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Ecosystem Services and Human Well-Being: a Participatory Study in a Mountain Community in Portugal

Elvira Pereira, Universidade Técnica de Lisboa
Cibele Queiroz, Universidade de Lisboa
Henrique Miguel Pereira, Universidade de Lisboa
Luis Vicente, Universidade de Lisboa


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Ecosystem services are essential for human well-being, but the links between ecosystem services and human well-being are complex, diverse, context-dependent, and complicated by the need to consider different spatial and temporal scales to assess them properly. We present the results of a study in the rural community of Sistelo in northern Portugal that formed part of the Portugal Millennium Ecosystem Assessment. The main purpose of our study was to assess the linkages between human well-being and ecosystem services at the local level, as perceived by the community. We used a range of tools that included participatory rural appraisal and rapid rural appraisal as well as other field methods such as direct observation, familiarization and participation in activities, semistructured interviews, trend lines, well-being ranking, and other ranking and scoring exercises. Sistelo has a unique landscape of agricultural terraces that are now being abandoned because of the depopulation of the region, a common trend in mountainous rural areas of Europe. From the community perspective, some components of well-being such as material well-being have been improving, whereas some ecosystem services, e.g., food production, have been declining. Although a few of the local criteria for well-being are closely related to local ecosystem services, most of them are not. People recognize many of the services provided by ecosystems, in particular, provisioning, cultural, and regulating services, although they feel that provisioning services are the most important for well-being. It is apparent that, for the Sistelo community, there is an increasing disconnect between local well-being and at least some local ecosystem services. This disconnect is associated with greater freedom of choice at the local level, which gives the local inhabitants the power to find substitutes for ecosystem services. The consequences of land abandonment for human well-being and ecosystem services at different temporal and spatial scales are discussed.

Key words

ecosystem services; human well-being; participatory rural appraisal; rapid rural appraisal; participatory study; biodiversity; rural community; land abandonment; mountain landscape; Millennium Ecosystem Assessment

Copyright © 2005 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