Social Values for Ecosystem Services (SolVES)

Science Center Objects

A GIS Application for Assessing, Mapping, and Quantifying the Social Values of Ecosystem Services

SolVES 4.0 Now Available! An open-source version developed for QGIS.


Ecosystem services are the benefits provided by nature, which contribute to human well-being. These benefits can range from tangible products such as food and fresh water to cultural services such as recreation and aesthetics. As the use of these benefits continues to increase, additional pressures are placed on the natural ecosystems providing them. This makes it increasingly important when assessing possible tradeoffs among ecosystem services to consider the human attitudes and preferences that express underlying social values associated with their benefits. While some of these values can be accounted for through economic markets, other values can be more difficult to quantify, and attaching dollar amounts to them may not be very useful in all cases. Regardless of the processes or units used for quantifying such values, the ability to map them and relate them to the ecosystem services to which they are attributed is necessary for effective assessments.

Location of SolVES and SolVES-related Studies

Location of SolVES and SolVES-related Studies

(Public domain.)

In response to the need for incorporating quantified and spatially explicit measures of social values into ecosystem service assessments, the geographic information system (GIS) application, Social Values for Ecosystem Services (SolVES), was developed. SolVES is designed to assess, map, and quantify the perceived social values of ecosystem services. Social values, the perceived, nonmarket values the public ascribes to ecosystem services, particularly cultural services, such as aesthetics and recreation can be evaluated for various stakeholder groups. These groups are distinguishable by their attitudes and preferences regarding public uses, such as motorized recreation and logging. SolVES derives a quantitative, 10-point, social-values metric, the “value index”, from a combination of spatial and nonspatial responses to public value and preference surveys and calculates metrics characterizing the underlying environment, such as average distance to water and dominant landcover.

Sample SolVES Output

Sample SolVES Output

(Public domain.)

Version 4.0 (SolVES 4.0) has been developed with Python as an open-source tool for QGIS and PostgreSQL. Like previous versions of SolVES, SolVES 4.0 is integrated with the Maxent maximum entropy modeling software to generate more complete social-value maps and to produce robust models describing the relationship between social value intensity and explanatory environmental variables. Maxent also more readily permits the transfer of social-value models to physically and socially similar areas where primary survey data are not available. Due to its flexible design, SolVES 4.0 users are able to define their own social values and public uses, model any number and type of environmental variables, optionally weight mapped survey data, and modify the spatial resolution of analysis.

SolVES has been applied on nearly every continent in biophysical and social contexts including forest, mountain, coastal, riparian, agricultural, and urban ecosystems. SolVES 4.0 provides a tool for decision makers and researchers to evaluate the social value of ecosystems and to facilitate discussions among diverse stakeholders regarding the tradeoffs among different ecosystem services.

Getting Started with SolVES 4.0

  • SolVES 4.0 requires QGIS 3.10, PostgreSQL 11, and Maxent 3.4.1 software.
  • Download the SolVES 4.0 tool. If you have previously downloaded the complete tool and only need to update the plugin, use the plugin only link.
  • Refer to the “Navigating the User Manual” section of the user manual for instructions on how the user manual can serve as a quick-start tutorial for gaining hands-on experience with SolVES 4.0.
  • More detailed information about how SolVES 4.0 works, data requirements, advanced options, and troubleshooting is included in the user manual.
  • Journal articles and other SolVES-related publications describing applications of SolVES and similar methods are available.
  • A blank, sample copy of the public value and preference survey described in the User Manual is also available with the SolVES 4.0 tool download.

Although this software program has been used by the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), no warranty, expressed or implied, is made by the USGS or the U.S. Government as to the accuracy and functioning of the program and related program material nor shall the fact of distribution constitute any such warranty, and no responsibility is assumed by the USGS in connection therewith.

INFORMATION COLLECTION DISCLAIMER: SolVES is a tool for mapping and analyzing social survey response data. It is not a tool designed for the collection of survey data, nor is any survey attached to SolVES. Any survey or survey response data referred to in the SolVES documentation, sample data, or publications is the work and responsibility of the persons or groups who developed and conducted that survey. Please note that before a Federal agency may collect information or sponsor a collection of information, the Paperwork Reduction Act (PRA) requires approval from the Office of Management and Budget (OMB). Any Federal agency or sponsored program interested in developing and conducting a survey for use with SolVES is wholly responsible for submitting an Information Collection Request (ICR) to OMB.

Any use of trade, product, or firm names is for descriptive purposes only and does not imply endorsement by the U.S. Government.

Related (i.e. non-USGS) Publications Including Independent Applications of SolVES

Arki, V. 2018. Exploring value-landscape associations in the Tanzanian Southern Highlands. Graduate thesis 209472871. University of Turku, Finland. 91 pp.

Baumeister, C.F., Gerstenberg, T., Plieninger, T., Schraml, U. 2020. Exploring cultural ecosystem service hotspots: Linking multiple urban forest features with public participation mapping data. Urban Forestry & Urban Greening 48, 126561.

Bogdan, S.M., Stupariu, I., Andra-Topârceanu, A., Năstase, I.I. 2019. Mapping social values for cultural ecosystem services in a mountain landscape in the Romanian Carpathians. Carpathian Journal of Earth and Environmental Sciences 14 (1), 199-208.

Chen, F., Wu, J., Liu, J., Hu, Y., Chen, X., Lim, P.-E., Abdullah, W.M.A., Sjafrie, N.D.M., Adirianto, B. 2019. Comparison of social-value cognition based on different groups: The case of Pulau Payar in Malaysia and Gili Matra in Indonesia. Ocean & Coastal Management 173, 1-9.

Clemente, P., Calvache, M., Antunes, P., Santos, R., Cerdeira, J.O., Martins, M.J. 2019. Combining social media photographs and species distribution models to map cultural ecosystem services: The case of a Natural Park in Portugal. Ecological Indicators 96 (1), 59-68.

Codato, D. 2015. Estudio de la percepción social del territorio y de los servicios ecosistémicos en Alto Mayo, Región San Martín, Perú. Espacio y Desarrollo 27, 17-31.

Codato, D., Pappalardo, S.E., de Marchi, M. 2017. Participatory GIS in mapping ecosystem services: Two case studies from high-biodiversity regions in Italy and Peru. Journal for Geographic Information Science 5 (2), 78-96.

Cole, Z.D. 2012. Mapping Social Values of Ecosystem Services in Sarasota Bay, Florida E-Delphi Application, Typology Development, and Geospatial Modeling. Doctoral dissertation UFE0044488. University of Florida, Gainesville, FL. 207 pp.

Corbeil, M. 2018. The legacy of the historic canal system in Central New York: Evaluation of cultural ecosystem services in the Lower Mohawk River, NY. Geography and Planning 4, 33 pp.

Gao, Y., Liu, K., Ma, Q., Li, Y., Fan, Y., Li, X., Gu, C. 2017. Evaluation of social value of ecosystem services based on SolVES model and tourist preference: Taibai Mountain National Forest Park as an example. Chinese Journal of Ecology 12.

Holtslag, M.C.S. 2017. Citizen perception of nature on social media. Thesis report GIRS-2017-36. Wageningen University & Research, Wageningen, The Netherlands. 69 pp.

Huo, S., Huang, L., Yan, L. 2018. Valuation of cultural ecosystem services based on SolVES: a case study of the South Ecological Park in Wuyi County, Zhejiang Province. Journal of Ecology 38 (10), 3682-3691.

Johnson, D.N., van Riper, C.J., Chu, M., Winkler-Schor, S. 2019. Comparing the social values of ecosystem services in US and Australian marine protected areas. Ecosystem Services 37, 100919.

Lin, Y.-P., Lin, W.-C., Li, H.-Y., Wang, Y.-C., Hsu, C.-C., Lien, W.-Y., Anthony, J., Petway, J.R. 2017. Integrating social values and ecosystem services in systematic conservation planning: A case study in Datuan Watershed. Sustainability 9, 718.

Loerzel, J. 2013. Social valuation of ecosystem services in the Ashepoo, Combahee, and Edisto (ACE) Basin, South Carolina. Graduate thesis ProQuest UMI 1543813. College of Charleston, Charleston, NC. 55 pp.

Loerzel, J., Knapp, L., and Gorstein, M. 2017. Gauging the social values of ecosystem services in the Mission Aransas National Estuarine Research Reserve. NOAA Technical Memorandum NOS NCCOS 243. Silver Spring, MD. 79 pp.

Lopez, M.A. 2015. Using social valuation to assess the public attitudes and preferences of the Mission-Aransas National Estuarine Research Reserve, Texas. Graduate thesis 1969.6/669. Texas A&M University, Corpus Christi, TX. 99 pp.

Makovníková, J., Kobza, J., Pálka, B., Mališ, J., Kanianska, R., Kizeková M. 2016. An approach to mapping the potential of cultural agroecosystem services. Soil & Water Research 11, 44-52.

Meng, S., Huang, Q., Zhang, L., He, C., Inostroza, L., Bai, Y., Yin, D. 2020. Matches and mismatches between the supply of and demand for cultural ecosystem services in rapidly urbanizing watersheds: A case study in the Guanting Reservoir basin, China. Ecosystem Services 45, 101156.

Moody, N.L. 2016. River corridor social value mapping: Using the GIS application SolVES for Idaho's Middle Fork of the Salmon River. Graduate thesis 132849018. Northern Arizona University, Flagstaff, AZ. 95 pp.

Paudyal, K., Baral, H., Keenan, R.J. 2018. Assessing social values of ecosystem services in the Phewa Lake Watershed, Nepal. Forest Policy and Economics 90, 67-81.

Petway, J.R., Lin, Y.-P., Wunderlich, R.F. 2020. A place-based approach to agricultural nonmaterial intangible cultural ecosystem service values. Sustainability 12 (2), 699.

Qin, K., Li, J., Liu, J., Yan, L., Huang, H. 2019. Setting conservation priorities based on ecosystem services - A case study of the Guanzhong-Tianshui Economic Region. Science of The Total Environment 650 (2), 3062-3074.

Scholte, S.S.K., Daams, M., Farjon, H., Sijtsma, F.J., van Teeffelen, A.J.A., Verburg, P.H. 2018. Mapping recreation as an ecosystem service: Considering scale, interregional differences and the influence of physical attributes. Landscape and Urban Planning 175, 149-160.

Shoyama, K., Yamagata, Y. 2016. Local perception of ecosystem service bundles in the Kushiro watershed, Northern Japan – Application of a public participation GIS tool. Ecosystem Services 22 (A), 139-149.

Sun, F., Xiang, J., Tao, Y., Tong, C., Che, Y. 2019. Mapping the social values for ecosystem services in urban green spaces: Integrating a visitor-employed photography method into SolVES. Urban Forestry & Urban Greening 38, 105-113.

van Riper, C.J. 2014. Valuing the invaluable: An investigation of outdoor recreation behavior, perceived values of ecosystem services, and biophysical conditions on Channel Islands National Park. Doctoral dissertation 1969.1/152838. Texas A&M University, College Station, TX. 171 pp.

van Riper, C.J., Foelske, L., Kuwayama, S.D., Keller, R., Johnson, D. 2020. Understanding the role of local knowledge in the spatial dynamics of social values expressed by stakeholders. Applied Geography 123, 102279.

van Riper, C.J., Kyle, G.T. 2014. Capturing multiple values of ecosystem services shaped by environmental worldviews: A spatial analysis. Journal of Environmental Management 145, 374-384.

Wang, Y., Fu, B.T., Lyu, Y.P., Yang, K., Che, Y. 2016. Assessment of the social values of ecosystem services based on SolVES model: A case study of Wusong Paotaiwan Wetland Forest Park, Shanghai. The Journal of Applied Ecology 27 (6), 1767-1774.

Yoshimura, N., Hiura, T. 2017. Demand and supply of cultural ecosystem services: Use of geotagged photos to map the aesthetic value of landscapes in Hokkaido. Ecosystem Services 24, 68-78.

Zhang, H., Gao, Y., Hua Y., Zhang, Y., Liu, K. 2019. Assessing and mapping recreationists’ perceived social values for ecosystem services in the Qinling Mountains, China. Ecosystem Services 39, 101006.

Zhang, W., Yu, Y., Wu, X., Pereira, P., Borja, M.E.L. 2020. Integrating preferences and social values for ecosystem services in local ecological management: A framework applied in Xiaojiang Basin Yunnan province, China. Land Use Policy 91, 104339.

Zhao, Q., Li, J., Liu, J., Cuan, Y., Zhang, C. 2019. Integrating supply and demand in cultural ecosystem services assessment: a case study of Cuihua Mountain (China). Environmental Science and Pollution Research 26, 6065-6076.

Zhao, Q., Li, J., Cuan, Y., Zhou, Z. 2020. The evolution response of ecosystem cultural services under different scenarios based on system dynamics. Remote Sensing 12 (3), 418.