The importance of social drivers in the resilient provision of ecosystem services

Martin D. Robards, Michael Schoon, Chanda L. Meek, Nathan L. Engle

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

128 Scopus citations


While a sustained flow of ecosystem services brings tangible benefits to humans, some ecosystem states and suites of services may be more desired by some people than others. Allocating or using the flow of services is loaded with asymmetries, complex power dynamics and political struggles between groups of people. We argue that the issues associated with such allocation and use questions are poorly integrated into the literatures of resilience, sustainability, and vulnerability. To illustrate this, we focus on three socially constructed factors that inhibit a fuller understanding about how to sustain the flow of ecosystem services: (1) rigidity/poverty traps; (2) power asymmetries; and (3) scientization of policy/politicization of science. These factors limit our ability to assess the sustainable flows of ecosystem services, and in particular to better understand the trade-offs and limits to aggregate human activity. We demonstrate that an improved understanding of the allocation trade-offs and limits to the flows of ecosystem services could result from more applied research that integrates the developing fields of deliberative democracy, pragmatic environmental philosophy, and legitimacy and rule compliance. Without the understanding that such integration would bring, researchers and policy makers risk underestimating the limits on flows of ecosystem services and how to accomplish their provision toward the greater collective - rather than individual - good.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)522-529
Number of pages8
JournalGlobal Environmental Change
Issue number2
StatePublished - May 2011


  • Agency
  • Deliberation
  • Ecosystem service
  • Philosophy
  • Resilience
  • Sustainability
  • Vulnerability

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Global and Planetary Change
  • Geography, Planning and Development
  • Ecology
  • Management, Monitoring, Policy and Law


Dive into the research topics of 'The importance of social drivers in the resilient provision of ecosystem services'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this