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Sustainability 2017, 9(7), 1107; doi:10.3390/su9071107

Ecosystem Services as a Boundary Concept: Arguments from Social Ecology

Section of International Agricultural Policy and Environmental Governance, University of Kassel, 37213 Witzenhausen, Germany
ISOE—Institute for Social-Ecological Research, Transdisciplinary Methods and Concepts, 60486 Frankfurt/M., Germany
Senckenberg Biodiversity and Climate Research Centre (BiK-F), 60325 Frankfurt/M., Germany
ISOE—Institute for Social-Ecological Research, Biodiversity and People, 60486 Frankfurt/M., Germany
Institute of Social Ecology, 1070 Vienna, Alpen-Adria University, 9020 Klagenfurt, Austria
Author to whom correspondence should be addressed.
Received: 4 February 2017 / Revised: 20 May 2017 / Accepted: 16 June 2017 / Published: 26 June 2017
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Social Ecology. State of the Art and Future Prospects)
View Full-Text   |   Download PDF [1874 KB, uploaded 26 June 2017]   |  


Ecosystem services (ES) are defined as the interdependencies between society and nature. Despite several years of conceptual discussions, some challenges of the ES concept are far from being resolved. In particular, the usefulness of the concept for nature protection is questioned, and a strong critique is expressed concerning its contribution towards the neoliberal commodification of nature. This paper argues that these challenges can be addressed by dealing more carefully with ES as a boundary concept between different disciplines and between science and society. ES are neither about nature nor about human wellbeing, but about the mutual dependencies between nature and human wellbeing. These mutual interdependencies, however, create tensions and contradictions that manifest themselves in the boundary negotiations between different scientific disciplines and between science and society. This paper shows that approaches from Social Ecology can address these boundary negotiations and the power relations involved more explicitly. Finally, this implies the urgent need for more inter- and transdisciplinary collaboration in ES research. We conclude (1) that the social–ecological nature of ES must be elaborated more carefully while explicitly focussing on the interdependencies between nature and society; (2) to better implement inter- and transdisciplinary methods into ES research; and (3) that such ES research can—and to some extent already does—substantially enhance international research programmes such as Future Earth. View Full-Text
Keywords: ecosystem services; social–ecological systems; social ecology; transdisciplinary research; interdisciplinary research; colonisation; boundary concept ecosystem services; social–ecological systems; social ecology; transdisciplinary research; interdisciplinary research; colonisation; boundary concept

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This is an open access article distributed under the Creative Commons Attribution License which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited. (CC BY 4.0).

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Schleyer, C.; Lux, A.; Mehring, M.; Görg, C. Ecosystem Services as a Boundary Concept: Arguments from Social Ecology. Sustainability 2017, 9, 1107.

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