Ecosystems Services and Management

The Ecosystems Services and Management (ESM) Program facilitates the process of transition planning to sustainable ecosystems management through research into improved understanding and management of competing uses of land, water resources, and ecosystem services.

Nature © K. Platzer | IIASA


Almost all life-supporting resources that contribute to long-term human well-being are connected to how we manage the biosphere.

Human appropriation of ecosystem services for food, feed, fuel, and fiber production regularly compete with other uses. Ignoring trade-offs can lead to unsustainable exploitation, environmental degradation, and irreversible long-term societal costs. 

Scientific and policy support is therefore needed to allow further expansion of food production, while at the same time ensuring that agricultural lands are improved, water resources and quality are preserved, and the integrity of natural ecosystems is safeguarded. To meet these multiple objectives, land management strategies need to be redefined within a global context. 

Transition planning to sustainable ecosystem management, however, faces substantial challenges. To facilitate the process, improved understanding and management of competing uses of land, water resources, and ecosystem services are required. This includes the responsible expansion of food and bio-energy production, sustaining regulating natural ecosystem functions and biodiversity, and enhancing terrestrial carbon pools, while also accounting for potential impacts of climate change. ESM pursues these objectives in several ways:

  • Providing integrated impact assessments of diverse sets of ecosystem management options for policy processes following a science based approach.
  • Combining spatially detailed modeling of land use options and ecosystem services in diverse social and environmental conditions and accounting for physical and financial flows across multiple scales. To this end, state-of-the-art information about the current state of ecosystems is crucial.
  • Developing Earth observation tools as a repository of the newest verified information on the extent, condition, vitality, and dynamics of ecosystems and related landscapes.
  • Charting possible pathways to the future by linking and integrating ecosystems and their management, policy and governance, and Earth observation, while building on active collaboration with many leading institutions worldwide.

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Last edited: 22 May 2014


Michael Obersteiner

Principal Research Scholar Exploratory Modeling of Human-natural Systems Research Group - Advancing Systems Analysis Program

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