Nature-based solutions knowledge gaps

Explore the nature-based knowledge gap analysis below to help identify future avenues for research.

The knowledge gap database compiles an evidence base for nature-based solutions, to support defining research and innovation avenues, bolster policy and practitioners’ knowledge and knowledge-implementation. The database gathers 'gaps' collected through desk study and online consultations from August to October 2021 (see the NetworkNature report on practical, research and innovation needs for more information). 171 knowledge gaps were collected and categorized into 30 broad gap topics. This database will be updated during the course of the NetworkNature.


Displaying 101 - 120 of 169
Gap Description Origin of source Source Resource Broad topic

NbS are often considered to be in synergy with biodiversity protection or even mutually beneficial. Frequently, though, NbS are not delivered by biodiversity per se, but by very specific species with specific functions or ecosystem services (e.g., timber by specific tree monocultures (provisioning service) or flood control by specific vegetation structure (regulating service)). These, however, can contribute to the decline in biodiversity. In other cases, a specific focus on regulating services, e.g., carbon storage, is counterproductive for maintaining high species. In semi-natural grasslands, species richness per se is related to productivity, habitat quality for insects or carbon sequestration.What currently is lacking is a full overview (meta-analysis) in which cases single species, in which cases taxonomic diversity, and in which cases functional diversity are the most important elements that deliver NbS. In cases where NbS is delivered by single species, we lack a full overview of the impact of these species on different aspects of biodiversity and ecosystems. This, though, is necessary to assess whether trade-offs among the different elements would result in a net positive or negative balance for nature, or rather for which element of nature. The frameworks to do such an assessment are lacking, as well, to the best of our knowledge.

Online public consulation International or European research organisation/initiative sector

Thomas, C.D., Anderson, B.J., Moilanen, A., Eigenbrod, F., Heinemeyer, A., Quaife, T., Roy, D.B., Gillings, S., Armsworth, P.R., Gaston, K.J., 2013. Reconciling biodiversity and carbon conservation. Ecol Lett 16, 39–47. https://doi.org/10.1111/ele.12054

  • Relationship between biodiversity, ecosystem functions and ecosystem services
  • Synergies and trade-offs between goals

NBS impacts need to be considered within a wider context of climate, social, demographic and economic trends and patterns. Few methods link primary data on NBS impacts with secondary data on such trends or vice versa.

Desk Study Grey literature

Raymond, C.M., Centre for Ecology and Hydrology (Great Britain), 2017. An impact evaluation framework to support planning and evaluation of nature-based solutions projects: prepared by the EKLIPSE Expert Working Group on nature-based solutions to promote climate resilience in urban areas.

  • Effectiveness across socio-ecological contexts

NBS projects have shown to reproduce and increase existing inequalities or even create injustices. Also, NBS capacity building and financing risks to do the same at a larger, inter-city or inter-regional scale.

Online public consulation University / Higher Education / Public research institute sector
  • Social cohesion and environmental justice

NBS suppliers need to involve end-users at early planning stages to establish user needs. This co-production process involving multiple stakeholders may be compared to an open innovation process involving the wider innovation ecosystem and opening up potential for new innovations.

Desk Study Grey literature

McQuaid, Siobhán, Rhodes, Mary-Lee, Andersson, Thomas, Croci, Edoardo, Feichtinger-Hofer, Marianne, Grosjean, Matthieu, Lueck, Alina, Kooijman, Esmee, Lucchitta, Benedetta, Rizzi, Daniela, Reil, Alice, Schante, Joanne, 2021. From Nature-based Solutions to the Nature-based Economy - Delivering the Green Deal for Europe. Draft White Paper for consultation. Nature-based Economy Working Group of EC Task Force III on Nature-based Solutions. https://doi.org/10.5281/ZENODO.5055611

  • Stakeholder engagement

One of the pre-eminent challenges in the implementation of NbS is simultaneously managing multiple socio-ecological objectives including maximization of (1) biodiversity (e.g., native species, species richness, endangered species); (2) regulating services (e.g., flood and erosion control, wildfire management, pest outbreaks), and (3) cultural services (e.g., recreation space, aesthetic landscapes, spaces for quiet and reflection). Such management requires a transdisciplinary approach that engages natural and social scientists, land use managers, non-governmental environmental organizations, and local residents, among others, in order to define and integrate multiple - potentially conflicting - perspectives and goals. What is needed is a well-structured, yet adaptable, socio-ecological assessment framework which applies methodologies to integrate scientific knowledge and objectives with public perspectives and.

Online public consulation International or European research organisation/initiative sector

Holzer, J.M., Adamescu, C.M., Cazacu, C., Díaz-Delgado, R., Dick, J., Méndez, P.F., Santamaría, L., Orenstein, D.E., 2019. Evaluating transdisciplinary science to open research-implementation spaces in European social-ecological systems. Biological Conservation 238, 108228. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.biocon.2019.108228

  • Effectiveness across socio-ecological contexts

Other knowledge gaps in this complex area are how to enable institutional collaboration, connectivity and networks at various levels; how to assess knowledge and better share information on NBS and related initiatives; and how to include NBS in planning and policy frameworks at metropolitan level.

Desk Study Grey literature

De Vreese, R., 2021. Reviewing the knowledge on the importance of UF-NBS for resilient cities (D1.2).

  • Stakeholder engagement
  • Communication
  • Planning and policy frameworks

Questions were raised during the workshop regarding approaches on how to involve stakeholders from planning administrations and residents in long-term projects, as well as if all residents can benefit from implemented NbS or if benefits are only accessible to a selected portion of the population

Desk Study Institutional publication

European Commission. Directorate General for Research and Innovation., 2020. Nature-based solutions: state of the art in EU funded projects. Publications Office, LU.

  • Stakeholder engagement

Relate different elements of environmental and social impact to ecosystem service stocks and flows.

Desk Study Grey literature

Raymond, C.M., Centre for Ecology and Hydrology (Great Britain), 2017. An impact evaluation framework to support planning and evaluation of nature-based solutions projects: prepared by the EKLIPSE Expert Working Group on nature-based solutions to promote climate resilience in urban areas.

  • Relationship between biodiversity, ecosystem functions and ecosystem services

Remaining knowledge gaps and a lack of comprehensive evidence on the reversibility, flexibility, cost-effectiveness and feasibility, and/or long-term sustainability of NBS as compared with grey approaches are barriers to mainstreaming of NBS and their full incorporation within (re)insurance schemes.

Desk Study Institutional publication

European Commission, Directorate-General for Research and Innovation, 2021. Evaluating the impact of nature-based solutions: a handbook for practitioners.

  • Cost/benefit evaluations
  • Effectivennes at different time scales
  • Effectiveness compared to conventional approaches

Research on the potential use of Nature-based Solutions to tackle the emergence of zoonotic diseases, and on their benefits for public health.

Desk Study Institutional publication

Eggermont, H., Le Roux, X., Tannerfeldt, M., Enfedaque, J., Zaunberger, K., Biodiversa+ partners, 2021. Strategic Research & Innnovation Agenda : Horizon Europe Partnership on Biodiversity.

  • Impacts for health and well-being

Researchers and practitioners have good understanding of the environmental impacts of NBS, but it remains unclear as to whether specific actions are cost effective and give rise to a range of benefits. This gap points to the need to better understand the interface between environmental, economic and social dimensions of NBS. Interdisciplinary, mixed‐method research designs that balance the need for qualitative and quantitative assessment of NBS impacts are missing from the NBS literature. Assessments which balance these are crucial to appreciating and understanding the complex linkages between elements of the socio‐economic, socio‐cultural systems and ecosystems.

Desk Study Grey literature

Raymond, C.M., Centre for Ecology and Hydrology (Great Britain), 2017. An impact evaluation framework to support planning and evaluation of nature-based solutions projects: prepared by the EKLIPSE Expert Working Group on nature-based solutions to promote climate resilience in urban areas.

  • Cost/benefit evaluations

Search of which approaches and governance systems can reinforce the capacity to innovate with Nature-based Solutions, to develop and deploy them on large scales, and to overcome (some) trade-offs ). It is important to analyse the drivers, correlates and incentives that could restrict or conversely help the implementation of proposed Nature-based Solutions.

Desk Study Institutional publication

Eggermont, H., Le Roux, X., Tannerfeldt, M., Enfedaque, J., Zaunberger, K., Biodiversa+ partners, 2021. Strategic Research & Innnovation Agenda : Horizon Europe Partnership on Biodiversity.

  • Approaches and governance systems for implementation
  • Synergies and trade-offs between goals

Second, appraisals rarely factor in trade-offs among different interventions and ecosystem services, or between stakeholder groups, which may experience the costs and benefits of NbS

Desk Study Academic literature

Seddon, N., Chausson, A., Berry, P., Girardin, C.A.J., Smith, A., Turner, B., 2020. Understanding the value and limits of nature-based solutions to climate change and other global challenges. Phil. Trans. R. Soc. B 375, 20190120. https://doi.org/10.1098/rstb.2019.0122

  • Social cohesion and environmental justice
  • Synergies and trade-offs between goals

Second, poor financial models and flawed approaches to economic appraisal lead to under-investment in NbS.

Desk Study Academic literature

Seddon, N., Chausson, A., Berry, P., Girardin, C.A.J., Smith, A., Turner, B., 2020. Understanding the value and limits of nature-based solutions to climate change and other global challenges. Phil. Trans. R. Soc. B 375, 20190120. https://doi.org/10.1098/rstb.2019.0125

So far, most projects have investigated the effects of NBS on microclimate, while the susceptibility of NBS to extreme events has been neglected and requires further research. How is climate change foreseen to impact ecosystem health and individual species across the EU?

Desk Study Institutional publication

European Commission. Directorate General for Research and Innovation., 2020. Nature-based solutions: state of the art in EU funded projects. Publications Office, LU.

  • Risks from slow-onset events

Social acceptance and clear definition of beneficiaries - who will benefit and is this acceptable to the public?

Desk Study Academic literature

Grace, M., Balzan, M., Collier, M., Geneletti, D., Tomaskinova, J., Abela, R., Borg, D., Buhagiar, G., Camilleri, L., Cardona, M., Cassar, N., Cassar, R., Cattafi, I., Cauchi, D., Galea, C., La Rosa, D., Malekkidou, E., Masini, M., Portelli, P., Pungetti, G., Spagnol, M., Zahra, J., Zammit, A., Dicks, L.V., 2021. Priority knowledge needs for implementing nature-based solutions in the Mediterranean islands. Environmental Science & Policy 116, 56–68. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.envsci.2020.10.017

  • Social cohesion and environmental justice

Societal relations also concern knowledge gaps relating to the identification of an optimal way of communicating positive and negative examples (failures) of NbS.

Desk Study Academic literature

Kabisch, N., Frantzeskaki, N., Pauleit, S., Naumann, S., Davis, M., Artmann, M., Haase, D., Knapp, S., Korn, H., Stadler, J., Zaunberger, K., Bonn, A., 2016. Nature-based solutions to climate change mitigation and adaptation in urban areas: perspectives on indicators, knowledge gaps, barriers, and opportunities for action. E&S 21, art39. https://doi.org/10.5751/ES-08373-210244

  • Communication

The appropriate time scale of NbS implementation is another aspect that is unclear within this gap category. It remains unclear which approaches would be more effective in the long term and which would be more effective immediately after implementation.

Desk Study Academic literature

Kabisch, N., Frantzeskaki, N., Pauleit, S., Naumann, S., Davis, M., Artmann, M., Haase, D., Knapp, S., Korn, H., Stadler, J., Zaunberger, K., Bonn, A., 2016. Nature-based solutions to climate change mitigation and adaptation in urban areas: perspectives on indicators, knowledge gaps, barriers, and opportunities for action. E&S 21, art39. https://doi.org/10.5751/ES-08373-210243

  • Effectivennes at different time scales

The assessment of NBS effectiveness or impacts is a multi-scale and multi-temporal problem. Indicators for urban scales and issues may not be relevant for wider scale such as catchment basin scale for example when dealing with flood risk reduction.

Desk Study Institutional publication

European Commission, Directorate-General for Research and Innovation, 2021. Evaluating the impact of nature-based solutions: a handbook for practitioners.

  • Effectivennes at different geographical scales
  • Effectivennes at different time scales

The clear quantification and monetisation of benefits for NBS is key for the development of attractive business models and cases

Desk Study Grey literature

McQuaid, Siobhán, Rhodes, Mary-Lee, Andersson, Thomas, Croci, Edoardo, Feichtinger-Hofer, Marianne, Grosjean, Matthieu, Lueck, Alina, Kooijman, Esmee, Lucchitta, Benedetta, Rizzi, Daniela, Reil, Alice, Schante, Joanne, 2021. From Nature-based Solutions to the Nature-based Economy - Delivering the Green Deal for Europe. Draft White Paper for consultation. Nature-based Economy Working Group of EC Task Force III on Nature-based Solutions. https://doi.org/10.5281/ZENODO.5055609

  • Valuation tools

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