Department Environmental Social Sciences

Management of Ecosystem Services

Research at the Environmental Social Sciences Department (ESS) aims at understanding the interactions between human activities and services provided by aquatic ecosystems. More specifically, we ask how different stakeholders in society value and perceive these services, and how the management of ecosystems and hence the quality of their services can be improved.

Dr. Judit LienertGroup Leader, Cluster: DA (Decision Analysis)Tel. +41 58 765 5574Send Mail


Ecosystem services are important as they describe the value of nature and thus help supporting its conservation. The most popular definition by the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment (MEA 2005) is: “the benefits that people obtain from ecosystems”.

Human activities have led to the unprecedented impairment of ecosystems and their services. A number of outstanding problems concern services provided by aquatic ecosystems, including “the dire state of many of the world’s fish stocks; the vulnerability of the two billion people living in dry regions to the loss of (…) water supply; and the growing threat to ecosystems from climate change and nutrient pollution” (MEA 2005). More generally, aquatic ecosystems such as lakes, rivers or swamps provide supporting services (e.g. biodiversity or nutrient cycling), provisioning services (e.g. food such as fish or the provision of fresh water), regulating services (e.g. hydrological regimes, pollution control, or detoxification), and cultural services (e.g. spiritual or recreational; MEA 2005).

Whereas the understanding of the threats to ecosystems and the ecological benefits of conservation efforts are typically natural scientific questions, finding a balance between human activities and the protection of water resources and aquatic species is ultimately a societal problem. A social scientific approach to this issue is thus crucial.

Typical problems and research questions

Three core topics concerning the management and the provision of services from aquatic ecosystems, which are related to current hot topics on the political agenda, are dealt with at ESS:

Energy and hydropower production: The Swiss Energy Strategy 2050 foresees an increase in hydropower production due to the phase out of nuclear power. Related research questions include:

  • What are the trade-offs between constructing new hydropower plants and their environmental impacts?
  • What is the risk perception and willingness to pay of the Swiss population to mitigate negative ecological effects of hydropower expansion?
  • What are regulations or coalitions around the prioritization of small hydropower plants?

River management: In Switzerland, around 4’000 km of rivers will be rehabilitated until 2090, resulting in conflicts about different ecosystem services between different stakeholders. Some of the associated research questions are:

  • What governance arrangement suits best for the joint management of ecosystem services in a river basin?
  • What is the population’s perception of and willingness to pay for rehabilitation?
  • How can decisions, e.g. concerning the prioritization of river restoration projects or monitoring activities be supported?

Conservation and biodiversity: Recently, the Swiss government elaborated a Biodiversity Strategy and related Action Plan. Among other elements, fostering biodiversity implies the conservation of near-natural aquatic habitats. Research at ESS deals with the following questions:

  • What are the economic values of ecosystem services provided by near-natural (versus impaired) rivers or lakes?
  • Which policy measures can help preserve near-natural ecosystems?
  • Invasive aquatic species are a serious threat to native species and their habitats.
  • Which ecosystem services are provided by native aquatic species, how are they valued by stakeholders, and how can we effectively manage invasive species?


Dr. Judit LienertGroup Leader, Cluster: DA (Decision Analysis)Tel. +41 58 765 5574Send Mail
Prof. Dr. Peter ReichertGroup leader "Systems analysis and water management"Tel. +41 58 765 5281Send Mail
Dr. Nele SchuwirthHead of Department, Group leader Ecological ModellingTel. +41 58 765 5528Send Mail
Dr. Mario AngstPostdoctoral Researcher, Cluster: PEGOTel. +41 58 765 5309Send Mail
Dr. Ivana LogarGroup Leader, Cluster: EnvEcoTel. +41 58 765 5504Send Mail
Dr. Manuel FischerGroup leader, Cluster: PEGOTel. +41 58 765 5676Send Mail

Dr. Simone D. Langhans
Leibniz-Institut für Gewässerökologie und Binnenfischerei IGB
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Isabelle Stadelmann-Steffen, Universität Bern

Clau Dermont, Universität Bern

Philip Thalmann, EPFL

Win Myint, Environmental and Economic Research Institut, Yangon, Myanmar

Stefan Rieder, Interface Politikstudien

Chantal Strotz, Interface Politikstudien

Peter Messerli, CDE Universität Bern

Gudrun Schwilch, Universität Bern

Adrienne Grêt-Regamey, ETH Zürich

Bruno Salomon Ramamonjisoa, University of Antananarivo

Khamla Phanvilay, National University of Laos

San Win, University of Forestry, Myanmar


Langhans, S. D.; Lienert, J. (2016) Four common simplifications of multi-criteria decision analysis do not hold for river rehabilitation, PLoS One, 11(3), e0150695 (27 pp.), doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0150695, Institutional Repository
Kahsay, T. N.; Kuik, O.; Brouwer, R.; van der Zaag, P. (2015) Estimation of the transboundary economic impacts of the Grand Ethiopia Renaissance Dam: a computable general equilibrium analysis, Water Resources and Economics, 10, 14-30, doi:10.1016/j.wre.2015.02.003, Institutional Repository
Klinglmair, A.; Bliem, M. G.; Brouwer, R. (2015) Exploring the public value of increased hydropower use: a choice experiment study for Austria, Journal of Environmental Economics and Policy, 4(3), 315-336, doi:10.1080/21606544.2015.1018956, Institutional Repository
Reichert, P.; Langhans, S. D.; Lienert, J.; Schuwirth, N. (2015) The conceptual foundation of environmental decision support, Journal of Environmental Management, 154, 316-332, doi:10.1016/j.jenvman.2015.01.053, Institutional Repository
Langhans, S. D.; Lienert, J.; Schuwirth, N.; Reichert, P. (2013) How to make river assessments comparable: a demonstration for hydromorphology, Ecological Indicators, 32, 264-275, doi:10.1016/j.ecolind.2013.03.027, Institutional Repository
Renner, R.; Schneider, F.; Hohenwallner, D.; Kopeinig, C.; Kruse, S.; Lienert, J.; Link, S.; Muhar, S. (2013) Meeting the challenges of transdisciplinary knowledge production for sustainable water governance, Mountain Research and Development, 33(3), 234-247, doi:10.1659/MRD-JOURNAL-D-13-00002.1, Institutional Repository
Vermaat, J. E.; Wagtendonk, A. J.; Brouwer, R.; Sheremet, O.; Ansink, E.; Brockhoff, T.; Plug, M.; Hellsten, S.; Aroviita, J.; Tylec, L.; Giełczewski, M.; Kohut, L.; Brabec, K.; Haverkamp, J.; Poppe, M.; Böck, K.; Coerssen, M.; Segersten, J.; Hering, D. (2015) Assessing the societal benefits of river restoration using the ecosystem services approach, Hydrobiologia, 769(1), 121-135, doi:10.1007/s10750-015-2482-z, Institutional Repository

Ongoing Projects

River management

This project aims at closing the knowledge gap on monetary benefits of river rehabilitation by assessing the economic values of improvements in river ecosystem services resulting from river rehabilitation.
We aim at improving the use of MCDA in complex environmental problems.
Identification and Integration of Fragmented Games in Swiss Water Politics

Energy and hydropower production

This project aims at providing a better insight into the public preferences of the Swiss population for the suggested hydropower expansion.

Conservation and Biodiversity

Impact of distant socio-ecological systems (telecoupling) on land-use decision-making

Furthermore, ESS is strongly collaborating on this topic with the Siam department concerning environmental decision support and model-based decision support.

Completed Projects

MCDA allows integrating ecological assessments with the prediction of consequences of river rehabilitation, and the preferences of experts about trade-offs