Ecosystem Function and Services

The goal of our research on ecosystem function and services is to support the case for biodiversity and ecosystem conservation. By measuring and valuing the services of ecosystems, we can place their value within the broader social-economic context.


Emily Nicholson, Lucie BlandPaul Carnell, Clare Duncan, Biao Huang, Jess Rowland, Calvin Lee, Holger Janes, Alejandro Navarro.


Peter Macreadie (Deakin), Daniel Ierodiaconou (Deakin), Pat Dwyer (NSW Fisheries) Matt Taylor (NSW Fisheries), Paul Hamer (Victorian Fisheries Authority), Philine zu Ermgassen (University of Edinburgh).

About our research:

Despite the best of efforts of scientists and conservationists, global biodiversity is in decline. Development projects are often prioritised despite negative environmental impacts because the contribution to the economy is placed front and centre. While the services provided by ecosystems are often recognised, they are rarely valued on a local scale, preventing their explicit consideration in decision making. We have collaborated with a range of management and conservation organisations with the objective of providing identification and valuation of ecosystem services to facilitate their consideration in decisions regarding the management of social-ecological systems.

Valuing marine ecosystems: Members of the Conservation Science lab are involved in the Mapping divers-scuba-reef-underwater-37542.jpegOcean Wealth (MOW) project.  The MOW project is conducting research to quantify the multiple benefits people and communities derive from saltmarsh, mangrove and seagrass coastal ecosystems. These benefits, encompassed in the term ‘ecosystem services’, or simply, ‘nature’s benefits’ include carbon storage and sequestration (blue-carbon), coastal protection from waves and storm surges, habitat provision for recreationally and commercially important fish species, and tourism and recreational revenue. Critical to the success of the project is the communication of these benefits in a simple way that can be understood and applied by coastal stakeholders and decision makers (including community groups, engineers, politicians, policymakers and the financial sector) thereby strengthening the case for large-scale marine ecosystem protection and rehabilitation.

pexels-photo-726298.jpegQuantitative modelling:  To ensure the supply of ecosystem services and biodiversity, we need an improved understanding of the interactions between humans and the natural environment they depend upon, and decision tools that include human behaviour. Quantitative models can help with both understanding and supporting decisions in the management of social-ecological systems.  We will integrate models of economic development, biodiversity and ecosystem services for case study ecosystems, to understand and predict the benefits and impacts of development options. We will then integrate the models into new tools for quantifying the effects of different development scenarios, including agricultural development, and for land-use planning that accounts for real-world complexity and local land management goals.

Projects include:

  • Paul Carnell, Clare Duncan, Biao Huang and Holger Janes work on various aspects of the Mapping Ocean Wealth (MOW) project. The MOW project is a partnership between The Nature Conservancy; Deakin University; the Department of Land Water and Planning, Victoria; Victorian Fisheries Authority; Parks Victoria; NSW Department of Primary Industries – Fisheries, and NSW Office of Environment and Heritage with support from The Thomas Foundation, HSBC Australia, Ian Potter Foundation and the Australian Research Council.
  • Emily Nicholson works with other key collaborators using quantitative models to evaluate ecosystem services, using Lac Alaotra, Madagascar wetland system as a case study. Lac Alaotra is one of the key rice-production areas of the country, the country’s largest inland fishery, and is of high biodiversity value. This work is in collaboration with Andrea WallaceEJ Milner-GullandJulia Jones, and Richard Young (Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust). This work is ongoing – please contact Emily if you are interested in working in this area.
  • Emily is also working on another case study in the Tiwi Islands. In partnership with the Tiwi Land Council, we are developing a range of models of species distribution and viability under a range of development and land management scenarios.  MSc student Bill La Marca has started work on distribution modelling of mammals species to use in conservation planning methods.

Key Publications (also see here):

Murray, N.J., Keith, D.A., Bland, L.M., Ferrari, R., Lyons, M.B., Lucas, R., Pettorelli, N. & Nicholson, E. (2018). The role of remote sensing in structured assessments of ecosystem status. Science of the Total Environment, 619, 249-257 [link]

Bland L., Regan, T.J., Keith, D., Murray, N., Rodriguez, J.P., Rowland, J., Linn, M., Lester, R. and Nicholson, E., (in press). Developing a standardized definition of ecosystem collapse for risk assessment. Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment
[link, pdf on Researchgate]

Bland, L.M., Regan, T.J., Dinh, M.N., Ferrari, R., Keith, D.A., Lester, R., Mouillot, D., Murray, N.J., Nguyen, H.A. & Nicholson, E. (2017) Using multiple lines of evidence to assess the risk of ecosystem collapse. Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, 284 [link]

Pettorelli, N., Schulte to Bühne, H., Tulloch, A., Dubois, G., Macinnis-Ng, C., Queirós, A.M., Keith, D.A., Wegmann, M., Schrodt, F., Stellmes, M., Sonnenschein, R., Geller, G.N., Roy, S., Somers, B., Murray, N., Bland, L., Geijzendorffer, I., Kerr, J.T., Broszeit, S., Leitão, P.J., Duncan, C., El Serafy, G., He, K.S., Blanchard, J.L., Lucas, R., Mairota, P., Webb, T.J. & Nicholson, E (2017) Satellite remote sensing of ecosystem functions: opportunities, challenges and way forward. Remote Sensing in Ecology and Conservation, in press [link]

Murray, N.J., Keith, D.A., Bland, L.M., Nicholson, E., Regan, T.J., Rodríguez, J.P. & Bedward, M. (2017) The use of range size to assess risks to biodiversity from stochastic threats. Diversity and Distributions, 23, 474–483 [link].

Bland, L. M., Keith, D. A., Miller, R. M., Murray, N. J., & Rodríguez, J. P. (2017). Guidelines for the application of IUCN Red List of Ecosystems Categories and Criteria, version 1.1. Gland, Switzerland: IUCN. ix + 99pp.

Keith, D.A., Rodríguez, J.P., Brooks, T.M., Burgman, M.A., Barrow, E.G., Bland, L., Comer, P.J., Franklin, J., Link, J., McCarthy, M.A., Miller, R.M., Murray, N.J., Nel, J., Nicholson, E., Olivera-Miranda, M.A., Regan, T.J., Rodríguez-Clark, K.M., Rouget, M. & Spalding, M.D. (2015) The IUCN Red List of Ecosystems: motivations, challenges and applications. Conservation Letters, 8 (3): 214–226 [link].

Nicholson E., Regan T.J., Auld T.D., Burns E., Chisholm L.A., English V., Harris S., Harrison P., Kingsford R.T., Leishman M.R., Metcalfe D.J., Pisanu P., Watson C.J., White M., White M.D., Williams R.J., Wilson B. & Keith D.A. (2015). Towards consistency, rigour and compatibility of risk assessments for ecosystems and ecological communities. Austral Ecology, 40 (4): 347–363 [link], part of a special issue on Ecosystem risk assessment.

Rodríguez, J.P., Keith, D.A., Rodríguez-Clark, K.M., Murray, N.J., Nicholson, E., Regan, T.J., Miller, R.M., Barrow, E.G., Bland, L.M., Boe, K., Brooks, T.M., Oliveira-Miranda, M.A., Spalding, M. & Wit, P. (2015) A practical guide to the application of the IUCN Red List of Ecosystems criteria. Philosophical Transactions of Royal Society B, 370: 20140003, DOI: 10.1098/rstb.2014.0003 [link].

Keith D.A., Rodríguez J.P., Rodríguez-Clark K.M., Nicholson E., Aapala K., Alonso A., Asmussen M., Bachman S., Bassett A., Barrow E.G., Benson J.S., Bishop M.J., Bonifacio R., Brooks T.M., Burgman M.A., Comer P., Comín F.A., Essl F., Faber-Langendoen D., Fairweather P.G., Holdaway R.J., Jennings M., Kingsford R.T., Lester R.E., Mac Nally R., McCarthy M.A., Moat J., Oliveira-Miranda M.A., Pisanu P., Poulin B., Regan T.J., Riecken U., Spalding M.D. & Zambrano-Martínez S. (2013) Scientific foundations for an IUCN Red List of Ecosystems. PLoS ONE, 8(5): e62111 [link]

Rodríguez, J. P., K. M. Rodríguez-Clark, D. A. Keith, E. G. Barrow, J. Benson, E. Nicholson and P. Wit (2012) IUCN Red List of Ecosystems. S.A.P.I.EN.S [Online] 5.2

Rodriguez J.P., Rodriguez-Clark K.M., Baillie J.E.M., Ash N., Benson J., Boucher T., Brown C., Burgess N., Collen B., Jennings M., Keith D.A., Nicholson E., Revenga C., Reyers B., Rouget M., Smith T., Spalding M., Taber A., Walpole M., Zager I. & Zamin T. (2011). Establishing IUCN Red List Criteria for threatened ecosystems. Conservation Biology, 25, 21-29. [link]

Nicholson E., D. A. Keith, and D. S. Wilcove (2009) Assessing the threat status of ecological communities. Conservation Biology, 23 (2): 259-274. [link]