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By Alex Moore, Luis Hierro, Neena Mir, and Taylor Stewart.

This Plain Language Summary is published ahead of the article discussed; check back soon for a link to the full paper.

Cultural services and values, the non-material benefits ecosystems provide to people, are frequently the benefits valued most by stakeholders and local communities. However, ecosystem service assessments routinely overlook these benefits since they are difficult to articulate and assign a clear economic value. As a result, the cultural values associated with myriad ecosystems are often rendered invisible in environmental policy and management decisions. Among these ecosystems are mangrove forests, which are found globally across tropical and subtropical regions. Despite their broad geographic occurrence, mangroves are among the most threatened ecosystems, having been reduced by at least 35% within the last 50 years.

These losses are expected to significantly affect the numerous services mangroves provide, such as serving as habitat for a wide variety of species and storing carbon to mitigate climate change impacts. Yet currently, we do not have a clear understanding of the cultural values and services provided by mangroves and how they may be affected by the global decline of this ecosystem. Therefore, we conducted a systematic review of the literature to provide a summary of what we currently know about mangrove cultural services and values, identify priority areas where additional research is needed to fill in knowledge gaps, and highlight some of the potential sociocultural impacts associated with mangrove losses. We identified 16 cultural services and values linked to mangrove habitats across 25 countries (representing roughly 22% of global mangrove regions) across the 58 synthesized studies. We also observed differences in methods used and author affiliations that may have influenced research outcomes. Given these results, we suggest three specific recommendations for future studies:

  1. Expand research to areas that are underrepresented in the studies synthesized here, namely: the Caribbean, the Americas, West and East Africa, the Middle East, and the Pacific Islands.
  2. Use assessment frameworks in addition to those most commonly applied like the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment.
  3. Apply a mixed-method and deliberative approach rooted in local partnerships.