Ecosystem Services in mountain regions: experts’ perceptions and research intensity
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Facing the challenges of global and regional changes, society urgently needs applicable and broadly accepted tools to effectively manage and protect ecosystem services (ES). This requires knowing which ES are perceived as important. We asked decision-makers from different thematic backgrounds to rank 25 ES on the basis of their importance for society. To test whether perceptions are varying across regions, we surveyed three Alpine regions in Austria and Italy. The ranking of importance showed a high variability amongst experts but was not influenced by region or thematic background. ES that satisfy physiological needs (‘fresh water’, ‘food’, ‘air quality regulation’) were indicated as most important. ES that relate to safety and security needs were ranked in the middle field, whereas cultural ES were perceived as less important. We used principal component analysis (PCA) to identify ES bundles based on perception of importance. In order to investigate whether research intensity follows the perceived importance, we related the interviews with a comprehensive literature review. ‘Global climate regulation’, ‘food’, ‘biodiversity’, ‘fresh water’ and ‘water quality’ were studied most often. Although ‘habitat’, ‘energy’, ‘primary production’, ‘tourism’, ‘water cycle’, and ‘local climate regulation’ were ranked as important by decision-makers, they did not receive corresponding research attention. We conclude that more interaction between research and stakeholders is needed to promote a broader application and understanding of the ES concept in practice. The use of ES bundles could help to manage its inherent complexity and facilitate its application.