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

Ecosystem Services

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. The Ecosystem Services Program at Duke University’s Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions focuses on ensuring that the environment can sustain future generations by helping public and private decision makers value the benefits natural ecosystems 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 in planning and management processes.

Duke University is a partner in the Bridge Collaborative, which is inspiring a community of leaders and practitioners from across disciplines, sectors, and perspectives to develop a shared evidence base for solutions that bridge development and environmental sustainability.

In addition to new research on how accounting for ecosystem services can improve both urban planning and water utility management, the program has a body of work focusing on policy design for environmental markets and has developed significant expertise in greenhouse gas mitigation for agriculture and forestry.


National Ecosystem Services Partnership (NESP)

NESP engages both public and private individuals and organizations to enhance collaboration within the ecosystem services community and to strengthen coordination of policy and market implementation and research at the national level.

Bridge Collaborative

The Bridge Collaborative envisions the global health, development and environment communities jointly solving today’s complex, interconnected challenges.

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.

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.

North Carolina Natural and Working Lands

When managed sustainably, natural and working lands—including farms, forests, and wetlands—can store carbon, enhance community and ecosystem resilience, and provide many other social, economic and environmental benefits.

Mapping Ecosystem Services

Duke’s Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions, 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.

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.

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.

FRMES Guidebook

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