Uncertainty assessment in ecosystem services analyses: Seven challenges and practical responses


Ecosystem services (ES) analyses are increasingly used to address societal challenges, but too often are not accompanied by uncertainty assessment. This omission limits the validity of their findings and may undermine the ‘science-based' decisions they inform. We summarize and analyze seven commonly perceived challenges to conducting uncertainty assessment that help explain why it often receives superficial treatment in ES studies. We connect these challenges to solutions in relevant scientific literature and guidance documents. Since ES science is based on a multiplicity of disciplines (e.g., ecology, hydrology, economics, environmental modeling, policy sciences), substantial knowledge already exists to identify, quantify, and communicate uncertainties. The integration of these disciplines for solution-oriented modeling has been the focus of the integrated assessment community for many years, and we argue that many insights and best practices from this field can be directly used to improve ES assessments. We also recognize a number of issues that hinder the adoption of uncertainty assessment as part of standard practice. Our synthesis provides a starting point for ES analysts and other applied modelers looking for further guidance on uncertainty assessment and helps scientists and decision-makers to set reasonable expectations for characterizing the level of confidence associated with an ES assessment.

Publication Type
Journal Article
Perrine Hamel
Benjamin P. Bryant
Ecosystem Services

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