Working Paper

Ecosystem Services Indicators: Improving the Linkage between Biophysical and Economic Analyses

Sep 14, 2015 | James W. Boyd, Paul Ringold, Alan J. Krupnick, Robert J. Johnston, Matthew A. Weber, Kim Hall


Social consequences can provide potent justifications for environmental protection and management, and human preferences and related behaviors are the key to understanding both the cause of and solutions to most environmental challenges.

Key Findings

  • Analysis of environmental problems, policies, and solutions requires effective coordination between natural and social scientists.
  • Identification and measurement of linking indicators—biophysical indicators that facilitate social evaluation, including monetary valuation, of ecological changes—are vital to collaborations between natural and social scientists.
  • The choice and use of linking indicators should not be ad hoc, but instead be guided by theory and empirical lessons drawn from decades’ worth of research on the relationship between economic outcomes and environmental conditions.


For ecosystem services analysis, a key to collaboration between natural and social scientists is the identification and measurement of linking indicators: biophysical indicators that facilitate social evaluation, including monetary valuation of ecological changes. As ecosystem service analysts and practitioners better recognize the various ways in which people benefit from ecosystems, natural scientists will be called on to develop, use, and report on metrics and indicators that link to those diverse benefits. The paper develops principles to guide the identification of linking indicators, compares their features with those of more commonly collected ecological measures, and reviews empirical evidence pertinent to their identification, definition, and performance, primarily from the point of view of conducting monetary valuation of ecological outcomes.