Ecosystem services are the benefits societies obtain from ecosystems. These benefits include the tangible resources we can consume such as water, food from agriculture, fisheries or hunting, wood or fuel wood. These are called provisioning services. They also include the processes that regulate the average conditions suitable for human enterprise but also those that regulate the variations around this average, such as regulation of climate (from global to local), of floods, of human diseases or the presence of pollinators for crops. The non-tangible benefits that arise from interactions between people and societies, including experiences such as recreation or artistic inspiration, identity and other characteristics important to people’s livelihoods are another category of benefits. Monitoring change in ecosystem services is critical to inform on the capacity of ecosystems to sustain and fulfil human life through time. Changes in ecosystem services can result from management decisions to increase them or from unintended deterioration of ecosystem. These in turn are critical to assess changes in human well-being.

Working Group 6 is focused on developing protocols, proofs of concepts and an encompassing strategy to monitor ecosystem services at different spatial scales. These tools can be used to assess how the supply, delivery, value and links to human well-being of ecosystem services changes vary across space and time and how these can be projected into the future. The data generated by these tools is critical to inform global, national and sub-national policy design and inform decisions on how to manage social-ecological systems to best reconcile current and future societal needs as well as the maintenance of life on Earth and the systems that support it. Users of products from Working Group 6 include national governments that need to assess progress towards Aichi Targets or sustainable development goals, as well as to including them into national accounting systems.

patty Patricia Balvanera


Currently WG6 is composed of 16 members from 11 countries and includes researchers within public universities, such as the National University of Mexico (UNAM), private universities, such as Princeton University, national research centers such as the German Center for Integrative Biodiversity Research (iDiv), and global non-governmental organisations such as The Nature Conservancy (TNC), as well as centers hosted by the United Nations such as the World Conservation Monitoring Centre (UNEP-WCMC).

Key activities and products
Activities of working group 6 gather around the following themes:

A framework for observing ecosystem services change
Standards for in situ observations of ecosystem services and human well-being
Enhancing household surveys to measure the value of ecosystem services to people
Producing regularly updated global maps of ecosystem services
Assessing multi-ecosystem service tradeoffs
Assessing current knowledge on ecosystems that provide key ecosystem services
National statistics and indicators of ecosystem services to assess progress towards conservation and sustainability targets

We developed a conceptual framework for the GEO BON Ecosystem Services Working Group that will allow monitoring ecosystem services change and informing decisions made at any scale. We showed how the integration of national statistics, numerical models, remote sensing, and in situ measurements can contribute to regularly tracking changes in ecosystem services across the globe. We showed how different data sources could contribute to this endeavour at different spatial scales. We found that although many ecosystem services are not currently measured, others are ripe for reporting. We assessed what data is available or missing to allow assessing the contribution of the environment to social conditions. The emphasis was on how this data could inform indicators relevant to major conventions such as CBD (the Convention for Biological Diversity) or the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGS).

We revised and discussed what new indicators could be created and reported from existing data streams such as national statistics, household surveys and in-situ observations. We developed a guideline in partnership with the World Conservation Monitoring Services WCMC on such indicators. We then ran a pilot application of this approach for the case of South Africa, where we assessed what data was available to measure progress towards Aichi Target 14, aimed at restoring and safeguarding by 2020 the ecosystems that provide essential ecosystem services. This target emphasises those ecosystem services related to water and health, taking into account the needs of women, indigenous and local communities, and the poor and vulnerable.

We compiled all the published information available to date on this topic to assess how close we are to date towards meeting this target. We found that there are critical ecosystems that provide key services that are declining while others are not, but that more systematic assessment across ecosystems and services are needed. We found that the most vulnerable sectors of society are at risk in the face of the current loss of ecosystems and their services.


Karp D., Tallis H., Sachse R., Halpern B., Thonicke K., Cramer W., Mooney H., et al. 2015. “National indicators for observing ecosystem service change”. Global Environmental Change. 35: 12-21. doi: 10.1016/j.gloenvcha.2015.07.014

Selomane O., Reyers B., Sachse R., Biggs R., Tallis H., Polasky S.. 2015. “Towards integrated social–ecological sustainability indicators: Exploring the contribution and gaps in existing global data”. Ecological Economics. 118: 140–146. doi: 10.1016/j.ecolecon.2015.07.024

Walpole M., Balvanera P.. 2014. Progress towards the Aichi biodiversity targets: an assessment of biodiversity trends, policy scenarios and key actions : Global biodiversity outlook 4 (GBO-4) technical report.Chapter 14. Download

Brown C., Reyers B., Ingwall-King L., Mapendembe A., Nel J., O’Farrell P., Dixon M. & Bowles-Newark N. J. 2014. “Measuring ecosystem services: Guidance on developing ecosystem service indicators”. UNEP-WCMC, Cambridge, UK. Download

Reyers B., Nel J., O’Farrell P., Selomane O., Smith J. & Yapi T.. 2014. “Assessing ecosystem service change & its impacts on human wellbeing. A national pilot of indicator approaches and data”. CSIR. Download

Scholes B., Palm C., Andelman S.. 2013. “Sampling Frame for the Vital Signs Global Monitoring System”. Download

Tallis, H., Mooney H. A., Andelman S., Balvanera P., Cramer W., Karp D., Polasky S., Reyers B., Ricketts T., Running S. W., Thonicke K., Tietjen B., and Walz A.. 2012. “A Global System for Monitoring Ecosystem Service Change”. BioScience. 62: 977–986.
doi: 10.1525/bio.2012.62.11.7