The ways that nature, biodiversity and ecosystem services are conceived and valued vary across cultures and societies. It is critical to acknowledge and to take into account the great diversity of worldviews and how these result in diverse values. These worldviews can be characterized along two dimensions that are both important for biodiversity and ecosystem services valuation: 1) different ontologies (what is nature and how it contributes to people’s good quality of life?) and different epistemologies (what can we know about it and how?).
Nature and its contributions to a good quality of life are often perceived and conceptualized by people in different and often conflicting ways (e.g. as the environment, Mother Earth, natural resources, natural capital from which people derive ecosystem services, our biological community). People also ascribe different types of values to nature. Furthermore, people ascribe multiple values to the same natural entity (e.g. a landscape can simultaneously be seen as a provider of food and medicine, a good site for mineral exploitation, important for water supply, a habitat for wildlife, a beautiful place or a sacred space).
Complications can arise from the fact that our conceptualizations and our value ascriptions vary across cultures, stakeholders, space and time, and evolve in response to new information or a changing social or ecological context. Also, from the fact that people perceive and judge reality, truth and knowledge in ways that may differ from the mainstream scientific lens.
Hence, it is critical to acknowledge that the diversity of values of nature and its contributions to people’s good quality of life are associated with different cultural and institutional contexts and are hard to compare on the same yardstick. Moreover interactions between different agents can result in outcomes with varying implications for conservation, equity, resilience and sustainability goals.
The existence of diverse conceptualizations of nature and a plurality of possible values means that policy making in this field is challenging and often subject to disagreement and debate. For assessment, management and policy purposes it is therefore important to recognize the multiple values that different stakeholders implicitly or explicitly ascribe to nature and its benefits, and to be transparent in how these are handled and addressed in decision making. This involves understanding the importance of the influence of worldviews in the design of methodological approaches and policy processes, as well as being transparent about which worldview is adopted or taken into account.