tems—despite an increase in federal, state, and local regulations intended to protect, conserve, and restore these natural resources. Increased human demand for water has simultaneously reduced the amount available to support these ecosystems. Notwithstanding the large losses and changes in these systems, aquatic ecosystems remain broadly and heterogeneously distributed across the nation. For example, there are almost 4 million miles of rivers and streams, 59,000 miles of ocean shoreline waters, and 5,500 miles of Great Lakes shoreline in the United States; there are 87,000 square miles of estuaries, while lakes, reservoirs, and ponds account for more than 40 million acres.

Despite growing recognition of the importance of ecosystem functions and services, they are often taken for granted and overlooked in environmental decision-making. Thus, choices between the conservation and restoration of some ecosystems and the continuation and expansion of human activities in others have to be made with an enhanced recognition of this potential for conflict and of the value of ecosystem services. In making these choices, the economic values of the ecosystem goods and services must be known so that they can be compared with the economic values of activities that may compromise them and so that improvements to one ecosystem can be compared to those in another.

This report was prepared by the National Research Council (NRC) Committee on Assessing and Valuing the Services of Aquatic and Related Terrestrial Ecosystems, overseen by the NRC’s Water Science and Technology Board, and supported by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (see Box ES-1). The committee consisted of 11 volunteer experts drawn from the fields of ecology, economics, and philosophy who have professional expertise relating to aquatic ecosystems and to the valuation of ecosystem services. This report’s contents, conclusions, and recommendations are based on a review of relevant technical literature, information gathered at five committee meetings, and the collective expertise of committee members. Because of space limitations, this Executive Summary includes only the major conclusions and related recommendations of the committee in the general order of their appearance in the report. More detailed conclusions and recommendations can be found throughout the report.

Valuing ecosystem services requires the successful integration of ecology and economics and presents several challenges that are discussed throughout this report. The fundamental challenge of valuing ecosystem services lies in providing an explicit description and adequate assessment of the links between the structures and functions of natural systems, the benefits (i.e., goods and services) derived by humanity, and their subsequent values (see Figure ES-1).

Ecosystems are complex however, making the translation from ecosystem structure and function to ecosystem goods and services (i.e., the ecological production function) is even more difficult. Similarly, in many cases the lack of markets and market prices and of other direct behavioral links to underlying values makes the translation from quantities of goods and services to value (and the direct translation from ecosystem structure to value) quite difficult, though



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