Shifting spatial priorities for ecosystem services in Europe following land use change

Willem Verhagen*, Astrid J.A. van Teeffelen, Peter H. Verburg

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to JournalArticleAcademicpeer-review

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Policy objectives to maintain ecosystem services are increasingly set. Methods to identify priority areas for ecosystem services can assist in the implementation of such policy objectives. While land use change is an important driver of changes in ecosystem services over time, most prioritization studies do not account for land use change or only assess negative effects. We assessed the effect of land use change on ecosystem services in Europe for a 40-year period and the subsequent consequences for identifying priority areas. We quantified five services under current and future land use. For both time frames all sites were ranked based on their service provision using Zonation. To assess the sensitivity of the prioritization to land use change we compared the location of priority areas and the level of ecosystem services within priority areas in the two time frames. Land use change shifts the location of priority areas. Overlap in priority areas over time ranges from 34.8% overlap for the top 1% priority areas to 75.4% overlap for the top 25% priority areas. Moreover, land use change affects the availability of ecosystem services in top priority areas: Compared to current top priority areas, future top ranked priority areas have lower pollination and carbon sequestration capacity. Capacity of erosion control and flood control are stable over time and nature-based tourism increases. Shifts in priority areas are driven not only by local land use change, but also by land use change in the wider landscape, through connectivity effects and shifts in the relative importance of sites. The real management challenge lies in maintaining ecosystem services within landscapes where production and conservation objectives need to be reconciled and priority areas are affected by both local and landscape wide changes in land use. Moreover, we show that land use change has both local positive and negative effects on ecosystem service priorities, indicating that prioritization studies should not solely incorporate negative effects of land use change.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)397-410
Number of pages14
JournalEcological Indicators
Early online date20 Feb 2018
Publication statusPublished - Jun 2018


  • Conservation
  • Hotspots
  • Land management
  • Prioritization
  • Systematic conservation planning
  • Trade-offs
  • Zonation


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