The tool was developed by the Natural Capital Project and is intended to be used in the decision-making process, especially in assessing trade-offs that arise over land use. The Natural Capital Approach involves stakeholder consultations (general discussion, outlining questions of interest and defining the scope), followed by scenario development (where data are compiled and models are run). The outputs are assessed and synthesized, and can then be used to inform decisions. The Natural Capital Project has used InVEST in over 20 decision contexts worldwide, including for spatial planning, corporate risk management, ecosystem restoration, assessing development impacts and designing Payment for Ecosystem Services schemes .
Original geographic scope:
Global scope (Natural Capital projects)
Terrestrial, freshwater or marine focus?:
Specific ecosystem services modelled:
- Carbon Storage and Sequestration -  Estimates the current amount of carbon stored in a landscape and values the amount sequestered over time. Option to estimate economic value to society. Can perform uncertainty analysis.
- Coastal Blue Carbon -  Estimates the value of carbon storage and sequestration by coastal ecosystems (vegetation and wetland habitats).
- Coastal Vulnerability -  Uses geophysical and habitat data to estimate coastal exposure to erosion and flooding. Can overlay population density to identify areas where humans face higher risk.
- Crop Pollination -  Estimates insect pollinator nest sites, floral resource and flight ranges to provide an index of pollinator abundance. Can also create an index of the value of the pollinators to agricultural production.
- Fisheries Production -  Population dynamics modelling. Estimates the harvest volume and economic value of single-species fisheries within a user defined area.
- Habitat Quality -  Estimates the extent and threat (degradation) of vegetation and habitats and uses such information on habitat quality and rarity as proxies for biodiversity in a landscape. No economic value is placed on biodiversity.
- Habitat Risk Assessment -  Evaluates risks posed to habitats and allows users to visualise areas on the landscape or seascape where impacts of climate change and human pressures may create trade-offs among multiple ecosystem services.
- Marine Fish Aquaculture -  Estimates weight and economic value of Atlantic Salmon grown in netpen aquaculture facilities. Default fish parameters can be provided and uncertainty analyses conducted.
- Nearshore Waves and Erosion -  Quantifies the protective services provided by nearshore natural habitats in terms of avoiding erosion and flood mitigation. Requires marine python extensions for ArcGIS.
- Offshore wind energy -  Measures electricity generation potential offshore and over large lakes.
- Recreation -  Predicts the spread of person-days of recreation using the known locations of natural habitats and other recreational features. Model is parameterised using geotagged Flickr photographs (to represent visitation data). Can predict how changes to natural habitats may affect future patterns of recreational use.
- Reservoir Hydropower Production -  Estimates the annual quantity of water produced by a watershed and then estimates the economic value of the water yield for hydropower production.
- Scenic Quality -  Assesses the visual quality of a landscape based on sited or planned development features that impact on visual quality. Scenic quality can be valued in a number of ways (e.g. viewer days per year or a monetary value of scenic quality change using peer-reviewed literature). The model can assess viewsheds to determine optimal site locations for a new development.
- Sediment Retention -  Estimates the capacity of a land parcel to retain sediment using information on climate, geomorphology, vegetation and management practice. The model can value the landscape in terms of water quality maintenance and determine the economic cost of sediment removal (e.g. from reservoirs).
- Water Purification -  Estimates the capacity of a land parcel to retain nutrients. Uses data on water treatment costs to calculate the economic value contributed by each part of the watershed to water purification. Potential to model current and future landuse scenarios to help inform conservation efforts / clean water supply.
- Wave energy -  Values the electricity generation potential of ocean waves. The model estimates expected wave power and harvested energy, and calculates the net present value of constructing and operating a wave energy conversion facility. Allows users to evaluate cost and production tradeoffs.
Estimated working days to complete a project:
Simple analysis - 1 day. Detailed stakeholder engagement project - several years.
Approxmately every 3 months.
Technical support provided?:
The Natural Capital Project - a partnership among Stanford University, WWF (World Wildlife Fund), The Nature Conservancy, and the Institute on the Environment at University of Minnesota
Developer (organisation type):
- Non-Governmental Organisation
- Non-profit Conservation Organisation
Richard Sharp, Rebecca Chaplin-Kramer, Spencer Wood, Anne Guerry, Heather Tallis, Taylor Ricketts and many others (see project team at https://www.naturalcapitalproject.org/people/)
Number of case studies outside the uk:
Over 20 projects worldwide by Natural Capital Project staff and partners. Also, active users in 80+ countries.
Examples of case studies outside of uk:
Willamette Basin, Oregon, USA
This study used InVEST to predict changes in ecosystem services, biodiversity conservation and community production levels and to monitor tradeoffs at a landscape scale using stakeholder-defined scenarios of landuse change in the Willamette Basin, Oregon, USA. Scenarios that received high scores for a number of different ES had high scores for biodiversity suggesting little tradeoff between biodiversity conservation and ecosystem services. Scenarios involving increased development had higher commodity production values, but lower levels of biodiversity conservation and ecosystem services. Including payments for carbon sequestration alleviated this tradeoff. Analyzing tradeoffs between ES can help with natural resource decision making .
China, Baoxing County
Planners base their landuse plans on 'Ecosystem Function Conservation Areas' which indicate areas that have high importance for ecosystem services and biodiversity. InVEST was used to design development zones to avoid sites with high ES provision and importance for nature conservation. The InVEST output maps highlighted that development activities were planned in areas important for a number of priority ES. This led to reconsideration of development plans by the local government . See also the more recent example of the National Ecosystem Assessment for China .
InVEST models were used to help the largest private landowner in Hawaii implement a plan to fulfil their mission to balance environmental, economic, cultural, education and community values. Alternative planning and land-use scenarios were modelled (e.g. returning agricultural land to sugarcane biofuel stock, residential development and agricultural and forest diversification). The quantified services were carbon storage, water quality and financial return from the land. Cultural services were input qualitatively. Results led to a decision to rehabilitate irrigation infrastructure and to invest in the diversification of forestry and agriculture .
Third party reviews / cross:
Bagstad et al. (2013)  conducted a comparative assessment of decision-support tools for ecosystem service quantification and valuation in the San Pedro river basin, Arizona, USA. The key findings were that InVEST is appropriate in contexts where ecological processes are well-understood but many models can be data and time-intensive to apply. They recognised the need for an improved data archive that contains information about what data are needed to populate the models and descriptions of the contexts under which the data and models are applicable.
Nemec et al. (2013)  surveyed users of a number of GIS models for mapping ecosystem services, including InVEST and ARIES, in 2011. They concluded that the strengths of InVEST, as identified by survey respondents, included ease of use, simplicity, good selection of important ecosystem services, peer-reviewed methodology and multi-functionality, plus the growing community of users that share information within a supported InVEST forum, as well as support offered from the developer team. Weaknesses identified by survey respondents including the modeling capabilities of freshwater services, the biodiversity model, the potential for oversimplification, and lack of sufficient explanation of the models in the user guide.
InVEST was also reviewed in the 2013 Natural England review of green infrastructure valuation tools carried out by eftec/Cascade .