Topic Guide: Ecosystem services


The purpose of this Topic Guide is to assemble a set of learning resources that will contribute to the development of the professional competence of DFID Advisers around the issue of ecosystem services and integrating this issue into project and programme design processes. The specific objectives are to:

  • Ensure that DFID Advisers fully understand the relationship between ecosystem services and the key sectors and policy areas in which DFID works; this will specifically involve understanding the value of these services, and their potential role in achieving sustainable poverty reduction;
  • Identify where and how ecosystem services could be affected (positively and negatively) by, or could affect (positively and negatively), activities in DFID core sectors;
  • Explore where and how an examination of ecosystem services can contribute to the development of stronger business cases and improved development outcomes;
  • Enable DFID Advisers (1) to provide operational advice on ecosystem services across a wide range of sectors and (2) to clearly articulate the benefits of examining ecosystem services – in a manner easily understood by those in other technical disciplines (this will involve, for example, clearly articulating the economic and social benefits).

This Topic Guide provides a practical overview of the concept of ecosystem services and their relevance to development. It reviews the broad evidence around the links between ecosystem services and human well-being and highlights the risks and opportunities that need to be considered in core development sectors including infrastructure, disaster risk reduction, health and private sector development. It provides some specific guidance on how (and whether) a consideration of ecosystem services can be integrated into development decision-making.

Recommended reading and other resources are highlighted for those seeking a more detailed examination of the evidence base within specific sectors or for those who simply wish to expand their knowledge of ecosystem services further. This is particularly the case around the complex issue of governance of ecosystem services and the conflicts that arise around control of ecosystem services – for example in large scale land acquisition, in intensive agricultural production, and in the management of water and other scarce resources. Additional Topic Guides are available to provide more detailed insights into specific sectors where management of ecosystem services is critical. Of particular relevance are Evidence on Demand’s Topic Guides on Agriculture and Growth; Water Security and Economic Development; and Agricultural Productivity. Also of interest, and soon to be published, will be a Topic Guide on urban pollution and another on the linkages between climate, environment and conflict.

This peer reviewed Topic Guide has been produced by the International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED) with the assistance of the UK Department for International Development (DFID) contracted through the Climate, Environment, Infrastructure and Livelihoods Professional Evidence and Applied Knowledge Services (CEIL PEAKS) programme, jointly managed by DAI (which incorporates HTSPE Limited) and IMC Worldwide Limited.


Roe, D. Topic Guide: Ecosystem services. Evidence on Demand, UK (2014) vii + 34 pp. [DOI: 10.12774/eod_tg.september2014.roed]

Topic Guide: Ecosystem services

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