Where communities intermingle, diversity grows: The evolution of topics in ecosystem service research

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


We analyze how the content of ecosystem service research has evolved since the early 1990s. Conducting a computational bibliometric content analysis we process a corpus of 14,118 peer-reviewed scientific article abstracts on ecosystem services (ES) from Web of Science records. To provide a comprehensive content analysis of ES research literature, we employ a latent Dirichlet allocation algorithm. For three different time periods (1990–2000, 2001–2010, 2011–2016), we derive nine main ES topics arising from content analysis and elaborate on how they are related over time. The results show that natural science-based ES research analyzes oceanic, freshwater, agricultural, forest, and soil ecosystems. Pollination and land cover emerge as traceable standalone topics around 2001. Social science ES literature demonstrates a reflexive and critical lens on the role of ES research and includes critiques of market-oriented perspectives. The area where social and natural science converge most is about land use systems such as agriculture. Overall, we provide evidence of the strong natural science foundation, the highly interdisciplinary nature of ES research, and a shift in social ES research towards integrated assessments and governance approaches. Furthermore, we discuss potential reasons for observable topic developments.


External organisations
  • University of Helsinki
  • University of California, Berkeley
  • Helmholtz Centre for Environmental Research (UFZ)
  • Martin-Luther-Universität Halle-Wittenberg
  • Facultad Latinoamericana de Ciencias Sociales (FLACSO Ecuador)
Research areas and keywords

Subject classification (UKÄ) – MANDATORY

  • Environmental Sciences
  • Ecology
Original languageEnglish
Article numbere0204749
Number of pages19
JournalPLoS ONE
Issue number9
Publication statusPublished - 2018 Sep 28
Publication categoryResearch