General introduction

Historic facts and scientific context

Around the early 1990s, scientists like Erlish and Wilson (1991) introduced the concept of “ecosystem services” (ES) for studies on biodiversity, with the wish to identify and measure the role of nature and its ecological functions. While demographic and industrialisation pressures were increasing in the world, ecosystem services and the idea that they would disappear in the future, started to be considered as a useful tool to legitimate biodiversity conservation. Consequently, the term appeared in scientific literature mainly with the work of Costanza et al. (1997).

Then, international conventions, even using previous ones such as the Convention on Wetlands of International Importance especially as Waterfowl Habitat (Ramsar, 1971) started to focus on ecosystem services. ES started to be integrated in conservation plans after the Millenium Ecosystem Assessment (MEA) report (2005). The assessment emphasised the need to describe, quantify and measure more accurately ES and the links between ecosystems and human well-being (MEA, 2005). Nowadays, there is an increasing demand for introducing ES in decision making processes, considering the potential impact their decline would have on human welfare in the future (Costanza et al., 1997). Besides, major challenges are now turned on the implementation of ecosystem services management schemes in the field, especially in developing countries, where bridges are now possible between ecosystem services management and socio economic development (Termoshuizen and Opam, 2009). Even more recently the IPBES (the Intergovernmental Platform of Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services) prefers now the concept of “Nature’s Contributions to People (NCP)”, which falls into three categories: regulation, material and immaterial (Pascual et al., 2017). In this introduction, only the notion of ecosystem services (ES) will be described.

In the name of the principles of intra- and transgenerational equity and environmental justice (Millennium Ecosystem Assessment, 2005), the need for ensuring the preservation of biodiversity to maintain or improve the well-being of people has led to a popularization of the notion of ES and proposed a first classification into four categories: regulation, support, provision, and socio-cultural aspects (Figure 1).



Figure 1: Millenium Ecosystem Assessment Classification (MEA, 2005).


In its form and structure the SEDES IJL has kept the definition of the ES given by the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment in 2005. However, since that date, the definition of ES and the need to improve their classification have been subject to discussion in order to deal with problems such as repetitions, overlaps and trade-offs between services. Several alternative classifications have been proposed. Some authors (Wallace, 2007; Fisher and Turner, 2008) had the conscientiousness that links between potential human needs and ES must be clearly defined and are of prime importance (Haines-Young, 2009). To do so, they proposed solutions by classifying ES with a cascade scheme. Costanza et al. (2007) also proposed another classification based on the spatial characteristics of ES and made out 5 categories, according to the proximity, points of production and points of uses of ES. The overall idea is the same for all authors: to describe with precision the bridges and mechanisms that exist between ES and human welfare.

To summarize, the classification given in Figure 2 can be put forward (De Groot et al., 2010).


Figure 2: Cascade of mechanisms involved in the linkage between ecosystems and human welfare (adapted from Haines-Young, 2009).

Fisher et al. (2009) argued that the classification must not be properly defined and depends much more on the ecosystems themselves and the socio economic context. They proposed some features which can be helpful to highlight important socio ecological links, like the public-private good aspect, the spatial and temporal dynamism, the interaction between intermediate services, the use of proxies to measure services and the different ways a service is viewed considering the benefice that people get from it.

Finally, Haines-Young (2009) proposed to use the MEA’s classification (Figure 1) as a menu, and then to use the cascade classification (Figure 2) to clearly define the links between services and human needs. When attempting to clearly understand what are the services, benefits, processes and functions in a rigorous way, the complexity of a given problem can be sorted out more easily. However, in a given situation, Haines-Young (2009) attested that a clear classification of all services cannot be made and suggested to rather focus on those which will be utilized. On this way, more importance is given to the output coming from the analysis, keeping in mind the need to further achieve a proper valuation and focus on spatial/temporal patterns of ES, rather than trying to make the best classification of all ES. This theory reaches that of Fisher et al. (2008), stating that the classification must be set according to the studied context.


The SEDES International Joint Laboratory

The SEDES International Joint Laboratory was launched in April 2016. It aims to investigate how the key socio-ecological services provided by delta’s coastal waters can be sustained, restored and/or valorised in different political and environmental contexts, and under the pressure of global changes (Figure 3). SEDES, grounded in a North-South multidisciplinary scientific partnership, links socio-cultural, environmental and biological sciences in the complex socio-environments given by the deltas. It is specifically focused on the Mekong Delta in Vietnam, considered as a study case, but works also on other coastal ecosystems. The targeted services, also corresponding to different themes in SEDES structure, are: i) provision, with the maintenance and resilience of the biodiversity for the seafood production, ii) support, with organic matter cycling, and physical and chemical fluxes, iii) regulation, with physical littoral evolution and protection, and (iv) socio-cultural services, with the policies for promoting equitable sharing of benefits. SEDES generates methodologies to study governance from local to global scales, biodiversity and environment in delta socio-ecosystems, but also scenarios of their evolution which could be used by the various stakeholders and managers of the environment. New indicators for measuring the ecosystem quality and pressure impact relationships in delta ecosystems will also be developed. The conceptual and methodological frameworks developed during the project, which associate social, biological and environmental sciences, could be exported to other delta areas around the world.



Figure 3: Global and local changes impacting the main services from tropical delta coastal waters (images modified from


To summary, in the framework of the SEDES IJL, the original classification of the ES by MEA (2005) has been conserved and several ES of relevant importance for the Mekong Delta socio ecosystems assessment has been targeted (Table 1).


Table 1: Links between ES and SEDES thematic fields of research.






Ecosystem Services




Policies and scenarios


- Sea food availability for human populations

- Delta's ecosystem functioning

- Coastal zone’s ecosystem functioning

- Impact of growing megacities

Evolution of littoral shoreline over the time

- Conservation policies relevance

- Indicators of the state of delta socio ecosystems

- Conceptual framework of the socio ecosystem

Data needed

- Taxonomic diversity of sea food

- Biology and ecology of the sea food organisms

- Functional diversity of sea food

- Sentinel species

- Organic matter cycling

- Pollutants fluxes

- Sediment fluxes

- Past policies for Mekong delta’s conservation

- Changes and recovery in surface elevation observation

- Indicators of ecosystem state

- Governance effects on ecosystem dynamics

- Analytical integrative and conceptual framework of the socio ecosystem

- Landscape governance (policies and management linked with the observed changes)

Spatial area

- Environmental gradient from protected to exploited

- Lower Mekong delta estuarine ecosystem

- Coastal environments

- Mangrove ecosystems

- Mekong Delta

- Mekong delta

- Head-water catchment and dams along the Mekong river

- Mekong Delta

- Mangrove ecosystems


Scientific objectives

The SEDES IJL aims at experimenting new and innovative approaches and technologies in the field, actively contributing in the vocational training of new ideas for environmental bio-monitoring. This project offers the opportunity of conducting an interdisciplinary and multinational study on a sensitive socio-ecosystem suffering important environmental deteriorations. The conclusions fall into two categories, i.e. general (available to other similar systems as well) and specific (meant to be used above all by the regional stakeholders of decision). As output, the project serves i) to build new inter-disciplinary projects focused on deltas, coastal waters, and/or mangrove socio-ecosystems, and ii) to produce and compile scientific articles reaching the highest international standard to increase the audience of each partner and each member of the consortium. Scientists sharing the themes are also sharing the benefit of their effort through co-authorship of papers. Articles focused on biodiversity, ecosystem values, trophic functioning, chemical and physical environment, bio-indicators and participatory governance are particularly expected.

            Training of human resources is also an important achievement for the SEDES IJL based at the University of Science (VNUHCM). Stakeholders and populations, North and South Master and PhD students are involved in the project. SEDES also proposes trainings included in university education (Masters) at the University of Science (VNUHCM) and summer schools on specific thematic fields of research linked with delta socio-ecosystems. The final goal is to propose methodologies to study services from delta coastal waters using inter-disciplinary approaches.



Costanza, R., D’ Arge, R., De Groot, R., Farber, S., Grasso, M., Hannon, B., Limburg, K., Naeem, S., O’Neill, R.V., Paruelo, J., Raskin, R.G., Sutton, P., Van Den Belt, M., 1997. The value of the world’s ecosystem services and natural capital. Nature 387, 253-260.

Costanza, R., Fisher, B., Ali, S., Beer, C., Bond, L., Boumans, R., Danigelis, N.L., Dickinson, J., Elliott, C., Farley, J., Gayer, D.E., Glenn, L.M., Hudspeth, T., Mahoney, D., McCahill, L., McIntosh, B., Reed, B., Rizvi, S.A.T., Rizzo, D.M., Simpatico, T., Snapp, R., 2007. Quality of life: An approach integrating opportunities, human needs, and subjective well-being. Ecological Economics 61, 267–276.

De Groot, R.S., Alkemade, R., Braat, L., Hein, L., Willemen, L., 2010. Challenges in integrating the concept of ecosystem services and values in landscape planning, management and decision making. Ecological Complexity 7, 260–272.

Ehrlich, P.R., Wilson, E.O., 1991. Biodiversity Studies: Science and Policy. Science 25, 758-759.

Fisher, B., Turner, R.K., 2008. Ecosystem services: classification for valuation. Biological Conservation 141, 1167–1169.

Fisher, B., Turner, R.K., Morling, P., 2009. Defining and classifying ecosystem services for decision making. Ecological Economics 68, 643–653.

Haines-Young, R., 2009. Land use and biodiversity relationships. Land Use Policy 26, S178–S186.

Millennium Ecosystem Assessment, 2005. Ecosystems and Human Well-being: Synthesis Island Press, Washington, DC.

Pascual U., Balvanera P., Díaz S., Pataki G., Roth E., Stenseke M., Watson R.T., Dessane E. B., Islar M., Kelemen E., 2017. Valuing Nature’s Contributions to People: The IPBES Approach. Current Opinion in Environmental Sustainability 26, 7–16.

Termorshuizen, J.W., Opdam, P., 2009. Landscape services as a bridge between landscape ecology and sustainable development. Landscape Ecology 24, 1037–1052.

Wallace, K.J., 2007. Classification of ecosystem services: Problems and solutions. Biological Conservation 139, 235–246.


French Research Units involved

  • UMR MARBEC (Marine Biodiversity, Exploitation & Conservation, IRD-Ifremer-CNRS-UM)
  • UMR PALOC (Patrimoines Locaux et gouvernance, IRD-MNHN)





  • PANFILI Jacques – IRD - UMR MARBEC - Ho Chi Minh City, Viet Nam
  • HOANG Duc Huy - University of Science - Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology - Ho Chi Minh City, Viet Nam