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.
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