Exploring Empirical Typologies of Human-Nature Relationships and Linkages to the Ecosystem Services Concept

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Landscape and Urban Planning

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The ways people relate to their environment are recognized as relevant to landscape sustainability efforts and policies. Contemporary human–nature relationship concepts have historical and philosophical roots and frame empirical explorations. An increasingly dominant paradigm guiding landscape assessment and management is the notion of ecosystem services, describing benefits humans obtain from ecosystems. This paper reviews literature in multiple languages (English, German, and Japanese) on empirically grounded types of human–nature relationships. The dominant dimensions used to differentiate various types are highlighted, particularly those related to positionality of humans and nature with respect to each other, character of the bond between humans and nature, and perspectives on understanding of nature. Empirical explorations of human–nature relationships follow both deductive and inductive reasoning, use both quantitative and qualitative methods, and reveal wide variation in typologies. Ecosystem services as a theoretical concept is linked to dimensions of empirically grounded human–nature relationships concepts. The ecosystem services concept is situated quite clearly in the nexus of anthropocentric and utilitarian dimensions of human–nature relationships with notions of nature as separate from humans, though more inclusion of cultural perspectives and intrinsic values are emerging. More explicit attention to broader, diverse interpretations from local stakeholders may inform the operationalization of the ecosystem services concept for landscape planning processes. Context matters greatly, as people may hold multiple, even competing perspectives on their relationship with or role in nature, and they may change across different circumstances or time. Further research is needed to understand communication and mobilization strategies for sustainable action within landscapes.

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