Ecosystem potentials to provide services in the view of direct users

Authors and Affiliations: 

Andrzej Affek, Institute of Geography and Spatial Organisation, Polish Academy of Sciences, Warsaw, Poland
Anna Kowalska, Institute of Geography and Spatial Organisation, Polish Academy of Sciences, Warsaw, Poland

Corresponding author: 
Andrzej Affek

The idea to introduce ecosystem potentials (to provide ecosystem services – ES) into the ES concept arose from the need to distinguish the possibility of ES usage from their actual use. The need for understanding how different stakeholders perceive and depend upon ES has been identified as a critical research priority. Particularly in Agricultural and Forestry Social Ecological Systems, the views of direct landscape users (residents and part-time visitors) whose well-being is closely linked to the provision of ecosystem services, has to be taken account of when aiming to make land management more sustainable.
The objective of the study was to find out how direct users of local ecosystems perceive their potentials to provide services and how different factors (i.e. socio-demographic characteristics, the actual use of services and the proximity to particular ecosystems) influence this assessment. To elicit social values we carried out a door-to-door questionnaire survey among residents and tourists (N=251) staying in the Wigry National Park and its vicinity (Suwałki Lakeland in NE Poland), a renowned area of high natural value. Respondents were asked to provide the frequency of use for 45 provisioning and cultural services, and then to evaluate 7 local ecosystem types as regards their capacity to supply 11 groups of services.
The study shows that respondents have the capacity to distinguish local ecosystems in terms of their potentials to provide services. In general, better education, multifaceted interaction with nature and frequent use of its resources contribute to better understanding and more accurate assessment of its potential. Intergroup differences clearly show, how personal experience influences the assessment of ecosystem potentials. For instance, better educated perceived a greater potential for deciduous and pine forests to supply a spiritual experience. In turn, visitors compared with local inhabitants perceived a higher potential of all ecosystem types to regulate water, whereas women were found to offer significantly more favourable evaluations of pine forests’ suitability for education and science, and of arable land – to inspire creative work. Also, the perception of cultural and regulating potential appeared to be strongly affected by the frequency of using cultural services. For instance, the higher the declared frequency of meditation/praying in nature, the higher the rating of this service in each ecosystem type considered.
We conclude that the actual ES usage influences perceived usefulness of ecosystems, and vice versa. On the one hand, something which is not perceived as attractive and worth the effort to acquire/interact with, will not be utilised. On the other hand, as our study showed, experience in benefiting from a certain service results in a more adequate recognition of its true value. The demonstrated relationship indicates how subjective and relative is the assessment of nature's potential to provide services.


Affek A.N., Kowalska A., 2017 (in press). Ecosystem potentials to provide services in the view of direct users. Ecosystem Services.

Affek A. N., Kowalska A., 2017 (in preparation). Usage patterns of provisioning and cultural ecosystem services..

Affek, A. N., Kowalska A., 2014. Benefits of nature. A pilot study on the perception of ecosystem services. Ekonomia i Środowisko 51, 154–160.

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