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Elasticity in ecosystem services: exploring the variable relationship between ecosystems and human well-being

Tim M. Daw, Stockholm Resilience Centre, Stockholm University, Stockholm, Sweden
Christina C. Hicks, Lancaster Environment Centre, Lancaster University, UK; Center for Ocean Solutions, Stanford University, Monterey, California, USA; ARC Center of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies, James Cook University, Townsville, Queensland, Australia
Katrina Brown, Environment and Sustainability Institute, University of Exeter, Penryn, Cornwall, UK
Tomas Chaigneau, Environment and Sustainability Institute, University of Exeter, Penryn, Cornwall, UK
Fraser A. Januchowski-Hartley, Geography, College of Life and Environmental Sciences, University of Exeter, Exeter, UK
William W. L. Cheung, Nippon Foundation-Nereus Program, Institute for the Oceans and Fisheries, The University of British Columbia, Vancouver, B.C., Canada
Sérgio Rosendo, School of International Development, University of East Anglia, Norwich, UK; Centro Interdisciplinar de Ciências Sociais - Faculdade de Ciências Sociais e Humanas - Universidade Nova de Lisboa (CICS.NOVA.FCSH/UNL), Lisbon, Portugal
Beatrice Crona, Global Economic Dynamics and the Biosphere, Royal Swedish Academy of Science, Stockholm, Sweden; Stockholm Resilience Centre, Stockholm University, Stockholm, Sweden
Sarah Coulthard, Northumbria University, Newcastle upon Tyne, UK
Chris Sandbrook, United Nations Environment Programme World Conservation Monitoring Centre, Cambridge, UK; Department of Geography, University of Cambridge, Cambridge, UK
Chris Perry, Geography, College of Life and Environmental Sciences, University of Exeter, Exeter, UK
Salomăo Bandeira, Department of Biological Sciences, Universidade Eduardo Mondlane, Maputo, Mozambique
Nyawira A. Muthiga, Wildlife Conservation Society, Marine Program, Bronx, New York, USA; Wildlife Conservation Society, Marine Program Kenya, Mombasa, Kenya
Björn Schulte-Herbrüggen, Stockholm Resilience Centre, Stockholm University, Stockholm, Sweden
Jared Bosire, WWF Kenya, Nairobi, Kenya
Tim R. McClanahan, Wildlife Conservation Society, Marine Program, Bronx, New York, USA

DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.5751/ES-08173-210211

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Abstract

Although ecosystem services are increasingly recognized as benefits people obtain from nature, we still have a poor understanding of how they actually enhance multidimensional human well-being, and how well-being is affected by ecosystem change. We develop a concept of “ecosystem service elasticity” (ES elasticity) that describes the sensitivity of human well-being to changes in ecosystems. ES Elasticity is a result of complex social and ecological dynamics and is context dependent, individually variable, and likely to demonstrate nonlinear dynamics such as thresholds and hysteresis. We present a conceptual framework that unpacks the chain of causality from ecosystem stocks through flows, goods, value, and shares to contribute to the well-being of different people. This framework builds on previous conceptualizations, but places multidimensional well-being of different people as the final element. This ultimately disaggregated approach emphasizes how different people access benefits and how benefits match their needs or aspirations.



Applying this framework to case studies of individual coastal ecosystem services in East Africa illustrates a wide range of social and ecological factors that can affect ES elasticity. For example, food web and habitat dynamics affect the sensitivity of different fisheries ecosystem services to ecological change. Meanwhile high cultural significance, or lack of alternatives enhance ES elasticity, while social mechanisms that prevent access can reduce elasticity.



Mapping out how chains are interlinked illustrates how different types of value and the well-being of different people are linked to each other and to common ecological stocks. We suggest that examining chains for individual ecosystem services can suggest potential interventions aimed at poverty alleviation and sustainable ecosystems while mapping out of interlinkages between chains can help to identify possible ecosystem service trade-offs and winners and losers. We discuss conceptual and practical challenges of applying such a framework and conclude on its utility as a heuristic for structuring interdisciplinary analysis of ecosystem services and human well-being.

Key words

coastal ecosystems; conceptual framework; East Africa; environmentalists’; fisheries; mangroves; paradox;

Copyright © 2016 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.

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Ecology and Society. ISSN: 1708-3087