life cycle assessments of multiple resources, ecological monitoring, climate modeling, ecosystem management, and holistic, place-based ecosystem analyses.

A goal of the Federal Sustainability R&D Forum was to share information about current R&D in ecosystem services, which was accomplished in part through descriptions of “state of the art” examples by various federal agencies, but also through group discussions during the workshop. A larger goal for the Forum, in addition to learning about each agency’s programs and activities, was to identify synergies, gaps, connections, and future opportunities in ecosystem services R&D.


As broadly defined by Steve Carpenter, Professor, University of Wisconsin-Madison, ecosystem services sustain human life. Carpenter began his presentation by defining types of ecosystem services and outlining areas of weakness in the R&D community related to ecosystem services, also noting that significant research efforts already exist. During this session, Carpenter explained that there are often gaps in policies aimed at managing a single natural resource because those policies do not always account for impacts on various other resources with that ecosystem. Based on his research and experience conducting the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment (Figure 1) (, Accessed on 4/2/2008), Carpenter elaborated on gaps and opportunities in ecosystem services R&D. He outlined four major gaps: theory, multi-scale connections and interactions, monitoring and indicators, and design of institutions or policies. Although much of the science that is needed to manage ecosystem services exists, more work needs to be done to close the gaps in R&D.


Carpenter expressed the need for developing indicators that look at where a system is heading to support the theoretical framework surrounding ecosystem services. As the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment noted, ecosystem services relate to well-being in different ways, their linkages have different degrees of intensity, and they respond differently to socioeconomic factors. Researchers, for example, should examine the connections between ecosystem services and human well-being to ensure that management is based on human and ecological components. Gaps exist in the understanding of ecological heterogeneity and diversity. Carpenter pointed out that vulnerability/risk assessments need to be thorough and account for potentially drastic changes in ecosystems. Institutions must adapt to the changing needs of both the human and ecological systems.

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