Use of demand for and spatial flow of ecosystem services to identify priority areas

Willem Verhagen*, Aija S. Kukkala, Atte Moilanen, Astrid J.A. van Teeffelen, Peter H. Verburg

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to JournalArticleAcademicpeer-review


Policies and research increasingly focus on the protection of ecosystem services (ESs) through priority-area conservation. Priority areas for ESs should be identified based on ES capacity and ES demand and account for the connections between areas of ES capacity and demand (flow) resulting in areas of unique demand-supply connections (flow zones). We tested ways to account for ES demand and flow zones to identify priority areas in the European Union. We mapped the capacity and demand of a global (carbon sequestration), a regional (flood regulation), and 3 local ESs (air quality, pollination, and urban leisure). We used Zonation software to identify priority areas for ESs based on 6 tests: with and without accounting for ES demand and 4 tests that accounted for the effect of ES flow zone. There was only 37.1% overlap between the 25% of priority areas that encompassed the most ESs with and without accounting for ES demand. The level of ESs maintained in the priority areas increased from 23.2% to 57.9% after accounting for ES demand, especially for ESs with a small flow zone. Accounting for flow zone had a small effect on the location of priority areas and level of ESs maintained but resulted in fewer flow zones without ES maintained relative to ignoring flow zones. Accounting for demand and flow zones enhanced representation and distribution of ESs with local to regional flow zones without large trade-offs relative to the global ES. We found that ignoring ES demand led to the identification of priority areas in remote regions where benefits from ES capacity to society were small. Incorporating ESs in conservation planning should therefore always account for ES demand to identify an effective priority network for ESs.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)860-871
Number of pages12
JournalConservation Biology
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 2017


  • Ecosystem-service flows
  • European Union
  • Land targets
  • Spatial prioritization
  • Systematic conservation planning
  • Zonation software


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