Facing the challenges of environmental and social changes, sustainable management of ecosystem services is a worldwide priority. The Programme on Ecosystem Change and Society (PECS) approach provides a unique opportunity for promoting transdisciplinary place-based comparative research for social-ecological systems (SES) management. As part of the PECS-sponsored WaterSES project, we used four place-based SES research sites to analyze patterns in perceptions of ecosystem services. Our data come from about 1,500 face-to-face surveys conducted in southern Spain, the south-central Great Plains of Oklahoma (USA), and the Portneuf and Treasure Valleys, Idaho (USA). Specifically, this study aimed to (1) describe and compare perceptions of ecosystem services within and across SES sites, (2) explore how perceptions of ecosystem services vary among local respondents and by sociodemographic factors, and (3) evaluate the overall relationship between place-based SES contexts and ecosystem service perceptions. Our results revealed that cultural ecosystem services were the most highly mentioned among those surveyed across all four sites. However, we found differences in how ecosystem services were perceived among the four SES contexts. For instance, both, social (e.g., gender, education) and local ecological (e.g., land use and climate) characteristics play roles in influencing people's perceptions of which services are important. Overall, our findings suggest the relationship between people's perceptions of ecosystem services and their social-environmental context is complex, which highlights the value of the PECS approach for crafting more effective and inclusive landscape management strategies.
Keywords: cultural ecosystem services; place-based research; social perceptions; stakeholders; WaterSES