The Anthropocene, understood as a period in which human activities represent the main driver of socio-environmental changes on Earth, has highlighted the need for approaches that are capable of dealing with non-linearity, as well as the rapidity and globality of current changes.
The Mediterranean is considered a biodiversity hotspot and, at the same time, one of the most vulnerable areas on the planet. Mediterranean ecosystems, in fact, are increasingly under threat from anthropogenic pressures in a scenario marked by profound environmental changes that are placing even greater stress on these systems and diminishing their ability to provide an adequate flow of ecosystem services (ES).
In turn, this situation is leading to a constant increase in the degradation of ecosystems, accompanied by an increase in socio-environmental conflicts among social actors for the use of natural resources.
It is therefore necessary to apply a paradigm shift in the study of human-nature relationships, through complex adaptive approaches, such as the water-energy-food-ecosystem Nexus framework or the Social-ecological systems framework, capable of overcoming the nature-society dualism and focusing on the complexity of the social-ecological relationships.
However, despite this urgent need, the Nexus framework does not sufficiently take into account the ecosystems that support the relationships between water-energy-food, often eclipsing their importance.
Ecosystems and society are closely linked and are constantly interacting with each other. However, how aware is society of these links?
Our dependence as a society on ecosystems is really high. Ecosystems provide a lots of ecosystem services (ES), understood as direct and indirect contributions to human well-being. These contribution can be direct, as provisioning ES (fresh water, food, timber, raw materials etc.), indirect, as regulating ES (set of processes for maintaining the ecological functioning of ecosystems), and more intangible, as cultural ES (intangible values we associate with nature and ecosystems, as religious, spiritual, aesthetic etc.).
For these reason, ecosystems and the ecosystem services flows they provide should gain higher importance in water-food-energy Nexus opinions and debates. Ecosystem services, in fact, allow to express the relationship between nature and society, emphasizing the benefits that people obtain from ecosystems, including the most invisible ones.
However, measuring and evaluating the importance of ecosystem services is a challenging task. We underline the importance of sociocultural evaluations of ecosystem services into the water-energy-food Nexus, as a useful tool to explore differing perceptions and value systems among stakeholders, identify priorities, needs, and objectives, and integrate these into joint decision-making processes.
Ecosystem services, in fact, understood as a component of social-ecological systems, represent the analytical framework that allows to connect people with nature. Likewise, they allow to capture, express and visualize the key role of ecosystems in providing multiple benefits to human beings (not only water, energy, and food), in order to contribute to the improvement of current and future management of natural resources, in such a way that this is increasingly effective, sustainable, and resilient in a context of global change.