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Digging Deeper: A Case Study of Farmer Conceptualization of Ecosystem Services in the American South

  • Quinn, Courtney E.1
  • Quinn, John E.2
  • Halfacre, Angela C.3
  • 1 Furman University, Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences (Sustainability Science), Shi Center for Sustainability, 3300 Poinsett Highway, Greenville, SC, 29613, USA , Greenville (United States)
  • 2 Furman University, Department of Biology, 3300 Poinsett Highway, Greenville, SC, 29613, USA , Greenville (United States)
  • 3 Furman University, Departments of Political Science, Earth and Environmental Science (Sustainability Science), Shi Center for Sustainability, 3300 Poinsett Highway, Greenville, SC, 29613, USA , Greenville (United States)
Published Article
Environmental Management
Publication Date
May 16, 2015
DOI: 10.1007/s00267-015-0534-9
Springer Nature


The interest in improved environmental sustainability of agriculture via biodiversity provides an opportunity for placed-based research on the conceptualization and articulation of ecosystem services. Yet, few studies have explored how farmers conceptualize the relationship between their farm and nature and by extension ecosystem services. Examining how farmers in the Southern Piedmont of South Carolina discuss and explain the role of nature on their farm, we create a detail-rich picture of how they perceive ecosystem services and their contributions to the agroeconomy. Using 34 semi-structured interviews, we developed a detail-rich qualitative portrait of these farmers’ conceptualizations of ecosystem services. Farmers’ conceptualization of four ecosystem services: provisioning, supporting, regulating, and cultural are discussed, as well as articulation of disservices. Results of interviews show that most interviewees expressed a basic understanding of the relationship between nature and agriculture and many articulated benefits provided by nature to their farm. Farmers referred indirectly to most services, though they did not attribute services to biodiversity or ecological function. While farmers have a general understanding and appreciation of nature, they lack knowledge on specific ways biodiversity benefits their farm. This lack of knowledge may ultimately limit farmer decision-making and land management to utilize ecosystem services for environmental and economic benefits. These results suggest that additional communication with farmers about ecosystem services is needed as our understanding of these benefits increases. This change may require collaboration between conservation biology professionals and extension and agriculture professionals to extended successful biomass provisioning services to other ecosystem services.

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