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Ecosystem Services of River Systems – Irreplaceable, Undervalued, and at Risk

Riverine landscapes provide an extensive range of river ecosystem services (rESS): they provide drinking water, fish and fertile soils for food production, fulfill a central role in flood protection with their floodplains, and serve as recreation areas. Human use and activities have fundamentally transformed river systems, causing a reduction in the availability of many rESS. However, societal and political awareness of the concept of ecosystem services (ESS) has grown significantly and has placed ESS central to multiple policy objectives with the aim of advancing concepts and methods for assessing ESS. 

There is a number of different methods and tools to assess and quantify rESS, such as ready-to-use software and models to allow for enhanced mapping or an approach to assign monetary values to rESS which may lead to a better representation of these services in societal and political decisions. Methods to quantify rESS are not only helpful in describing the status quo, but also for planning and management of riverine landscapes. Methods and tools for analyzing rESS are however scattered and currently vary regionally, therefore rendering large scale evaluations of rESS approaches difficult. A more coherent, harmonized approach and set of methodologies for rESS assessment, as well as developing and testing guidelines of how to use these assessments in catchment restoration and management, is therefore needed. Considering the growing competition for water and other services, the rESS concept provides a unique 
opportunity toward effectively negotiating the different interests in a sustainable way that also considers the need to combat the concomitant biodiversity crisis.

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