Practical applications of ecosystem services in spatial planning: Lessons learned from a systematic literature review

Related GLP Member: Chiara Cortinovis, Christian Albert, Davide Geneletti


  • Spatial planning processes integrating ecosystem services (ES) are still rare.
  • Advantages of integrating ES knowledge primarily concern instrumental use.
  • ES more frequent in Marine Spatial Planning and Strategic Environmental Assessment.
  • ES help to synthesize and communicate complex socio-environmental information.
  • Environmental awareness is a pre-requisite for integrating ES into spatial planning.


The integration of ecosystem service (ES) knowledge into decision-making processes is increasingly endorsed by various policies and initiatives, with spatial planning targeted as one of the most relevant fields. Learning and feeding back from existing experiences is therefore a fundamental step to ensure appropriate and useful support by ES science. This paper aims to gather and critically analyse how ES science contributes to spatial planning practices. Through a systematic review of the literature about ES use in spatial planning, we map the level of integration of ES knowledge, the scale of case studies, and the type of planning addressed; and we identify and analyse case studies of real-world applications. Studies explicitly aimed at supporting spatial planning have increased over the last decade, but are still scarce. The real-world case studies reveal advantages of integrating ES knowledge into spatial planning processes, mainly concerning practical aspects such as synthesizing complex socio-environmental information and promoting participation. Windows of opportunity offered by regulatory frameworks and innovative processes and instruments, such as marine spatial plans and strategic environmental assessments, are key factors triggering the integration. However, supportive contextual conditions are necessary, including science-policy collaborations across the entire planning process and environmental awareness among policy-makers and stakeholders.