Valuation of Terrestrial Ecosystem Services in a multifunctional peri-urban space (VOTES)


Costanza (2000) recognizes that, in order to conduct appropriate valuation of ecosystem services, one needs to address the question: who votes? Is it Homo economicus, communicus or naturalis? Costanza further argues that in doing valuation of ecosystem services, we need to consider a broader set of goals that include ecological sustainability and social fairness, along with the traditional economic goal of efficiency. The VOTES project therefore intends to perform an integrated assessment of ecosystem services for a case study area in central Belgium, by taking into account the three pillars of sustainable development: economy, society, and environment. The novel aspect of the proposed research is that it aims to do so in a spatially and temporally explicit way using state-of-the-art scenarios of global change downscaled to the study area. To our knowledge, only the very recent study by Nelson et al. (2009) followed a similar approach for a case study in the USA. The VOTES project would be the first example for Europe.
Among the components of global change, land use change has been identified as one of the main pressures on ecosystem services and biodiversity (Turner et al., 1997; Lambin et al., 2001). This is particularly true in Belgium where limited land surfaces are subject to intense competition for their uses. Scenarios of land use change developed in two other projects (i.e. the SSD-funded MULTIMODE and EC-funded ECOCHANGE projects), taking into account climate and socio-economic changes, project large amount of change in land use over the coming decades. This is especially the case in peri-urban areas where pressure from urban development is the highest. Consequently, the size and distribution of the agricultural, semi-natural and forest ecosystems are expected to vary dramatically hence affecting the ecosystem services they provide, suggesting the need of an integrative, multi-ecosystem approach to look at changes in ecosystem services.
Based on the outputs of the previously cited projects, VOTES aims at quantifying the importance of key ecosystem services for a case study near Brussels (within the river Dyle’s catchment, around Leuven) by integrating social, biophysical and economic valuation. We will then investigate how these values are likely to change under the above-mentioned scenarios. The issues of trade-offs, transfer, communication and distribution of ecosystem services will be examined under economic, social and environmental perspectives with the local community and stakeholders. Development of new and/or adaptations to existing policy instruments, which implement the developed methodology into decision-making processes will be suggested. The specific research objectives are:
[1]    To assess the current value of key ecosystem services in the study area and how the current relationships between ecosystem services are mediated by land use;
[2]    To identify current trade-offs and synergies between ecosystem services in a spatially explicit way;
[3]    To explore how the current value may change in relation to future land use change;
[4]    To explore how the current trade-offs may change in relation to future changes in ecosystem services;
[5]    To suggest policy instruments for including ecosystem services in decision-making processes at the European, federal and regional scale taking into account the three pillars of sustainable development and involving stakeholders and local communities.

To achieve these objectives, a network of four expert research groups from the Flemish and French communities of Belgium will constitute the multi-disciplinary team providing complementary expertise in the fields of natural and human sciences – in particular: human and physical geography, landscape ecology, human ecology, and economics. The network will meet these objectives by developing and following a 6-step valuation framework based on state-of-the-art literature. Each of the steps consists of a separate work package but all of them are closely interconnected.
The first step intends to frame the problem, specify the boundaries, and gather current knowledge and data about the system to be valued.
The second step consists of the social assessment of ecosystem services. As argued by Cowling et al. (2008), the social assessment precedes the biophysical assessment, as it identifies the owners and beneficiaries of ecological functions that actually deliver services. The social assessment of ecosystem services has two main components. The first consists in the identification of relevant stakeholders. Participants for the interviews will be recruited with a two-stage purposive sampling approach based on integrated assessment including map analysis, document analysis and consultation with members of the follow-up committee. The second component consists of the social valuation of ecosystem services per se. The social and decisional contexts of ecosystem service valuation will be assessed using semi-structured interview techniques.
The third step is the biophysical assessment and will also use a two-level procedure: the mapping of ecosystem services and their flows, followed by the impacts assessment of habitat changes on these flows. In order to do so, a dynamic vegetation model (DVM) will be integrated into an agent-based model (ABM) that is partly being developed in MULTIMODE and ECOCHANGE. The coupled ABM-DVM model simulations will be performed under three different scenarios, which depict the policy framework and broader-scale socio-economic implications. Among these, a sustainable development scenario will be developed with the help of the stakeholders identified during the second step. The simulations and the resulting land use maps will provide information on the spatial distribution of ecosystem goods and services and its change over time for all of the scenarios.
The fourth step consists in the economic valuation of ecosystem services in order to assess tradeoffs in  cost-benefit analyses under each scenario (e.g. costs and benefits of urbanization versus the costs of loosing ecosystem services). The ecosystem services that will be valued are those that will be identified as relevant by the outcome of the social valuation of ecosystem services (second step) and the biophysical assessment (third step).
The fifth step is the integration of the results of step 2-4, using stakeholder participatory techniques. Potential conflicts will be identified. Cost and benefits involved in trade-offs between various land use options will be analysed. The final aim is to find win-win-win situations, i.e. in economic, environmental and social terms.
The sixth step will suggest how the developed methodology can be implemented into new or existing policy instruments, such as environmental and sustainability assessments.
Finally, it is important to mention that a specific work package will facilitate a tight integration of the different parts of the work throughout the duration of the project. This specific work package will also ensure a wide dissemination of the projects results.


ecosystem services, sustainable development, terrestrial ecosystems, modelling, cost-benefit analysis, climate change, land use


National {Cooperation status}
Belgium {Geographical scope}
Agricultural {Habitat type}
Dry and Sub-humid Lands {Habitat type}
Forest {Habitat type}
Ecosystem Services {Tags}


Name Role Amount
Science for Sustainable Development unknown


Name Role Start End
François, Louis member 2010-01-01
Dendoncker, Nicolas member 2010-01-01 2012-03-01
Van Herzele, Ann member 2010-01-01
Marek, Allyson member 2010-03-01 2012-02-01
De Vreese, Rik member 2010-03-01 2012-02-01


Name Role Start End
Unité de Modélisation du climat et des cycles biogéochimiques member 2010-03-01 2012-02-01
Service d’Étude en Géographie Économique, Fondamentale et Appliquée member 2010-01-01
Geography department member 2010-01-01
Human Ecology Department member 2010-03-01 2012-02-01

created:2011-12-14 14:18:59 UTC, source:web

© 2012 by the Belgian Biodiversity Platform