Project 11: Global change, livelihoods and changing valuation of ecosystem services

Project Team

Norman Backhaus
Stanislav Ksenofontov

URPP GCB revolves around global change and its impact on biodiversity. Thereby, biodiversity is regarded as a precondition for all ecosystem services (ESS). Individuals and groups depend on ESS in different contexts and ways and they also value these services as groups or as individuals. ESS themselves, their assessment as well as their ecological (Boyd and Wainger 2003) and economic valuation (Limburg et al. 2002) have to be regarded as complex and there is so far no comprehensive method to rank them according to a commonly shared system. A group within the URPP is concerned with the assessment of ecosystem services at several project sites. How this will be done has yet to be decided. This project focuses on qualitative aspects of ESS valuation and thus wants to contribute to the assessment of ESS. Using a qualitative approach quantitative aspects of ESS assessments (including economic valuations that are quite complex; cf. (Heal 2000; 2012) can be complemented and deepened. While economic valuation of ESS are useful in many aspects, it has its limits when it comes to political (and social) negotiations (Spangenberg and Settele 2010). Therefore, we propose to embark with a qualitative assessment of ESS that are regarded as important, threatened, or special by different stakeholders at a specific research site and that relate to their livelihood strategies (Geiser et al. 2011). A special emphasis shall be put on cultural ESS (CES), which can further be broken down into information, symbolic, and experiential services. In contrast to regulating and provisioning services, the cultural services only exist because people perceive them as such. Subsequently to the qualitative assessment a quantitative approach to evaluate distinct ESS can be envisaged where necessary.

Goals of the project

Assessment of important/crucial ESS by different stakeholders in order to establish differences between interest groups.

Understanding threats and opportunities that groups affected by global change are facing.

Contribution to the understanding and mitigation of threats to the livelihoods of local people that occur to changes of their environment.

Research questions and methods

What ESS are relevant and how are they rated, ranked and valued by different stakeholders in a certain environmental setting?

This question will be addressed with the establishment of stakeholder groups (i.e. experts with specific knowledge about ecosystems, users of specific ESS, inhabitants of the site in which ESS are surveyed). Subsequently, interviews will be conducted with selected members of these groups. Thereby, saturation will be achieved by careful theoretical sampling and selection of the respondents. The respondents will be asked to point out and rank ESS that they regard as important. It is moreover important to know the reasons for their assessment and ranking.

How are environmental changes perceived, where do people struggle with changes?

This second question can be answered by asking the same people about whether they perceive changes in the biodiversity (and consequently ESS) of their environment at all and how they actually perceive them, whether they struggle with changes, benefit, or whether they are of little importance to them.

How are the livelihoods of distinct user groups of ESS influenced by global change and how do they adapt to these changes?

Users of crucial and/or rapidly changing ESS will be selected for qualitative interviews. An emphasis will not only be put on (certain) ESS influence on the safeguarding of people’s livelihoods but also on institutions that govern the use of these ESS.

Project 11.1 Global change and livelihoods of indigenous people in Yakutia/Siberia

In the focus of this study conducted by PhD student Stanislav Ksenofontov are the livelihoods of reindeer herders and other ethnic groups in the North of Siberia. These groups are highly dependent on supporting, provisioning and regulating ESS and changes have the potential of affecting their livelihoods (as well as CES) considerably. The scale of this site is rather large since the area is sparsely populated and the scope of herders’ livelihoods encloses a large area.


Boyd, J., and L. Wainger. 2003. Measuring Ecosystem Service Benefits: The Use of Landscape Analysis to Evaluate Environmental Trades and Compensation. Washington D.C. 2012. Dollar-based Ecosystem Valuation Methods. Page (last accessed 12 November 2012).

Geiser, U., U. Müller-Böker, B. Shahbaz, B. Steimann, and S. Thieme. 2011. Towards an Analytical Livelihoods Perspective in Critical Development Research. In Research for Sustainable Development: Foundations, Experiences, and Perspectives, eds. U. Wiesmann and H. Hurni, 257–271. Bern: University of Bern: Perspectives of the Swiss National Centre of Competence in Research (NCCR) North-South.

Grêt-Regamey, A., N. Neuenschwander, U. Wissen, N. Backhaus, and S. Tobias. 2012. Landschaftsqualität in Agglomerationen. Zürich: vdf.

Heal, G. 2000. Valuing Ecosystem Services. Ecosystems 3 (1):24–30.

Limburg, K. E., R. V O’Neill, R. Costanza, and S. Farber. 2002. Complex systems and valuation. Ecological Economics 41 (3):409–420.

Spangenberg, J. H., and J. Settele. 2010. Precisely incorrect? Monetising the value of ecosystem services. Ecological Complexity 7 (3):327–337.