Understanding social–ecological interdependence using ecosystem
services perspective in Bhutan, Eastern Himalayas
International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD), P.O. Box 3226, Kathmandu, Nepal
Royal Society for Protection of Nature (RSPN), P.O. Box 325, Lhado Lam, Thimphu, Bhutan
Citation: Kandel, P., D. Tshering, K. Uddin, T. Lhamtshok, K. Aryal, S. Karki, B. Sharma, and N. Chettri. 2018.
Understanding social–ecological interdependence using ecosystem services perspective in Bhutan, Eastern Himalayas.
Ecosphere 9(2):e02121. 10.1002/ecs2.2121
Biophysical and economic values are often used to aid understanding of the complex interplay
between ecosystems, their services, and human well-being, but community values are rarely considered. In
a case study of Barshong gewog in Bhutan, we used mapping methods that involved (1) local knowledge
and perceptions collected using participatory rural appraisal tools, (2) a household survey, and (3) geospa-
tial inputs, to understand the linkages between human well-being and ecosystem services at the local level,
as perceived by the community. The study identiﬁed three major ecosystems—forest, agriculture, and
freshwater—that contribute highly to local livelihoods. Collectively, these ecosystems provide a wide range
of goods and services, including 22 provisioning, 13 regulating, 4 supporting, and 6 cultural services.
About 85% of the households depend directly upon provisioning ecosystem services for their livelihoods
and income. The study also identiﬁed the importance of the ecosystems in terms of three value domains—
ecological, socioeconomic, and cultural.
Key words: community perceptions; dependence; ecosystem services; land use; participatory approaches.
Received 28 December 2017; accepted 18 January 2018. Corresponding Editor: Guy Ziv.
Copyright: © 2018 Kandel et al. This is an open access article under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution
License, which permits use, distribution and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.
Ecosystem services are deﬁned as the condi-
tions, processes, and components of the natural
environment that provide tangible and intangible
beneﬁts for sustaining and fulﬁlling human needs
(Daily 1997) and have been broadly adopted as a
conceptual framework for addressing the connec-
tions between humans and nature (Burkhard et al.
ıaz et al. 2015). They are also considered as
products of the coupled and nested social–ecologi-
cal systems on which humans depend for the vari-
ous goods and services that contribute to their
well-being (MEA 2005, Daw et al. 2011, Reyers
et al. 2013, Hicks et al. 2015). This anthropocentric
approach to nature promotes a new way of think-
ing about the contribution of the environment to
human well-being (Costanza et al. 1997, Daily and
2015). The concept of ecosystem services has risen
to prominence in recent years, with recognition
based on ecological, social, and cultural, as well as
economic, values (Chan et al. 2012, Maes et al.
2012, Castro et al. 2014). Ecosystem services have
also been identiﬁed as an important concept for
poverty alleviation in communities, which are
more dependent on ecosystems for their liveli-
hoods (Pereira et al. 2005, Gr
et-Regamey et al.
2012, Sandhu and Sandhu 2014, Suich et al. 2015).
The growing popularity of the ecosystem services
concept can be seen primarily as a reaction to the
long-term neglect of the role of biophysical and
ecological integrity in societal systems, and partly
as a response to the growing degradation of the