Assessment of Ecosystem Services Bundles
: Contribution to decision-making at city scale

  • Nada Saidi

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


Ecosystems hold a crucial role in sustaining human life. However, societal decisions about the relative importance of different ecosystem services has led to intentional and unintentional trade-offs among them. This issue has prompted the emergence of an extensive field of research dedicated to the study of the interrelationships among ecosystem services. In this context, the identification and analysis of sets of ecosystem services consistently associated together across space and/or time - so-called “bundles” - has gained momentum as a robust approach to evidence and communicate trade-offs and synergies in various landscapes.

Approaches to identify and analyse bundles provide a statistically-backed and visual way to represent ecosystem services’ associations: this has led researchers to stress their high potential to inform decision-making related to land-use planning and management. The realisation of this potential is however not straightforward, as the use of ecosystem services knowledge in decision-making involves complex processes and can take multiple forms. In this context, an in-depth analysis of the potential contributions of bundles is warranted, which explores their likely uses and the factors mediating them. I aimed, with this thesis, to provide such an analysis. The research reported here focuses on high-level decision-making at city scale, with the City of Edinburgh (UK) as a case study. It involves a spatial bundle assessment and a study of how the ecosystem services concept is integrated in policies and strategies.

Based on results in Edinburgh, I identify and describe uses for bundle assessments at city scale along three categories: conceptual, to raise awareness and reframe dialogues; strategic, to build support for plans or policies; and instrumental, to make specific decisions. I first demonstrate that bundle results can raise awareness of the full range of nature’s contributions in a city, by showing how lesser-known ecosystem services are associated with those traditionally included in policies and strategies. Bundle results can also help to address misconceptions about the co-occurrence of ecosystem services, as the policy discourse around nature’s multiple benefits may not fully reflect patterns of ecosystem services provision. In addition to these two conceptual uses, bundle results can help to advocate for the protection of, and better access to, greenspaces of different sizes – as bundles provide evidence of benefits from both small and large greenspace. Last but not least, in addition to this strategic use, bundle results can be used instrumentally: the spatial patterns they evidence can help to prioritise areas for intervention, in a context where the uneven access to nature's benefits is a growing and global socio-environmental issue in cities.

In this thesis, I also argue that the effective use of bundle results in decision-making depends on their salience, credibility, and legitimacy. By identifying criteria along these three dimensions, I provide recommendations to researchers wishing to develop policy-relevant projects based on bundles: the conceptual, strategic, and instrumental uses outlined above, should provide ideas for such projects. In this regard, the thesis constitutes yet another step towards a better integration of ecosystem services assessments in decision-making.
Date of Award2021
Original languageEnglish
SupervisorAndrew Allan (Supervisor), Chris Spray (Supervisor) & Rebecca Wade (Supervisor)


  • ecosystem services
  • Land use
  • Mapping
  • ES bundles
  • Science policy interface
  • ES mainstreaming
  • ES perception

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