Regional ecological assessments evaluate sustainability as an interaction among ecosystem services and stressors across changing landscapes. Using ecological assessments to inform ecosystem management activities relies on assessing functional linkages between ecosystem processes and ecosystem services, because ecosystem processes are the primary targets of ecosystem management. We undertook a review of regional ecological assessments in the Appalachian region of the United States to examine how forest-based ecosystem services, forest ecosystem processes, and their linkages are quantified. To provide context, we first give an overview of common ecological assessment frameworks, including risk, vulnerability, resilience, and indicator-based approaches. Assessments tended to target either ecosystem-level properties thought to be important for ecosystem service sustainability, or else to target specific ecosystem services or stressors. Forest ecosystem-level assessment most often relied on specific indicators for system properties such as integrity or health, but how those properties or their indicators were related to ecosystem services was typically not quantified. Individual ecosystem services were frequently assessed in terms of risk and vulnerability to specific external stressors, but linkages to ecosystem processes, and potential tradeoffs among ecosystem services, were infrequently quantified. Integrated system-level assessment and ecosystem service assessment can improve support for ecosystem management by advancing our understanding of dependencies on the ecosystem processes that are modified through management. Models that evaluate ecosystem services and underlying processes in a systems context offer one approach to do so.
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