The value of valuing nature

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Science  31 Oct 2014:
Vol. 346, Issue 6209, pp. 549-551
DOI: 10.1126/science.1255997

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The complex ways in which humans depend on their natural environment are increasingly expressed in terms of ecosystem services, which are often assigned economic values to assist decision-making. The key attraction of the ecosystem services concept to conservationists lies in the potential for win-win outcomes (1), where the value of an ecosystem service depends on high biological diversity and cannot be increased by modifying it. Such outcomes are possible. For example, in Costa Rican coffee plantations, retention of forest patches doubled pest control of coffee berry borer beetle by birds, with substantial economic benefits to coffee farmers (2). However, attention to ecosystem services does not automatically lead to the conservation of biodiversity (3). A series of factors challenge the creation of synergies between ecosystem services and biodiversity conservation (see the figure).