Trade-offs in ecosystem services and varying stakeholder preferences: Evaluating conflicts, obstacles, and opportunities

Elizabeth King, Jeannine Cavender-Bares, Patricia Balvanera, Tuyeni H. Mwampamba, Stephen Polasky

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

105 Scopus citations


In efforts to increase human well-being while maintaining the natural systems and processes upon which we depend, navigating the trade-offs that can arise between different ecosystem services is a profound challenge. We evaluated a recently developed simple analytic framework for assessing ecosystem service trade-offs, which characterizes such trade-offs in terms of their underlying biophysical constraints as well as divergences in stakeholders’ values for the services in question. Through a workshop and subsequent discussions, we identified four different types of challenging situations under which the framework allows important insights to clarify the nature of stakeholder conflicts, obstacles to promoting more sustainable outcomes, and potential enabling factors to promote efficiency and sustainability of ecosystem service yields. We illustrated the framework’s analytical steps by applying them to case studies representing three of the challenging situations. We explored the fourth challenging situation conceptually, using published literature for examples. We examined the potential utility and feasibility of using the framework as a participatory tool in resource management and conflict resolution. We concluded that the framework can be instrumental for promoting pluralism and insightful analysis of tradeoffs. The insights offered here may be viewed as hypotheses to be tested and refined as additional unforeseen challenges and benefits are revealed as the framework is put into practice.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number25
JournalEcology and Society
Issue number3
StatePublished - Sep 2015

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2015 by the author(s).


  • Biophysical constraint
  • Conflict
  • Ecosystem service
  • Human values
  • Participatory tool
  • Production possibility frontier
  • Sustainability
  • Trade-off
  • Utility


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