Biodiversity or ecosystem services: do we have to choose one?

ecosystem services mangrove coastEcosystem services are the benefits that functioning ecosystems deliver to people. Restoration projects often aim to revive ecosystem services.

Although delivered free of charge by living organisms and natural processes, their value is estimated at trillions of dollars. Ergo investments in ecosystem functions have a great cost benefit ratio (Nellemann et al. 2010).

But restoration of complex ecological functions may not be that simple and predictable. What are the correlations to other restoration issues? For instance, it is often assumed that restoration of native biodiversity would imply in parallel an increase in ecosystem services. However, some studies reveal that biodiversity levels and provision of ecosystem services are not always spatially correlated i.e. areas with high biodiversity are not necessarily strong suppliers of ecosystem services (Naidoo et al. 2008; Schneiders et al. 2012). But rather than a generalization, the relationships between biodiversity and ecosystem services within a restoration context (e.g. synergies, trade-offs and reciprocal benefits and detriments) are determined on a case-by-case basis.

Mangrove restoration

Mangrove Restoration © Boris Barov

These relationships will vary depending on the type of ecosystem service and the hierarchy level of biodiversity of concern. On that matter, the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment (2005) has categorized ecosystem services as: provisioning services, regulating services, cultural services and supporting services. Likewise, the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity have categorized biodiversity hierarchy levels as: biodiversity within species (genetic diversity), biodiversity between species and biodiversity of ecosystems.

Some examples. Increasing species biodiversity would probably enhance recreation activities like ecotourism (a cultural service), but may be trivial for carbon sequestration purposes  (a regulating service). An increase in genetic diversity has enhanced nutrient retention (a supporting service) in a seagrass restoration project (Reynolds et al. 2012), but could be of a lesser value for climate regulation (a regulating service). A higher species biodiversity would be advantageous in agriculture landscapes where plant pollination (a regulating service) is used, but could be detrimental for timber production (a provisioning service) where plantations of single species are preferred.

To improve restoration outcomes is therefore important to develop specific restoration goals for biodiversity and ecosystem services, while bearing in mind the influence of biodiversity within species, between species and of ecosystems (Anderson et al. 2009; Mijangos et al. 2015) on the different ecosystem services (Cimon-Morin et al. 2013) and vice versa.



Anderson BJ, Armsworth PR, Eigenbrod F, et al. (2009) Spatial covariance between biodiversity and other ecosystem service priorities. Journal of Applied Ecology, 46, 888-896.

Cimon-Morin J, Darveau M, Poulin M (2013) Fostering synergies between ecosystem services and biodiversity in conservation planning: A review. Biological Conservation, 166, 144-154.

Mijangos JL, Pacioni C, Spencer P, Craig MD (2015) Contribution of genetics to ecological restoration. Molecular Ecology, 24, 22-37.

Millennium Ecosystem Assessment (2005) Ecosystems and human well-being biodiversity synthesis. In: Millennium Ecosystem Assessment series, p. 86 p. Island Press, Washington, D.C.

Naidoo R, Balmford A, Costanza R, et al. (2008) Global mapping of ecosystem services and conservation priorities. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 105, 9495-9500.

Nellemann C, Corcoran E, United Nations Environment Programme. (2010) Dead planet, living planet : biodiversity and ecosystem restoration for sustainable development : a rapid response assessment. United Nations Environment Programme, Nairobi, Kenya.

Schneiders A, Van Daele T, Van Landuyt W, Van Reeth W (2012) Biodiversity and ecosystem services: Complementary approaches for ecosystem management? Ecological Indicators, 21, 123-133.

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