exist and the consequences of those gaps. Part of the value of going through an ecosystem services evaluation is to identify the gaps in existing information to show what types of research are needed.


Despite recent efforts of ecologists and economists to resolve many types of challenges to successfully estimating the value of ecosystem services, the number of well-studied and quantified cases studies remains relatively low. The following section reviews cases studies that have attempted to value ecosystem services in the context of aquatic ecosystems. These examples illustrate different levels of information and insights that have been gained thus far from the combined approaches of ecology and economics.

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