Does the Ecosystem Service Concept Reach its Limits in Urban Environments?


  • Simone A. Beichler Leibniz-Institute of Freshwater Ecology and Inland Fisheries (IGB), Department II Ecosystem Research, Müggelseedamm 310, Berlin, D 12587, Germany; HafenCity University Hamburg, Department of Urban Planning and Regional Development, Überseeallee 16, Hamburg, D 20457, Germany
  • Olaf Bastian City of Dresden, Environmental Office, P.O.Box 120020, Dresden, D 01001, Germany
  • Dagmar Haase Humboldt-University Berlin, Institute of Geography, Unter den Linden 6, Berlin, D 10099, Germany; Helmholtz Centre for Environmental Research - UFZ, Department of Computational Landscape Ecology, Permoserstr. 15, Leipzig, D 04318, Germany
  • Stefan Heiland Technische Universität Berlin, Chair of Landscape Planning and Development, Sekr. EB 5, Str. des 17. Juni 145, Berlin, D10623, Germany
  • Nadja Kabisch Humboldt-University Berlin, Institute of Geography, Unter den Linden 6, Berlin, D 10099, Germany; Helmholtz Centre for Environmental Research - UFZ, Department of Urban and Environmental Sociology, Permoserstr. 15, Leipzig, D 04318, Germany
  • Felix Müller University of Kiel, Institute for Natural Resource Conservation, Olshausenstrasse 75, Kiel, D 24118, Germany



ecosystem definition, urban ecosystem services, normative principle, human input, trade-off, land use, ecosystem service bundles


There is a rapidly growing body of literature on the theory about the ecosystem service concept and the practical assessment of ecosystem services in different contexts ranging from natural to urban environments. Yet, where does the concept reach its limits? This paper critically reflects the application of the ecosystem service concept in urban environments illustrating the handling of urban structures (incl. built-up areas) and the risk that the normative principle of the concept could be missed. It is shown that in theory urban structures refer to a variety of ecosystem concepts. As a starting point for ecosystem service assessments, these could be classified into natural, managed, constructed and overbuilt systems. Since ecosystem service concepts do not directly refer to a specific ecosystem definition, but to biophysical structures and processes, all of these classes could be included. However, the dependency on context and scale makes a differentiation in  practical ecosystem services assessment challenging. We conclude that the ecosystem service concept does not reach its limits in urban environments, but urban environments represent an extreme case characterized by multifunctionality and a high degree of modification that enables to uncover research challenges applying in any environment. There is a need for a more transparent reporting of theoretical and methodological assumptions to facilitate the comparability between ecosystem service assessments. Comprehensive approaches that consider multiple ecosystem services and include human input, human modification, the ecosystem status as well as their interactions are required to understand the spatial relations between ecosystem services delivered by different ecosystems.


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How to Cite

Beichler, S. A., Bastian, O., Haase, D., Heiland, S., Kabisch, N., & Müller, F. (2017). Does the Ecosystem Service Concept Reach its Limits in Urban Environments?. Landscape Online, 51.