Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions
Chincoteague Sunset by iStock user pabradyphoto

Ecosystem Services

Valuing the benefits of nature and nature-based solutions can strengthen public and private sector decisions.

Nature provides humans with many things of value—not only the water we drink and the air we breathe, but also crop pollination accomplished by bees, flood protection afforded by wetlands, and the sense of peace we might find standing in a quiet forest. People also depend on nature for environmental commodities such as crops, fish, and fiber, as well as places to live, work, and play.

The term ecosystem services is shorthand for all of these aspects of nature that contribute to human health, wealth, and well-being—and these vital contributions of nature and global biodiversity are deteriorating worldwide. As we face the global climate crisis, nature-based solutions can provide many ecosystem services such as removing and storing carbon from the atmosphere, making ecosystems more resilient, and lowering climate change risks for people.

The Ecosystem Services Program at Duke University’s Nicholas Institute for Energy, Environment & Sustainability focuses on ensuring that the environment can sustain future generations by helping public and private decision makers value the benefits natural ecosystems and nature-based solutions provide.

Drawing on the unmatched, diverse expertise of Duke scholars and others outside the university, the program is working to integrate both the direct and indirect value of ecosystem services into strategies and policies. Through the National Ecosystem Services Partnership, researchers are working with federal agencies to develop an approach to account for ecosystem services and include nature-based solutions in planning and management processes.


Applying GEMS with the NOAA Restoration Center

Increasingly, restoration funders and practitioners are paying attention to how coastal restoration projects affect people and communities.The GEMS project identified metrics for social and economic outcomes of coastal restoration, including employment, local economy, recreation, food provision, and mental health benefits. We are now working to apply the GEMS methods for assessing fishing and related outcomes to support restoration decisions made by NOAA’s Damage Assessment Remediation and Restoration (DARRP).

Conservation Planning Tools for North Carolina’s People and Nature

Conservation organizations and land trusts in North Carolina are increasingly focused on how their work can 1) contribute to humans’ and ecosystems’ resilience and adaptation to climate change, and 2) directly mitigate climate change through carbon storage and sequestration.

Ecosystem Services Resources for Coastal Managers – Applications for the NERRS

Estuarine ecosystems are areas of immense ecological importance and provide numerous social, economic, and environmental benefits to people.

Ecosystem Services Toolkit for Natural Resource Management

NESP has created a set of resources for the natural resource management community which are intended to establish an ecosystem services framework that is flexible, while being standardized, intuitive, and credible.

FRMES Guidebook

In partnership with a number of federal agencies, NESP developed an online guidebook for incorporating ecosystem services into agency planning processes.

Green Banks and Community Lenders Financing Nature-Based Solutions

The Nature-Based Solutions Financing Working Group, led by the Nicholas Institute and Environmental Policy Innovation Center, is providing resources for those interested in scaling up nature-based solutions financing through green banks and community lenders.

Gulf of Mexico Ecosystem Service Logic Models & Socio-Economic Indicators (GEMS)

The Nicholas Institute, partnering with The Harte Research Institute and The Nature Conservancy, works to standardize metrics of restoration success by developing ecosystem service logic models with stakeholders from the five Gulf states, federal agencies, and technical experts.

Mapping Ecosystem Services

Duke’s Nicholas Institute for Energy, Environment & Sustainability, in collaboration with the Southeast Climate Adaptation Science Center, is engaged in a project to map ecosystem services at the landscape level across the southeastern United States.

Mapping National Natural and Working Lands Benefits

The Nicholas Institute collaborated with the US Department of Agriculture to identify datasets ready to use in a national assessment of natural and working lands benefits and to highlight data gaps and limitations.

National Ecosystem Services Partnership (NESP)

NESP engages both public and private individuals and organizations to enhance collaboration within the ecosystem services community, including on nature-based solutions. It aims to strengthen coordination of policy, market implementation, and research at the national level.

Natural Capital Accounting

Natural capital accounting is a method of assessing natural ecosystems’ contributions to the economy in order to help governments better understand their economies’ reliance upon natural systems.

Nature-Based Solutions Roadmap

The DOI Nature-Based Solutions Roadmap, along with related strategy documents and fact sheets, is designed to provide DOI staff with consistent and credible information about nature-based solutions. The Roadmap is a living document that will be periodically updated to include new information and resources about nature-based solutions strategies.

Nature-Based Solutions: Current Issues

Explore current issues related to nature-based solutions, discover promising practices, and hear from experts working in this field via this webinar series organized by the Nicholas Institute’s National Ecosystem Services Partnership and the Resilience Roadmap project.

North Carolina Natural and Working Lands

The North Carolina Natural and Working Lands Action Plan, part of the North Carolina Climate Risk Assessment and Resilience Plan, was created in response to Executive Order 80 to identify opportunities for North Carolina’s natural and working lands.

North Carolina Natural and Working Lands Dashboards

The NC Natural and Working Lands Action Plan quantifies the current and potential benefits from forests, farmlands, and wetlands in the state. To make this information more accessible, the Nicholas Institute has developed informational online dashboards.

North Carolina Pocosins Mapping

Pocosins are a unique type of wetland found in the North Carolina coastal plain. They provide valuable wildlife habitat and store large amounts of carbon in their deep peat soils. There is increasing interest in pocosin restoration as a nature-based solution that will benefit both natural ecosystems and people.

The Bridge Collaborative

The Bridge Collaborative drove a fundamental shift in how we think, plan, fund and work across sectors to make bigger change faster. We united people and organizations in health, development and the environment with the evidence and tools to tackle the world’s most pressing challenges—from air pollution and poverty, to biodiversity loss and malnutrition, to climate change and inequality. Because there’s only one way to solve the most critical problems we face: Together.