Ecosystem services: study of human influences on nature and the effects for society

Date: 12 September 2016

Venue: UAntwerpen, Campus Middelheim, A.143 - Middelheimlaan 1 - 2020 Antwerpen (route: UAntwerpen, Campus Middelheim)

Time: 4:00 PM

Organization / co-organization: Faculty of Science - IMDO

PhD candidate: Annelies Boerema

Principal investigator: Patrick Meire & Steven Van Passel

Short description: PhD defence Annelies Boerema - Faculty of Science - IMDO


Ecosystems are degrading rapidly due to human activities and expensive investments are needed to prevent further degradation and meet regulation targets but the effectiveness is increasingly contested. The concept of ecosystem services (ES) is widely accepted to link ecology and society which can help to quantify and value the impact of environmental policy and evaluate the effectiveness of investments. However, many challenges still exist to fully integrate the ES-concept in the decision making process. The overall objective of this thesis is to improve the evaluate of the impact of human activities and environmental policy actions on nature and the consequences for the society.

Part 1 shows the large variety of methods that are being used to assess ES and reveals knowledge gaps in the ES field in general and the quantification of services in particular. Part 2 demonstrates the possibilities and challenges to incorporate an ES assessment in a cost-benefit analysis to evaluate the ecological and socio-economic consequences of a diverse set of human activities (e.g. global soybean trade, mowing to manage rivers, tidal marsh restoration project). The analysis of three very different cases enabled the evaluation and improvement of this method with a special focus on global flows, the distribution of costs and benefits among different stakeholders, and the impact of ecological succession on the ecosystem functioning and ES delivery. Part 3 illustrates how an ES assessment can be combined with a cost-effectiveness approach to select an optimal set of management measures which are ecological effective and cost-efficient to manage an ecosystem. This method contributes to the development of a holistic approach that enables integrated management for multiple targets and stakeholder interests.

The applicability of the outcome of an ES assessment is discussed from the perspective of policy makers, project managers and research. Overall, it shows that the application enables the evaluation of human activities and environmental policy decisions in a balanced and integrated way with respect to ecological, social and economic interest.