Ecosystem Approach

The Ecosystem Approach is a concept that integrates the management of land, water and living resources and aims to reach a balance between three objectives: conservation of biodiversity; its sustainable use; and equitable sharing of benefits arising from the utilisation of natural resources. It is the primary implementation framework of the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD).
An Ecosystem Approach takes into account that humans and cultural diversity are an integral element of most ecosystems. It applies appropriate scientific methodologies, focused on various levels of biological organisation, which encompass the fundamental structure, processes, functions and interactions amongst and between organisms and their environment.
The Ecosystem Approach is not a formula, but a framework that can be adapted to suit various issues and situations. The definition of an Ecosystem Approach does not specify any particular spatial unit or scale; therefore it can refer to any ecological unit at any scale.
It is important to recognise that the Ecosystem Approach does not provide an all encompassing solution as its application depends upon local, provincial, national, regional or global conditions. An Ecosystem Approach should not be regarded as a strategy that supplants other techniques and tools; where ever possible existing strategies and methodologies should be used in conjunction to address complex problems and issues.
The Ecosystem Approach is an adaptive management strategy that can be employed to deal with the complex and dynamic nature of ecosystems and counteract the lack of knowledge or comprehension of their functioning. Ecosystem processes are often non-linear, fluctuate spatially and temporally and frequently show time-lags; these discontinuities can create a high level of uncertainty which the Ecosystem Approach can help overcome.
Adopting this balanced approach ensures that natural resources and society as a whole are positioned in the centre of the decision making process, ensuring a more equitable and long-term future is tenable.

JNCC's spatial framework for mapping ecosystem services 

The ecosystem services approach is a key element of planning for sustainable development. JNCC’s goal is to embed the ecosystem services framework in decision making and have developed a spatial framework to identify which habitat attributes influence ecosystem services ‘Spatial framework for assessing evidence needs for operational ecosystem approaches’.

Phase two ‘Further development of a spatial framework for mapping ecosystem services’ continues on from this work to help design and monitor management strategies. The report is accompanied by a Microsoft Access database ‘Ecosystems Spatial Framework Database’ which takes into account the main factors and the logical steps that need to be followed to facilitate and inform mapping of ecosystem services.


Ecosystems and Biodiversity


An ecosystem is a dynamic complex of plant, animal and micro-organism communities and the abiotic environment interacting as a functional unit.

Ecosystems are not static but dynamic and discontinuous systems with interactions and connections which continually evolve both spatially and temporally. They represent ecological processes and the resources they provide can be expressed in terms of goods and services. More>>>




Biological diversity, or ‘Biodiversity’, refers to the variability among living organisms from all sources including, inter alia, terrestrial, marine and other aquatic ecosystems and the ecological complexes of which they are part. This includes diversity within species, between species and among ecosystems. More>>>


12 Principles of the Ecosystem Approach

Twelve Ecosystem Approach Principles

The Ecosystem Approach is a strategy that promotes conservation and sustainable use of natural resources in an equitable way through the integrated management of land, water and living resources. It is the primary framework for action under the CBD and is comprised of twelve principles that are complimentary and interlinked. When applying the Ecosystem Approach these elements should be taken into account:

1. Recognise objectives as society’s choice.

2. Aim for decentralised management (i.e. subsidiarity).

3. Consider the extended impacts, or externalities.

4. Understand the economic context and aim to reduce market distortion.

5. Prioritise ecosystem services.

6. Recognise and respect ecosystem limits.

7. Operate at an appropriate scale, spatially and temporally.

8. Manage for the long-term, considering lagged effects.

9. Accept change as inherent and inevitable.

10. Balance use and preservation.

11. Bring all knowledge to bear.

12. Involve all relevant stakeholders.


Operational Guidance

Focus on the relationships and processes within an ecosystem:  Knowledge of ecosystem properties and the functional roles of biodiversity are essential when developing management strategies. 

Enhance benefit-sharing:  The Ecosystem Approach seeks to maintain and, in some cases, restore the benefits provided by biodiversity at the ecosystem level and ensure these functions benefit stakeholders responsible for their production and management. 

Use adaptive management practices:  Applying an Ecosystem Approach requires adopting a long-term learning process that informs the adaptation and development of ecosystem management and monitoring. 

Carry out management actions at the scale appropriate for the issue being addressed, with decentralisation to lowest level, as appropriate:  Because ecosystems operate at a variety of scales, managers should define the appropriate level for decisions and actions. 

Ensure inter-sectoral cooperation:  The Ecosystem Approach will need to be integrated into wider policy areas and sectors that have a bearing on biodiversity.

Cross-cutting Issues:  In addition to the operational guidance there are a number of cross-cutting issues that will need to be taken into consideration when applying the Ecosystem Approach.  These include: Capacity-building and participation; information, research and development; Monitoring and review; and Governance. More>>>

Ecosystem Services

Ecosystem services are the benefits people obtain from ecosystems. The terminology is derived from two representative definitions:


Ecosystem goods (such as food) and services (such as atmospheric oxygen production) represent the benefits humans derive, directly or indirectly, from ecosystem functions (Costanza et al, 1997) .


Ecosystem services are the conditions and processes through which natural ecosystems, and their constituent species, sustain and fulfil human life. They maintain biodiversity and the production of ecosystem goods (Daily, 1997) . Services are widely classified into ‘functional groupings’, where they are categorised into provisioning, regulating, supporting and cultural services.  More>>>

Ecosystem Valuation

Ecosystem Valuation

The value of ecosystems may be comprehended and expressed differently depending upon cultural conceptions, philosophical views and professional disciplines. Various techniques are available to value ecosystem services. Values can be considered in terms of ‘total economic value’ which accounts for both the use and non-use values society can gain or lose from changes in ecosystem services.


Many ecosystem services are not traded on markets meaning that many services remain un-priced. Therefore it is necessary to assess the relative value of goods or services using non-market valuation methods. The valuation technique adopted will depend on which ecosystem service is to be valued, as some methods may be more suited to capturing values of particular ecosystem services. More>>>