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Sustaining ecosystem services in cultural landscapes

Tobias Plieninger, University of Copenhagen; Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin
Dan van der Horst, University of Edinburgh
Christian Schleyer, Helmholtz Centre for Environmental Research – UFZ
Claudia Bieling, University of Freiburg


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Classical conservation approaches focus on the man-made degradation of ecosystems and tend to neglect the social-ecological values that human land uses have imprinted on many environments. Throughout the world, ingenious land-use practices have generated unique cultural landscapes, but these are under pressure from agricultural intensification, land abandonment, and urbanization. In recent years, the cultural landscapes concept has been broadly adopted in science, policy, and management. The interest in both outstanding and vernacular landscapes finds expression in the UNESCO World Heritage Convention, the European Landscape Convention, and the IUCN Protected Landscape Approach. These policies promote the protection, management, planning, and governance of cultural landscapes. The ecosystem services approach is a powerful framework to guide such efforts, but has rarely been applied in landscape research and management. With this paper, we introduce a special feature that aims to enhance the theoretical, empirical and practical knowledge of how to safeguard the resilience of ecosystem services in cultural landscapes. It concludes (1) that the usefulness of the ecosystem services approach to the analysis and management of cultural landscapes should be reviewed more critically; (2) that conventional ecosystem services assessment needs to be complemented by socio-cultural valuation; (3) that cultural landscapes are inherently changing, so that a dynamic view on ecosystem services and a focus on drivers of landscape change are needed; and (4) that managing landscapes for ecosystem services provision may benefit from a social-ecological resilience perspective.

Key words

cultural landscapes; driving forces; ecosystem services; landscape management; socio-cultural valuation

Copyright © 2014 by the author(s). Published here under license by The Resilience Alliance. This article is under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License. You may share and adapt the work 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