About the symposium

Ecosystems are under considerable threat due to the environmental impacts of an increasing human population and its even greater demand for energy, water, food and other natural resources. People depend on ecosystems for their basic requirements of life (e.g., food, water, fuel, shelter), as well as from the functions of ecosystems necessary to sustain our modern life style and well-being.

These benefits are termed ecosystem services and are classified as provisioning services (e.g., food, fuel), regulating services (e.g., climate regulation, pollination, flood regulation), cultural services (e.g., educational values, aesthetic values) and supporting services (e.g., photosynthesis, nutrient cycling). The ecosystem services concept was highlighted by the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment, in order to explain the link between biodiversity, ecosystem services and human well-being. More recently, an international study on the economics of ecosystems and biodiversity has drawn attention to the global economic benefits of ecosystem services. The ecosystem services concept provides a useful tool for communicating our dependency on ecosystems and the importance of environmental management that focuses on protecting ecosystem service delivery.

The ecosystem services concept may, amongst others, be used to

  • develop sustainable approaches for European landscapes,
  • assess impacts of land use changes on regional to global scales,
  • determine appropriate levels of protection for ecosystems,
  • evaluate the costs and benefits of intensive forms of production of goods (in agriculture, fisheries, forestry), and
  • design and implement EU policies, taking the trade-offs between different ecosystem services across policy sectors into account.

The ecosystem services concept is gaining increasing prominence in environmental policy making and several environmental organisations have adopted it. For instance, the EU has set a target of "halting the loss of biodiversity and the degradation of ecosystem services in the EU by 2020 and restoring them as far as is feasible". Although the concept is gaining popularity with regulators and policy makers, and much attention has been given to the valuation of ecosystem services, the underlying science required to put policy into practice is still under development. Sustainable management of ecosystem services is more than improving environmental quality; it also requires a consideration of trade-offs between ecosystem services as well as spatial and temporal discontinuities between service provision and utilisation in the long term. Local scale actions may have consequences at the landscape, national or global scale. Hence the scientific understanding used to underpin the evaluation and management of ecosystem services needs to apply at these larger spatial scales considering landscape structure.