Harmonizing OPERAs voices : an investigation of different perspectives on the ecosystem services concept and their implications for research and practice
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AbstractOver the past 150 years, industrialization, globalization and population growth have altered the planet and its natural conditions at a rapid pace. In this new era, the Anthropocene, environmental degradation has come to a state where sustainable ecosystem management has developed into an urgent quest for humans to maintain their own life-support system. The ecosystem services (ES) concept, initially introduced as potential facilitator to manage this quest, has been criticized for its vagueness to pose a barrier to the concept’s use in research and its subsequent application in practice. Focusing on the European research project Operational Potential for Ecosystem Research Applications (OPERAs), the objective of this thesis is to serve the research community with the identification of differences in conceptual perspectives on ES (differentiation), in order to recommend and enable an effective way of handling these differences (clarification) as a basis for interdisciplinary integration (synthesis). With an initial emphasis on differentiation and clarification, the research process concentrates on the derivation of a typology of perspectives from the literature (RQ 1), on the basis of which perspectives in OPERAs are assessed with the help of Q methodology (RQ 2) in order to derive implications and recommendations for how to handle the concept in the future (RQ 3). The main findings suggest rather clear differences in the typology of three foundational perspectives from the literature but a more nuanced variety of viewpoints in OPERAs that can be summarized in five perspectives. Whereas the notion of interdisciplinarity has often steered the focus towards underlying disciplinary worldviews as the cause for different perspectives, the results point to the insight that perspectives on the ES concept seem to be influenced by a more complex interplay of underlying paradigmatic assumptions. Therefore, clarification is suggested to encompass more than the standardization of discipline-induced worldviews and to require open dialogue on underlying assumptions, values and ethical stances. A final synthesis of findings reflects critically on broader implications by examining the relationship between the ES concept and the notion of sustainability. If the ES concept can really support sustainable ecosystem management in the future is a question that remains for iteration.