Ecosystem Services: Delivering Decision-Making for Salt Marshes

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Estuaries and Coasts; Springer


Tidal marshes are one of the world’s most economically valuable habitats; yet, they have experienced large and persistent declines globally. Increased knowledge of the ecosystem services delivered by marshes has become a powerful tool to conserve and restore them. But hesitancies regarding valuations and their application in decision-making remain. Here we draw on the literature and collective experience of participants in the “Concepts and controversies in tidal Marsh ecology revisited” workshop, November 2 and 3, 2019, Mobile, AL, to provide a concise snapshot of the current field of salt marsh ecosystem service valuation, discuss the possible risks in salt marsh valuation, and the importance of stakeholder engagement to mitigate them. We provide examples of the application of valuation in conservation-related decision-making, illustrating the growing operationalization of ecosystem services in incentivizing salt marsh conservation and restoration. Ecosystem service quantification and valuation is already playing an important role in decision-making by coastal risk managers, insurers, engineers, and policy makers. While there are legitimate criticisms of valuation techniques and remaining uncertainties in ecosystem service delivery that arise both through natural variability across space and time and through differing and shifting cultural values, our perspective is that the rise of big data, the development of valuation techniques, a growing understanding and application of environmental justice practices, and increasing interdisciplinarity to tackle these complex issues are paving the way for valuation to play a critical role in decision-making around salt marshes.

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This article is a chapter in the special issue book: Concepts and Controversies in Tidal Marsh Ecology Revisited