An international network of researchers has set new priorities for science and society in the area of ecosystems and their influence on social well-being. This prioritisation was published on the occasion of the ten-year anniversary of the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment. The Dutch National Institute for Public Health and the Environment (RIVM) provided an important contribution on behalf of the Netherlands.

The Millennium Ecosystem Assessment (MEA) was published in 2005 and describes the possible consequences of changes in the ecosystem on humans, among other topics. The MEA thus provided a scientific basis to initiate action for the preservation of these ecosystems and to improve the contribution to human well-being.

Research questions

The researcher network identified research questions – based on natural and social science – in the area of ecosystem services (like bees and butterflies that pollinate plants, or forests that act as carbon buffer, filter the air, provide timber and are useful for our recreation). The researchers also focused on questions in society (e.g. natural capital for defence against flooding) by analysing surveys, tweets and Google search terms. Finally, a literary survey portrayed the evolution of 20 years of environmental sciences, ten years prior to and after the realisation of the MEA. This showed that there was a substantial increase of publications in the area of biodiversity and ecosystem services after the publication of the MEA.

It may be concluded that knowledge of ecological networks is of vital importance for supporting future ecosystems and the biosphere. This forges the link between biodiversity, ecosystem functions and ecosystem services, provided that suitable time, spatial and measuring scales are selected. It is expected that such a network approach will predict novel combinations of ecosystem services that can deliver truly innovative management solutions beyond traditional ingrained expectations.

Current developments

The new prioritisation of research questions fits well within a number of current developments. In late 2015, the European Commission (EC) concluded that the European Union (EU European Union (European Union)) made insufficient progress in limiting the loss of biodiversity; the EC established that 75% of the main EU natural habitats are in an ‘undesired state’. In addition, the role of ecosystems and biodiversity in the limitation of climate change was addressed during the Climate Summit (COP21) that took place last December in Paris. 

International network

The network consisted of 36 scientists from Canada, China, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Norway, Spain, the United Kingdom and the United States. The study was published in Advances in Ecological Research, Oxford.

More information on RIVM's Centre for Sustainability, Environment and Health