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Subjective evaluations of ecosystem services and disservices: an approach to creating and analyzing robust survey scales

Kelli L. Larson, School of Geographical Sciences and Urban Planning, Arizona State University; School of Sustainability, Arizona State University
Elizabeth A. Corley, School of Public Affairs, Arizona State University
Riley Andrade, School of Geographical Sciences and Urban Planning, Arizona State University
Sharon J. Hall, School of Life Sciences, Arizona State University
Abigail M York, School of Human Evolution and Social Change, Arizona State University
Sara Meerow, School of Geographical Sciences and Urban Planning, Arizona State University
Paul Coseo, The Design School, Arizona State University
Daniel L. Childers, School of Sustainability, Arizona State University
David M. Hondula, School of Geographical Sciences and Urban Planning, Arizona State University


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Research on ecosystem services (ES) has largely focused on the ecological functions that produce services or the economic valuation of the benefits provided by ecosystems. Far less research has examined public perceptions of ES, and more so ecosystem disservices (EDS), despite evidence that ecosystem properties and functions can produce beneficial or detrimental outcomes for human well-being. To address this gap, we present a robust approach to measuring beliefs about ecosystem services and disservices. With various means to confirm the validity and reliability of ES and EDS measures, we demonstrate this approach with survey data that captures residents’ perceptions about whether their local neighborhood environment (as the ecosystem of focus) provides certain positive or negative impacts in metropolitan Phoenix, Arizona. The results highlight patterns in people’s views of: desirable and undesirable biota; benefits and risks pertaining to heat and stormwater; recreational and aesthetic values; and societal nuisances and problems. Composite survey scales for overall perceptions of services and disservices are presented, in addition to more distinctive dimensions of ES and EDS. To better understand and manage ecosystems for diverse benefits, the specific survey measures and the general methodological approach can be adapted to various ecosystems and contexts.

Key words

ecosystem services and disservices; environmental attitudes; risk perceptions; survey scales

Copyright © 2019 by the author(s). Published here under license by The Resilience Alliance. This article is under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License. You may share and adapt the work for noncommercial purposes provided the original author and source are credited, you indicate whether any changes were made, and you include a link to the license.

Ecology and Society. ISSN: 1708-3087