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Ask not what nature can do for you: A critique of ecosystem services as a communication strategy

June 7, 2018

Given the urgent need to raise public awareness on biodiversity issues, we review the effectiveness of “ecosystem services” as a frame for promoting biodiversity conservation. Since its inception as a communications tool in the 1970s, the concept of ecosystem services has become pervasive in biodiversity policy. While the goal of securing ecosystem services is absolutely legitimate, we argue that it has had limited success as a vehicle for securing public interest and support for nature, which is crucial to securing long-term social mandates for protection. Emerging evidence suggests that focusing on ecosystem services rather than the intrinsic value of nature is unlikely to be effective in bolstering public support for nature conservation. Theory to guide effective communication about nature is urgently needed. In the mean-time, communicators should reflect on their objectives and intended audience and revisit the way nature is framed to ensure maximum resonance.