Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Interdisciplinary Readings on Land Use: Ecosystem Services and Land Use

The field of ecosystem services is one of the most under-studied yet important topics in land use law.  Ecosystem services are the socially or humanly valuable benefits that nature’s systems provide.  Land uses depend on ecosystem services, yet many land uses adversely affect the capacity of ecosystems to produce these services.  For example, the water-absorbing functions of wetlands protect developed lands from flooding, but land development projects have filled or altered many wetlands and thus reduced their functions.

Ecosystem services have gotten significant attention in environmental law scholarship, thanks largely to the influential work of Jim Salzman ( and J.B. Ruhl (  In fact, one of the important interdisciplinary books on ecosystem services that land use scholars should read is J.B. Ruhl, Steven E. Kraft, and Christopher L. Lant, The Law and Policy of Ecosystem Services (Island Press 2007). 

However, land use scholarship has not given much attention to ecosystem services.  Keith Hirokawa has written several excellent articles on various aspects of ecosystem services, land use, and local governance (  I addressed the extent to which the land use regulatory system is well suited or poorly suited to sustaining and protecting ecosystem services in Arnold, The Structure of the Land Use Regulatory System in the United States, 22 Journal of Land Use and Environmental Law 441 (2007), available at SSRN:  Keith and I joined Jim Salzman, interdisciplinary scholars at Duke University’s Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions, and several other scholars and practitioners to tackle head-on the need for new and more research on the law and policy of urban ecosystem services.  We identified 3 major categories of promising research questions: 1) the equitable provision of urban ecosystem services; 2) payment for urban ecosystem services; and 3) urban ecosystem governance.  Our article was published as James Salzman, Craig Anthony (Tony) Arnold, Robert Garcia, Keith Hirokawa, Kay Jowers, Jeffrey LeJava, Margaret Peloso, and Lydia Olander, The Most Important Current Research Questions in Urban Ecosystem Services, 25 Duke Environmental Law and Policy Forum 1 (2014), available at

Any land use scholar seeking to explore ecosystem services should start with the seminal book on the subject: Gretchen C. Daily, ed., Nature’s Services: Societal Dependence on Natural Ecosystems (Island Press 1997).  Other classic books include Robert Costanza, ed., Ecological Economics: The Science and Management of Sustainability (Columbia University Press 1991), and Herman Daly and Joshua Farley, Ecological Economics: Principles and Applications (Island Press 2004).  A more recent book, written for a lay audience, is Mark R. Tercek and Jonathan S. Adams, Nature’s Fortune: How Business and Society Thrive by Investing in Nature (Basic Books 2013).  Tercek is President and CEO of The Nature Conservancy, and Adams is a conservation biologist.  Chapter 8 gives special attention to urban and land-use issues. 

Those who are interested in exploring the scientific issues about how to measure, map, and value ecosystem services, the following books are worth attention:

Peter Kareiva, Heather Tallis, Taylor H. Ricketts, Gretchen C. Daily, and Stephen Polasky, eds., Natural Capital: Theory and Practice of Mapping Ecosystem Services (Oxford University Press 2011);

Steve Wratten, Harpinder Sandhu, Ross Cullen, and Robert Costanza, eds.., Ecosystem Services in Agricultural and Urban Landscapes (Wiley-Blackwell 2013);

Millennium Ecosystem Assessment, Ecosystems and Human Well-Being: A Framework for Assessment (Island Press 2003); and

Millennium Ecosystem Assessment, Ecosystems and Human Well-Being: Synthesis (Island Press 2005). 

Those who are interested in the social-justice and philosophical issues surrounding ecosystem services should check out Thomas Sikor, ed., The Justices and Injustices of Ecosystem Services (Earthscan/Routledge 2013). 

A scholarly book on policy that transcends several disciplines, including geography, ecology, economics, and political science, is Sander Jacobs, Nicolas Dendoncker, and Hans Keune, eds., Ecosystem Services: Global Issues, Local Practices (Elsevier, 2013). 

A new book directly addresses the relationship between ecosystem services and land use: Jinyan Zhan, Impacts of Land-use Change on Ecosystem Services (Springer, 2015). 

If you are interested in developing new, collaborative research projects on ecosystem services and land use, please contact me at [email protected].  I’d love to explore potential opportunities for collaboration on this much under-researched topic.   But whether you seek to pursue new research collaborations, plan to develop your own individual research projects, or are merely interested in knowing more, I urge you to explore the topic of ecosystem services.

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