Summary and Keywords
All types of wetlands around the world are heavily threatened. According to the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands, they comprise “areas of marsh, fen, peatland or water, whether natural or artificial, permanent or temporary, with water that is static or flowing, fresh, brackish, or salt.” While they are estimated still to cover 1,280 million hectares worldwide, large shares of wetlands were destroyed during the 20th century, mainly as a result of land use changes. According to the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment (MEA), this applies above all to North America, Europe, Australia, and New Zealand, but wetlands were also heavily degraded in other parts of the world. Moreover, degradation is expected to accelerate in the future due to global environmental change. These developments are alarming because wetlands deliver a broad range of ecosystem services to societies, contributing significantly to human well-being. Among those services are water supply and purification, flood regulation, climate regulation, and opportunities for recreation, to name only a few. The benefits humans derive from those services, however, often are not reflected in markets as they are public goods in nature. Thus, arguing in favor of the preservation of wetlands requires, inter alia, to make the non-marketed economic benefits more visible and comparable to those from alternative—generally private—uses of converted wetlands, which are often much smaller. The significance of the non-market value of wetland services has been demonstrated in the literature: the benefits derived from wetlands have been one of the most frequently investigated topics in environmental economics and are integrated in meta-analyses devoted to synthesizing the present knowledge about the value of wetlands. The meta-analyses that cover both different types of wetlands in different landscapes as well as different geographical regions are supplemented by recent primary studies on topics of increasing importance such as floodplains and peatlands, as they bear, for example, a large flood regulation and climate change mitigation potential, respectively. The results underpin that the conversion of wetlands is accompanied by significant losses in benefits. Moreover, wetland preservation is economically beneficial given the large number of ecosystem services provided by wetland ecosystems. Thus, decision-making that might affect the status and amount of wetlands directly or indirectly should consider the full range of benefits of wetland ecosystems.
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