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Reading Ecosystem Services at the Local Scale through a Territorial Approach: the Case of Peri-Urban Agriculture in the Thau Lagoon, Southern France

Laure-Elise Ruoso, Institute for Sustainable Futures, University of Technology, Sydney, Australia; UMR TETIS, AgroParisTech, CIRAD, IRSTEA, Montpellier, France
Roel Plant, Institute for Sustainable Futures, University of Technology, Sydney, Australia
Pierre Maurel, UMR TETIS, AgroParisTech, CIRAD, IRSTEA, Montpellier, France
Claire Dupaquier, UMR TETIS, AgroParisTech, CIRAD, IRSTEA, Montpellier, France
Philip K. Roche, UR EMAX, TR SEDYVIN, IRSTEA Aix en Provence, France
Muriel Bonin, UMR TETIS, CIRAD Montpellier, France


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In recent years, the ecosystem services (ES) concept has become a major paradigm for natural resource management. While policy-makers demand “hard” monetary evidence that nature conservation would be worth investing in, ongoing attempts are being made to formalize the concept as a scientifically robust “one size fits all” analytical framework. These attempts have highlighted several major limitations of the ES concept. First, to date, the concept has paid little attention to the role of humans in the production of ES. Second, the ongoing formalization of the ES concept is turning it into a “technology of globalization,” thereby increasingly ignoring the socio-cultural context and history within which ecosystems emerge. Third, economic valuation has been shown to limit local stakeholders in expressing their daily and immediate ways of interacting with their environment over and beyond extrinsic motivation provided by financial gains. We address these three limitations by analyzing a social evaluation of the roles of peri-urban farmland from a territorial perspective. Our case study is the Thau lagoon in southern France. We conducted in-depth interviews with a broad range of stakeholders and ran two participatory workshops. Using a territorial meta-model that distinguishes three levels—physical, logical, and existential—stakeholder data were analyzed to unravel the interplay of territorial elements at these three levels that gives rise to ES in two broad categories: food production and aesthetic landscape. The coupling of ES and territory concepts opens up several novel analytical perspectives. It allows partitioning of ES in a manner that “re-contextualizes” them and gives insight about both their physical constituents and their meaning at the territorial level. Additional research should incorporate the dynamics of service demand and supply, and further investigate options for implementation.

Key words

ecosystem services; local land use planning; participatory methods; stakeholder perception; territorial approach; Thau lagoon

Copyright © 2015 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