Ecosystem Services Conceptual Model Application: NOAA and NERRS Salt Marsh Habitat Restoration

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Interest in using ecosystem services to integrate considerations of people and the environment continues to grow in federal agencies. One method that can help agencies incorporate ecosystem services into decision making is the use of ecosystem services conceptual models, which link changes in biophysical systems caused by an intervention to socio-economic and human well-being outcomes. Evidence-based ecosystem services conceptual models can provide efficiency and consistency in application, transitioning ecosystem services from an interesting concept to an actionable approach for natural resource management. Despite the potential usefulness of these models, there are few examples available to build from and little published detail on how to implement them. This report provides an illustrative ecosystem services conceptual model for salt marsh restoration at National Estuarine Research Reserve System sites. The National Estuarine Research Reserve System, which is closely associated with the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration, wants to protect and restore coastal ecosystems while reinforcing local social and cultural systems. Developed by staff at the Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions, the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration, and the National Estuarine Research Reserve System, the ecosystem services conceptual model captures the potential outcomes of a salt marsh habitat restoration. An accompanying evidence library provides a summary of the currently available evidence for each relationship in the model and an assessment of the strength of that evidence.






Mason, Sara, Lydia Olander and Katie Warnell (2018). Ecosystem Services Conceptual Model Application: NOAA and NERRS Salt Marsh Habitat Restoration. Retrieved from



Sara Mason

Senior Policy Associate

Sara Mason joined the Ecosystem Services Program at the Nicholas Institute for Energy, Environment & Sustainability as a policy associate after graduating from Duke with a master’s degree in environmental management. Her work focuses on the interdisciplinary nature of biodiversity conservation and how that can be leveraged to engage the public and policy makers in conservation efforts. Prior to joining the Nicholas Institute, Sara worked in ecological field research and endangered animal rehabilitation.


Lydia Olander

Adjunct Professor in the Environmental Sciences and Policy Division

Lydia Olander is a program director at the Nicholas Institute for Energy Environment & Sustainability at Duke University and adjunct professor at the Nicholas School of the Environment. She works on improving evidence-based policy and accelerating implementation of climate resilience, nature-based solutions, natural capital accounting, and environmental markets. She leads the National Ecosystem Services Partnership and sits on Duke’s Climate Commitment action team. She recently spent two years with the Biden administration at the Council on Environmental Quality as Director of Nature based Resilience and before that spent five years on the Environmental Advisory Board for the US Army Corps of Engineers. She is a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) and widely published researcher. Prior to joining the Nicholas Institute, she spent a year as an AAAS Congressional Science and Technology Fellow working with Senator Joseph Lieberman on environmental and energy issues. She was a college scholar at Cornell University and earned her Master of Forest Science from Yale University and Ph.D. from Stanford University.


Katie Warnell

Senior Policy Associate

Katie Warnell is a senior policy associate for the Ecosystem Services Program. She is a graduate of Duke University’s Master of Environment Management program with a concentration in ecosystem science and conservation and was awarded a geospatial analysis certificate. She has served as an intern at the Triangle Land Conservancy and as a research tech with the Duke University Superfund Research Center. She has conducted research on South Africa’s bats with the Organization for Tropical Studies and was involved in a DukeEngage project on fish farming in Ecuador.

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