A wider view of assessments of ecosystem services in coastal areas: the perspective of social-ecological complexity

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© 2019 by the author(s). Through complex interactions and feedback processes between coastal ecological and social components at different temporal and spatial scales, coastal environments coproduce a range of ecosystem services (ES) and benefit different social groups. In these highly populated areas, multiple actors, interests, and activities coexist, leading to intensified conflicts between stakeholders. The research presented here aims to understand how coastal social-ecological complexity is studied within coastal ES literature. A systematic review of the literature consisting of 199 manuscripts was performed using the PRISMA method (Preferred Reporting Items for Systematic Reviews and Meta-Analyses). The results show that coastal ES research has been focused on understanding ecological processes for ES provision and value. Hence, coastal ES studies fall short of considering the social components and social-ecological interactions of coastal systems: ES flows, demand, coproduction, power relations, institutions and governance, temporal and spatial scales, value pluralism, uncertainty, and human well-being multidimensions and distribution. The partial integration of social-ecological complexity within coastal ES research limits coastal ES management because nonlinear interactions among social and ecological components are not well understood, particularly stakeholders’ relations, their roles, and the links to ES. Finally, we propose a conceptual framework that integrates the gaps identified during the review. The framework places coproduction and power relations as the core factors of assessments of coastal ES, as means to understand complex, nonlinear social-ecological interactions and feedback processes. Hence, it also provides necessary tools to address normative issues of coastal management such as control, access, trade-offs, and benefits.
Original languageEnglish
Article number34
JournalEcology and Society
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jul 2019


  • Coastal ecosystem services
  • Coastal social-ecological complexity
  • Coproduction
  • Human well-being
  • Power
  • Systematic literature review


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