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The social value of biodiversity and ecosystem services from the perspectives of different social actors

Daniel M. Cáceres, Consejo Nacional de Investigaciones Científicas y Técnicas (CONICET); Facultad de Ciencias Agropecuarias, Universidad Nacional de Córdoba (UNC).
Esteban Tapella, Instituto de Investigaciones Socioeconómicas, Universidad Nacional de San Juan (UNSJ)
Fabien Quétier, Instituto Multidisciplinario de Biología Vegetal (IMBIV- CONICET)
Sandra Díaz, Instituto Multidisciplinario de Biología Vegetal (IMBIV- CONICET); Departamento de Diversidad Biológica y Ecología, FCEFyN, Universidad Nacional de Córdoba (UNC)


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A vast literature is now available on ecosystem services (ES), their potential as a tool for analyzing intertwined processes of ecological and social change, and their monetary valuation. Much less is known about the social value of different ES for different social actors (SA), and their links with specific components of biodiversity. We unpack the social aspects of an interdisciplinary and multi-SA methodology that allows us to assess how different SA perceive and value different ES, and how they associate them with different components of biodiversity, ecological attributes, and ecosystem types. We apply the methodology to a study area in the Gran Chaco region of South America, presenting original social-ecological information from the field. Being affected by the rapid and widespread expansion of agribusiness over the woody ecosystems of southern South America, this location provides a policy-relevant context in which to test our approach. We identified six major ecosystem types and five relevant SA. We carried out 163 individual in-depth interviews and ran seven single-actor focus groups. We identified 116 ES, which were then aggregated into 22 more general categories. Although all SA perceived all ecosystem types as multifunctional, they showed markedly different perceptions of and interests in the ES provided by them. Subsistence farmers and extension officers valued a large number of ES primarily provided by the most pristine ecosystems. Members of conservation agencies and policymakers also identified a wide range of ES, spanning all ecosystem types. However, large farmers and cattle ranchers recognized a dependency on only a small number of ES. Therefore, the rapid expansion of agribusiness occurring in this region is a threat to a large number of ES considered valuable by a wide range of SA. Without necessarily having to resort to monetary valuation, our methodology provides a rigorous quantitative-qualitative way to compare the perspective of different SA, including scientists, and is thus useful for social-ecological assessment and action.

Key words

Argentina; Chaco region; ecosystem services; interdisciplinary research; land use change; multifunctional landscapes; nature’s benefits to people; social value of biodiversity

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