Core Element 6: Tradeoffs Among Human Activities

Because the ecosystem has a finite capacity to provide nature’s services, tradeoffs are inevitable when a human activity affects ecological functions. That human activity may provide benefits, but it may reduce nature's services that could provide other benefits. For example, mining sand from the seabed and putting it onto a beach may provide benefits for beachgoers and beach-related businesses, but the loss of seabed habitat may affect commercially fished species. Ecosystem-based management (EBM) identifies these tradeoffs and seeks to quantify them based on scientific evidence. The tradeoffs are weighed explicitly in EBM decisions.

Focus Questions

  • How do human activities affect nature's services in the focal geographic area, and what tradeoffs may exist among human activities?
  • What are the costs and benefits associated with each type of human activity, including market and non-market values?
  • How can policy and management account explicitly for these tradeoffs?

Learn More

Listed below are selected resources for learning about and implementing this Core Element of EBM. The list is far from comprehensive and highlights only a few especially useful examples.


Chapter 8: Ecosystem Service Tradeoffs in Ecosystem-Based Management for the Oceans
Edited by Karen McLeod and Heather Leslie

Chapter 6: Tradeoffs in Ocean and Coastal Ecosystem-Based Management: Implementation Handbook
By Kathryn Mengerink, Adam Schempp, and Jay Austin

By Daniel S. Holland, James N. Sanchirico, Robert J. Johnston and Deepak Joglekar

Compatibility Determination: Considerations for Siting Coastal and Ocean Uses (PDF)
This technical report from the Massachusetts Ocean Partnership considers compatibility of human activities and potential tradeoffs in coastal waters.

Case Studies

Modeling Responses of Coupled Social–Ecological Systems of the Gulf of California to Anthropogenic and Natural Perturbations
Leslie, HM et al. 2009. Ecological Research 24:505-519

Ecosystem Services in Decision Making: Time to Deliver (PDF)
Daily, G. C., et al. 2009. Frontiers in Ecology and Environment 7(1):21–28


Science to Inform Ecosystem Service Trade-off Analysis (SIESTA) (PDF)
SIESTA is a framework for assessing tradeoffs in nature's services and for identifying potential management solutions.

Marine Spatial Planning Toolkit and Marine Spatial Planning: A Step-by-Step Approach for Marine Spatial Planning toward Ecosystem-based Management
Marine spatial planning (MSP) is one approach for addressing tradeoffs.


InVEST is a tool that models and maps the delivery, distribution, and economic value of nature’s services, or natural capital.

Marxan is a stand-alone decision-support tool for identifying multiple-use zoning plans and conservation plans that minimize social, economic and ecological cost.

NatureServe Vista
This tool supports cumulative impacts assessment, creation of multiple-use spatial plans, and evaluation of imported or created spatial use plans against stated objectives.


National Ocean Economics Program
The National Ocean Economics Program (NOEP) provides a full range of the most current economic and socio-economic information available on changes and trends along the U.S. coast and in coastal waters.

Economic Values of Coral Reefs, Mangroves, and Seagrasses: A Global Compilation (PDF)
Center for Applied Biodiversity Science, Conservational International, Arlington, VA, USA.

Connection with other Core Elements (CEs) of EBM

CE1:Nature's Services
EBM focuses on tradeoffs in nature's services.

CE2:Scientific Evidence
Scientific evidence is needed to identify potential tradeoffs and to measure costs and benefits.

CE3:Geographic Scales
The geographic scale of an EBM initiative affects the types and importance of tradeoffs.

CE4:Ecological Linkages
Ecological linkages can lead to tradeoffs.

CE5:Cumulative Impacts
Cumulative impacts are one factor that leads to tradeoffs among human activities.

CE7:Adaptive Management
Adaptive management is necessary to address tradeoffs.

CE8:Network of People and Information
People engaged in EBM need to know about tradeoffs.


Read about Core Element 7: Adaptive Management