So you want your research to be relevant? Building the bridge between ecosystem services research and practice

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Jul 04, 2017
Lydia Olander, Stephen Polasky, James S. Kagan, Robert J. Johnston, Lisa Wainger, David Saah, Lynn Maguire, James Boyd, David Yoskowitz



  • Little of the abundant ecosystem services research can directly support decisions.
  • Researchers can make their research more relevant for decision makers.
  • Relevance is increased by the use of benefit relevant indicators (BRIs).
  • Decision makers require methods that balance quality and feasibility.


There is growing demand for information regarding the impacts of decisions on ecosystem services and human benefits. Despite the large and growing quantity of published ecosystem services research, there remains a substantial gap between this research and the information required to support decisions. Research often provides models and tools that do not fully link social and ecological systems; are too complex, specialized, and costly to use; and are targeted to outcomes that differ from those needed by decision makers. Decision makers require cost-effective, straightforward, transferable, scalable, meaningful, and defensible methods that can be readily understood. We provide illustrative examples of these gaps between research and practice and describe how researchers can make their work relevant to decision makers by using Benefit Relevant Indicators (BRIs) and choosing models appropriate for particular decision contexts. We use examples primarily from the United States, including cases that illustrate varying degrees of success in closing these gaps. We include a discussion of the challenges and opportunities researchers face in adapting their work to meet the needs of practitioners.

Article published in Ecosystem Services.

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