Ecosystem services and disservices for a vulnerable population: Findings from urban waterways and wetlands in an American desert city

Monica Palta, Margaret V. du Bray, Rhian Stotts, Amanda Wolf, Amber Wutich

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

9 Scopus citations


Vulnerable human populations are exposed to social and biophysical stressors, but have limited capacity to mitigate them, and thus may access ecosystem services in unconventional ways. As a result of this access, they may also experience disservices (i.e., functions of ecosystems harmful to human wellbeing) in ways that are not well understood. We use a mixed-method socio-ecological approach to examine how persons experiencing homelessness in Phoenix, Arizona, access ecosystem services and encounter disservices in urban waterways. We find that urban waterways provide users with drinking and bathing water, and cooler, shaded areas, but potentially expose them to pathogens and legal persecution. The wetlands provide cultural services by affording a sense of place and safety; however, these locations can also be associated with restrictive ordinances and aggressive law enforcement. This study explores the role of ecosystem services and disservices in bridging the gap between biophysical and social vulnerability.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)463-478
Number of pages16
JournalHuman Ecology
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 2016



  • Arizona
  • Ecosystemservices and disservices
  • Phoenix
  • Urban marginality
  • Urban waterways
  • USA
  • Vulnerability

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Health(social science)
  • Ecology
  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health
  • Health, Toxicology and Mutagenesis

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