Trade-offs across space, time, and ecosystem services

Jon Paul Rodríguez, T. Douglas Beard, Elena M. Bennett, Graeme S. Cumming, Steven J. Cork, John Agard, Andrew P. Dobson, Garry D. Peterson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1087 Scopus citations


Ecosystem service (ES) trade-offs arise from management choices made by humans, which can change the type, magnitude, and relative mix of services provided by ecosystems. Trade-offs occur when the provision of one ES is reduced as a consequence of increased use of another ES. In some cases, a trade-off may be an explicit choice; but in others, trade-offs arise without premeditation or even awareness that they are taking place. Trade-offs in ES can be classified along three axes: spatial scale, temporal scale, and reversibility. Spatial scale refers to whether the effects of the trade-off are felt locally or at a distant location. Temporal scale refers to whether the effects take place relatively rapidly or slowly. Reversibility expresses the likelihood that the perturbed ES may return to its original state if the perturbation ceases. Across all four Millennium Ecosystem Assessment scenarios and selected case study examples, trade-off decisions show a preference for provisioning, regulating, or cultural services (in that order). Supporting services are more likely to be "taken for granted." Cultural ES are almost entirely unquantified in scenario modeling; therefore, the calculated model results do not fully capture losses of these services that occur in the scenarios. The quantitative scenario models primarily capture the services that are perceived by society as more important - provisioning and regulating ecosystem services - and thus do not fully capture trade-offs of cultural and supporting services. Successful management policies will be those that incorporate lessons learned from prior decisions into future management actions. Managers should complement their actions with monitoring programs that, in addition to monitoring the short-term provisions of services, also monitor the long-term evolution of slowly changing variables. Policies can then be developed to take into account ES trade-offs at multiple spatial and temporal scales. Successful strategies will recognize the inherent complexities of ecosystem management and will work to develop policies that minimize the effects of ES trade-offs.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number28
JournalEcology and Society
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jun 2006

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Ecology


  • Ecosystem services
  • Millenium Ecosystem Assessment
  • Space
  • Synergisms
  • Time
  • Trade-offs


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