Searching for the place of biodiversity in the ecosystem services discourse

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Jax, Kurt and Heink, Ulrich
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With the growing popularity of the ecosystem services concept, the question of how biodiversity and ecosystem services are related to one another has increasingly been raised. Among other things, this entails asking whether or not biodiversity itself is an ecosystem service. Such questions are important for conservation planning, as they require clarification of whether ecosystem services protection replaces or complements biodiversity conservation. The answers given up to now have been equivocal. In our paper we demonstrate that, in order to analyse the role of biodiversity in the ecosystem services discourse, it is not enough to address only the way they are related to one another in biophysical terms. Instead, their interconnectedness needs to be discussed from additional, albeit rarely addressed, perspectives: a definitional one, a value-based perspective, and a strategic perspective. In seeking to bring into sharper relief the conceptual relations between biodiversity and ecosystem services we distinguish between a didactic motive, an item conservation motive, and a resource protection motive. Within the didactic motive, the aim of linking biodiversity to ecosystem services is generally to show that “life on earth” in its abundant variety is of existential value to human beings. The item conservation motive relates to particular ecological components (e.g. species) which are to be protected in their identity. Finally, the resource protection motive focuses on the role of ecological components as resources for humans. These motives imply fundamentally different ideas about biodiversity, values and place dependence. Adding these perspectives and clarifying motives to the analytic process can help avoid misunderstandings and enable research to be focused on more specific and answerable questions. It can also serve to avoid the potential drawbacks entailed by conservation strategies that are based on overly simplified assumptions regarding the relation between biodiversity and ecosystem services.


Jax, K., and U. Heink. 2015. Searching for the place of biodiversity in the ecosystem services discourse. Biological Conservation 191:198–205.