Ecosystem services-human wellbeing relationships vary with spatial scales and indicators: The case of China

Lumeng Liu, Jianguo Wu

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

35 Scopus citations


Ecosystem services (ES) are essential for sustaining human wellbeing (HWB), but empirical studies have shown that the ES-HWB relationship can be positive, negative, or nonexistent. Reconciling these seemingly conflicting results requires better understanding how the ES-HWB relationship varies with scales and indicators. Here we systematically analyzed the ES-HWB relationship between six ES and ten HWB measures in China on three spatial scales (i.e., provincial, prefectural and county scales), using both simple regression and constraint line analyses. Three major results emerged from our analysis: (1) social/economic wellbeing (e.g., HDI and Life Expectancy) were generally positively correlated with provisioning and cultural services at the provincial scale, but the correlative relationships changed to constraint relationships at the prefectural and county scales, suggesting that these services influenced the mean values of HWB on the provincial scale but only the maximum and minimum values of HWB on finer scales; (2) environmental wellbeing (Water Quality and Air Quality) had consistent correlative or constraint relationships with ES across scales – negative correlations with provisioning ES and positive constraint relationships with regulating ES; and (3) socioeconomic wellbeing had no relationships with regulating ES on any scale. The detected scale- and indicator-dependent patterns of the ES-HWB relationship can help better understand the ES-HWB relationship in general and the so-called “Environmentalist's Paradox” in particular. It indicates that a hierarchical, multiscale approach is necessary to study and improve the ES-HWB relationship. For managing ES to improve HWB, for instance, simply extrapolating policies across administrative levels may lead to unintended outcomes.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number105662
JournalResources, Conservation and Recycling
StatePublished - Sep 2021


  • Constraint lines
  • Ecosystem services
  • Human wellbeing
  • Provisioning services
  • Scale dependence
  • Socioeconomic and environmental wellbeing

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Waste Management and Disposal
  • Economics and Econometrics


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