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Ecosystem service trade-offs across global contexts and scales

Jeannine Cavender-Bares, University of Minnesota
Patricia Balvanera, Centro de Investigaciones en Ecosistemas, Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México
Elizabeth King, University of Georgia
Stephen Polasky, Department of Applied Economics, University of Minnesota; Department of Ecology, Evolution and Behavior, University of Minnesota; Institute on Environment, University of Minnesota


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Meeting human needs while sustaining the planet’s life support systems is the fundamental challenge of our time. What role sustenance of biodiversity and contrasting ecosystem services should play in achieving a sustainable future varies along philosophical, cultural, institutional, societal, and governmental divisions. Contrasting biophysical constraints and perspectives on human well-being arise both within and across countries that span the tropics and temperate zone. Direct sustenance of livelihoods from ecosystem services in East Africa contrasts with the complex and diverse relationships with the land in Mexico and the highly monetary-based economy of the United States. Lack of understanding of the contrasting contexts in which decision-making about trade-offs occurs creates impediments to collective global efforts to sustain the Earth’s life support systems. While theoretical notions of the goals of sustainability science seek a unified path forward, realities on the ground present challenges. This Special Feature seeks to provide both an analytical framework and a series of case studies to illuminate impediments posed to sustainability by contrasting biophysical constraints and human perspectives on what should be sustained. The contributors aim to clarify the trade-offs posed to human welfare in sustaining biodiversity and ecosystem services and the challenges in managing for a sustainable future in which human well-being is not compromised as compared to today. Our goal is to provide novel insights on how sustainability can be achieved internationally through exploration of constraints, trade-offs, and human values examined at multiple scales, and across geographic regions from a range of cultural perspectives.

Key words

biophysical constraints; cultural contexts; ecosystem services; empirical case studies; human preferences; sustainability framework; trade-offs

Copyright © 2015 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