The economic and ecological benefits of saving ecosystems to protect services

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The concept of Ecosystem Services (ES) defines the nature benefits in an anthropocentric way for sustainable development goals. However, a conservation dilemma arises from the question of how much the ES cost and which ES should be prioritized in effective landscape planning. Thus, we test how the balance of economic and ecological values can be useful for improved conservation outcomes. Under a comprehensive meta-analytical approach, we address the monetary values of ES and incorporate habitat quality maps for setting national conservation targets in mainland Portugal. As a practical pathway to achieve sustainability from local to macro scales, we design an integrative approach showing that prioritization models focused on ES can encompass economic and ecological values in balance with the landscape. We find 72 studies with 167 economic estimates based on biophysical, socio-cultural and environmental features. Our results indicate that ES values in Portugal can represent about 12% of its total Gross Domestic Product (GDP), which in turn can ensure key conservation sites for multiple ecosystems. Combining the trade-offs and synergies between ecological and economic benefits of ES, we suggest an integrative strategy to save ecosystems and protect services through cost-effective conservation models. Given the economic and ecological interface of this approach, our findings can be helpful to bridge the gap between environmental economics and conservation science, following three main components – most economic benefits, best habitat quality and less land requirements. This would bring market values on realistic scales, where stakeholders are expecting positive returns.

Original languageEnglish
Article number127551
Pages (from-to)1-11
Number of pages11
JournalJournal of Cleaner Production
Early online date21 May 2021
Publication statusPublished - 15 Aug 2021


  • Conservation planning
  • Environmental economics
  • Habitat quality
  • Land cost-effective
  • Meta-analysis
  • Portugal


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