Restoration of Ecosystem Services and Biodiversity: Conflicts and Opportunities

A collective of researches in ecological restoration offers an approach and results of their works in the field of ecosystem services and biodiversity. An interesting view of Payment for Ecosystem Service (PES) is considered in this paper-review.

Coral reefs: Ecosystems of environmental and human
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20/10/11 - Ecological restoration is becoming regarded as a major strategy for increasing the provision of ecosystem services as well as reversing biodiversity losses. Restoration projects can be effective in enhancing both, but that conflicts can arise, especially if single services are targeted in isolation. Furthermore, recovery of biodiversity and services can be slow and incomplete. Despite this uncertainty, new methods of ecosystem service valuation are suggesting that the economic benefits of restoration can outweigh costs. Payment for Ecosystem Service schemes could therefore provide incentives for restoration, but require development to ensure biodiversity and multiple services are enhanced and the needs of different stakeholders are met. Such approaches must be implemented widely if new global restoration targets are to be achieved.

The evidence for biodiversity effects on ecosystem services

The Millennium Ecosystem Assessment and many subsequent publications suggest that biodiversity and the provision of ecosystem services are positively related, with the implication that management to enhance one should increase the other. However, analysis of empirical evidence shows that this relationship is complex and not always positive. Species richness has been linked positively to several ecosystem processes, leading to enhanced provision of ecosystem services. On this basis, actions that increase species richness should also benefit services. However, this cannot be considered to be a general rule. Most studies of the relationship between biodiversity and ecosystem function consider a limited number of ecological processes that relate almost exclusively to resource utilisation.

Limitations on the restoration of biodiversity and ecosystem services

It has long been recognised that the effectiveness of restoration projects must be evaluated against a reference. In practice the reference has often been the attributes of an undegraded ecosystem, which can either be the presumed historic state or an extant natural or semi-natural ecosystem. Although recovery towards the reference varies among restoration projects, some generalisations are available. A meta-analysis that included a range of biomes found that restoration was only partially successful in achieving reference conditions, as restored systems had median measures of 86% of the biodiversity and 80% of the services associated with reference ecosystems. Similarly, a study of restored lands across the USA showed that these provided 31–93% of the services supplied by the reference prairie, forest, wetland, or desert ecosystems within a decade after restoration. Therefore, although individual restoration projects can be successful, multi-site evaluations indicate a widespread failure to restore fully the biodiversity or ecosystem services to those of reference ecosystems.

Payments for ecosystem services (PES) and restoration goals

Although the use of ecosystem service markets to support restoration has been questioned in terms of the ability of restoration to deliver specified services, it is also appropriate to ask whether PES can help achieve restoration goals, such as the CBD targets. PES might focus restoration activities on a limited set of services, such as carbon sequestration, whereas other services or biodiversity are neglected. This could be a particular problem when international markets are brought into play, which might override local concerns. The desired link between reversing environmental degradation and alleviating poverty might also be undermined by an excessive reliance on market forces, as poor people do not always benefit from PES. As previously noted, for PES to be successful, there is a need to develop local and regional institutional frameworks that can cope with the complexity of such schemes, and that can integrate PES within existing rural development policies and programmes. For restoration to contribute both to sustainable development and the alleviation of poverty, it is essential that such financial flows compensate landholders adequately for any costs of restoration and provide an effective incentive to initiate restoration actions. Identifying how this might be achieved, based on an understanding of the potential distribution of benefits among different stakeholders and the conflicts that could arise, represents a major challenge to future restoration research and practice.

If after having read this abstract you would like to find out whether and how a business can get directly involved in biodiversity restoration, please contact the experts at European Business & Biodiversity.

The original article is: Bullock, J.M.; Aronson, J.; Newton, A.C.; Pywell, R.F.; Rey-Benayas, J.M. 2011. Restoration of ecosystem services and biodiversity: conflicts and opportunities. Trends in Ecology & Evolution. (26) 10, October, 541-549.

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