Ecosystem services research faces several challenges stemming from the plurality of interpretations of classifications and terminologies. In this paper we identify two main challenges with current ecosystem services classification systems: i) the inconsistency across concepts, terminology and definitions, and; ii) the mix up of processes and end-state benefits, or flows and assets. Although different ecosystem service definitions and interpretations can be valuable for enriching the research landscape, it is necessary to address the existing ambiguity to improve comparability among ecosystem-service-based approaches. Using the cascade framework as a reference, and Systems Ecology as a theoretical underpinning, we aim to address the ambiguity across typologies. The cascade framework links ecological processes with elements of human well-being following a pattern similar to a production chain. Systems Ecology is a long-established discipline which provides insight into complex relationships between people and the environment. We present a refreshed conceptualization of ecosystem services which can support ecosystem service assessment techniques and measurement. We combine the notions of biomass, information and interaction from system ecology, with the ecosystem services conceptualization to improve definitions and clarify terminology. We argue that ecosystem services should be defined as the interactions (i.e. processes) of the ecosystem that produce a change in human well-being, while ecosystem components or goods, i.e. countable as biomass units, are only proxies in the assessment of such changes. Furthermore, Systems Ecology can support a re-interpretation of the ecosystem services conceptualization and related applied research, where more emphasis is needed on the underpinning complexity of the ecological system.
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La Notte, A., D'amato, D., Mäkinen, H., Paracchini, M. L., Liquete, C., Egoh, B., ... Crossman, N. (2017). Ecosystem services classification: A systems ecology perspective of the cascade framework. Ecological Indicators, 74, 392-402. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ecolind.2016.11.030