Ecosystems or landscapes provide multiple ecosystems services. Sometimes the simultaneous delivery of several desired/demanded ES is not possible, strongly inhibit each other, or initiate conflict: we talk about “ES trade-offs”. On the other hand, the delivery of some ecosystem services enhance the delivery of other ecosystem services: in that case, we talk about “synergies”. A trade-off can potentially result in a conflict between users, depending on who bears the burden and who benefits from the ES supply (TEEB, 2010; Turkelboom et al., 2017). For decision-making and management purposes, it is therefore important to focus on all relevant ES, as well as to consider the relationships between them (e.g., Kandziora et al., 2013). In this way decisions can support win-win situations or can help to avoid or mitigate conflicts between different stakeholders.
Often trade-offs and synergies are quantified with ecological models or different quantitative statistical methods. These models or tools calculate only one part of the picture. But not all trade-offs are caused by easy-quantifiable biophysical factors. Social, economic and institutional factors are often at least as important to trade-offs. This type of trade-offs will usually be undetected by models and will only surface via social research. To map these trade-offs and factors social research approaches are necessary. Adding social methods to your modelling can clarify conflicting co-uses and power asymmetries. It can also bring different perspectives on the table as scientists, citizens and other stakeholders prioritize different ecosystem services. It makes the models also more appropriate for answering the questions instead of using already existing models and results that are on the shell.
On the other hand, replacing modelling by only participative approaches also entail risks. For example: stakeholders cannot always see the complexity of ecosystems and ignore some invisible ecosystem services e.g. carbon sequestration, air quality purification. Using model results within workshops with stakeholders can give them insights in the more invisible ecosystem services and brings extra information to the discussion.
Both approaches are therefore very complementary. The discussions during the ESP session illustrated that you need to integrate both to create a full picture of the impacts of a project or management decision. To combine the best of both worlds it was suggested to set up an iterative approach: Let the stakeholders define the questions, needs, and set the boundary conditions of the models. Run models and feed results into stakeholder consultation processes. Finetune models and communicate results. It was also found very useful to link ecosystem services results to the SDG’s.
For doing this, social and ecological scientists need to work together, in order to use the right method in the right way.
Many thanks to the participants of the session.
Authors: Inge Liekens (VITO), Francis Turkelboom and Saskia Wanner (INBO)
Check the summary of the group discussions at ESP10 on the website under TWG10