A participatory assessment of ecosystem services and human wellbeing in rural costa rica using photo-voice

Marta Berbés-Blázquez

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

74 Scopus citations


Human well-being is intricately connected to ecosystem services. A keystone contribution to the ecosystem service literature has been the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment, MA, (Ecosystems and human well-being: a framework for assessment, Island Press, Washington, DC; 2003, 2005). Much of the work on ecosystem services to date has focused on the assessment and classification of environmental functions. The need for inclusion of community perspectives in ecosystem assessments has been widely recognized in order to better understand the distribution of impacts and benefits resulting from natural resource use. Communities can offer a direct route to understanding the complex relationships between ecosystems and human well-being and how environmental management affects their livelihoods. Photovoice has been made popular as a tool for participatory needs assessment but it has had limited use in ecosystem assessments to date. The purpose of this paper is twofold: (1) to present the results of a community-level assessment of environmental services in a watershed dominated by pineapple monoculture in Costa Rica; and (2) to evaluate the strengths and the limitations of photovoice as a tool for mapping the relationship between ecosystems and people. I argue that photovoice is an underutilized methodology that has the potential to complement biophysical ecosystem service assessmentsinthecontextofimpoverishedand resource-dependent communities, particularly, since assessing ecosystem services and acting upon that information requires integrating the knowledges of diverse stakeholders, recognizing power imbalances, and grappling with the complexity of social-ecological systems. Processes such as photovoice have the potential to catalyze community self-organization, which is a critical component for empowerment.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)862-875
Number of pages14
JournalEnvironmental Management
Issue number4
StatePublished - Dec 1 2011
Externally publishedYes


  • Community-based research
  • Costa Rica
  • Ecosystem benefits
  • Ecosystem services
  • Photovoice
  • Pineapple monoculture
  • Volcan River watershed

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Global and Planetary Change
  • Ecology
  • Pollution


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