Mapping Ecosystem Services

The International Chair team works on two main projects on mapping ecosystem services: Ecopotential and Extra-local services.

Ecopotential - Using Earth observations to assess and monitor ecosystem services in European protected ares

Funding for the ECOPOTENTIAL project ended in October 2019.  This project brought together remote sensing experts, ecological modelers, ecosystem service scientists, and protected area managers to find new ways of assessing and monitoring ecosystem services in protected areas across Europe. Our role in the project includes: 1) being the lead social scientists on the project (and only economist), and 2) being the lead for applications to marine systems, especially the Large Marine Ecosystems of the Mediterranean and Caribbean Seas. Linwood Pendleton serves on the Coordination Committee while Bénédicte Madon and Linwood Pendleton are members of 4 work packages.

  • Funder: European Union Horizon 2020
  • Local Collaborators: Bénédicte Madon, co-lead, Doctoral Researcher (AMURE, UBO), Cécile Nys (AMURE, UBO)

Additionally, there are 48 international collaborating institutions of whom our principle collaborators are UNESCO’s Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission and the TETHYS Institute. 

There are 4 main research foci, presented below.

Activities in the Mediterranean like Whale watching are part of the ecosystem services we assess

1. The use of Essential Variables and other indicators in monitoring ecosystem services.

Essential variables (EVs) have been proposed as a way of creating a limited set of variables that can describe the state of a system (including change or stasis) over time and space. The use of EVs allows institutions that collect data to focus their efforts on collecting data that will be broadly useful and meaningful over time. The ECOPOTENTIAL project seeks to understand if there exists, for Europe, a set of EVs from remote sensing platforms that are essential to monitoring key ecosystem services in protected areas. Our work involves developing a conceptual model for these EVs, linking remote sensing-based Ecosystem Service EVs to other more widely used EVs (e.g. Climate EVs, Biodiversity EVs, and Ocean EVs). We also examine the relationship between indicators needed to understand a specific ecosystem service, a limited set of critical variables that are common across a variety of ecosystem services and ecosystems, and EVs. (This topic is also the subject of Ms. Laroche’s internship.)

2. Finding Common Ground Among Competing Frameworks for Understanding Social-Ecological Systems

Different disciplines use different types of conceptual models to characterize complicated social-ecological systems. These different disciplines may: start from different etiologies, attempt to engage or inform different social processes, or be driven by differences in data and process. The various work packages of ECOPOTENTIAL demonstrate such a diversity of conceptual models and approaches. In this research, we create a unified conceptual model that brings together a variety of conceptual models about the social-ecological processes that create ecosystem services.

3. Scaling up ecosystem services: assessing ecosystem service changes across heterogeneous seascapes

The Ecopotential project seeks to understand if protected areas across Europe are effective in protecting ecosystem services across the region. To test this hypothesis, we need to know how to compare ecosystem service changes in different regions and over time. While ecological measures may be easily compared across time and space (e.g. # of whales, forest cover), ecosystem services depend on the interaction of ecological outcomes and human demand both of which may vary over time and space. In this part of our research we explore different ways of comparing ecosystem service gains and losses across spatial and temporal scales, with a special focus on the performance of different kinds of measures of ecosystem services.

4. Using remote sensing to assess and monitor ecosystem services provided by whales in the Mediterranean Sea 

We are leading a case study application to determine whether we can indeed use remote sensing and in situ data to assess and monitor the ecosystem services provided by whales and other cetaceans in the Mediterrean Large Marine Ecosystem Service. This application will apply findings from the first three research elements. We begin the research by collaborating with the TETHYS Institute, the British Antarctic Survey, and the Italian Center for National Research.

Mapping Extra-Local Ecosystem Services

Mapping Extra-Local Ecosystem Services is a project funded by The Nature Conservancy. The funding ended in October 2015 but some writing still continues. Collaborators are:

  • Evangelia Drakou, Doctoral Researcher
  • Carter Ingram (Wildlife Conservation Society)
  • Lisa Teneva (Conservation International)
  • Micah Effron (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration)


Local, regional and global policies to restore, manage and protect our oceans and coasts, call for the inclusion of ecosystem services (ES) in policy-relevant research. Marine and coastal ecosystem benefits to humans are usually assessed, quantified and mapped at the ecosystem level to inform policy and decision-making. Yet those benefits may reach humans beyond the provisioning ecosystem, at the regional or even global level. Current efforts to map the ES generated by a single ecosystem rarely consider the distribution of benefits at the regional or global level. We build upon the literature to spatially apply the concept of “extra-local” ecosystem benefits to account for the benefits enjoyed far from the ecosystem that generates them. We put emphasis on the space of occurrence of the different components of the ES provision framework and apply the proposed conceptual framework to ES generated by such ecosystems as open oceans (e.g. for fisheries) and the carbon sequestration service provided by coastal blue carbon ecosystems. We then demonstrate the different extents of the mapping outputs generated by the traditional versus the extra-local mapping approach. Such an approach proved to be challenging mostly due to data availability and methodological issues. Practical applications of the proposed framework can open the door for better and more robust data and improved ES assessment and mapping methodologies. Such assessments can be used to inform ES compensation schemes, benefit sharing protocols and oceanic and coastal policies.