Building Ecosystem Services Conceptual Models

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Funders and developers of infrastructure projects and businesses and managers overseeing critical natural resources are becoming increasingly aware of and interested in ecosystem services. Although methods for incorporating ecosystem services into decisions have been established through academic research, practical guidance for how to do so in the quick, simple, transparent, and low-cost, feasible ways often required for widespread implementation are just now under development. One tool that can support widespread implementation is the use of ecosystem services conceptual models, which can underpin both simple and complex methods while helping to improve consistency and credibility. These conceptual models link changes caused by an external stressor or intervention through the ecological system to socio-economic and human well-being outcomes. Ecosystem services conceptual models can be developed for any given site and intervention or created as reference models for a general type of intervention across sites. This report facilitates development and use of evidence-based ecosystem services conceptual models in federal decision making by presenting a “how-to” guide and illustrative examples.






Olander, Lydia, Sara Mason, Katie Warnell and Heather Tallis (2018). Building Ecosystem Services Conceptual Models. Retrieved from



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.


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.


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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