ies is to discount future values. However, there is concern about discounting, especially for decisions having long-term consequences that will have repercussions for decades, centuries, or even longer (see Chapters 2 and 6 for further information). Assessing future consequences necessarily introduces uncertainty into the valuation of ecosystem services. Numerous events that affect ecosystems (e.g., disease outbreaks, fire patterns, weather) and human systems (e.g., innovation, changes in preferences, political change) cannot be predicted in advance. Knowing that ecosystem conditions may change or that values may shift places a premium on the ability to learn and adapt through time and to avoid outcomes with irreversible consequences (or consequences that can be reversed only at great expense). Adaptive management (see Chapter 6) and avoiding difficult-to-reverse decisions prior to reducing uncertainty arose in the context of managing salmon in the Columbia River basin.

The estimate of value of ecosystem services typically depends on a number of current conditions both in the ecosystem itself and in other interconnected systems, many of which are not explicitly stated. A change in fundamental underlying conditions, such as with climate change or an invasive species, may result in large changes in the estimated value of ecosystem services.

Finally, although there is great danger that studies will be partial and incomplete, as discussed in this section, there is also the possibility that the economic value of some ecosystem services will be counted more than once. When value is attributed to coastal wetlands as an input to fishery production, it cannot also be attributed to increased fishery production as an output. Unless studies are carefully designed and executed, such “double-counting” issues may arise.


This chapter has reviewed a series of case studies that value ecosystem services from aquatic and related terrestrial ecosystems, with a focus on their integration of ecology and economics. The case studies varied from those valuing a single ecosystem service, to multiple ecosystem services, to ambitious attempts to value all services from an ecosystem and even the entire planet. Many of the topics and issues addressed in this chapter directly respond to the committee’s statement of task (see Box ES-1). An extensive summary of implications and lessons learned from these reviews is provided in the previous section, and no attempt is made to resummarize that section here.

Based on the case studies reviewed in this chapter and the various implications and lessons learned, the committee makes the following specific conclusions regarding efforts to improve the valuation of ecosystem services:

  • Studies that focus on valuing a single ecosystem service show promise of delivering results that can inform important policy decisions. In no instance, however, should the value of a single ecosystem service be confused with the value of the entire ecosystem, which has far more than a single dimension.

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