Perspectives in Ecology and Conservation Perspectives in Ecology and Conservation
Perspectives in Ecology and Conservation 2017;15:32-5 DOI: 10.1016/j.pecon.2016.11.005
Essays and Perspectives
Ecosystems as infrastructure
José Maria Cardoso da Silva, , Emily Wheeler
University of Miami, Department of Geography, Coral Gables, FL, United States
Received 02 September 2016, Accepted 25 November 2016

Infrastructure is usually defined as all elements of interrelated systems that provide goods and services essential to enabling, sustaining or enhancing societal living conditions. Although traditionally, infrastructure included only all human-made assets, since the 1980s, both scientists and conservationists have suggested that ecosystems should be also considered as a type of infrastructure. Here we review the evolution of the concepts of ‘ecological’, ‘green’, ‘natural’ and ‘blue’ infrastructures and evaluate how these concepts have been used in the scientific literature. We found that although the term ‘ecological infrastructure’ was the most used until 2004, ‘green infrastructure’ became the dominant one after then. All terms have been applied mostly to urban settings, terrestrial ecosystems and emphasised supporting and regulating ecosystem services, with a strong emphasis on the mediation of water flows in urban centres and the maintenance of species lifecycles, habitat and gene pool protection. We suggest that green infrastructure should be the term adopted to facilitate communication between scientists, conservationists and decision-makers. We also suggest a general concept for green infrastructure aligned with the major global conventions alongside a set of design principles.


  • The concept of ecosystems as infrastructure is reviewed.

  • The terms green, ecological, natural, and blue have been used in the literature.

  • Green infrastructure is the most commonly used name.

  • A more inclusive concept for green infrastructure is proposed.

  • Design principles for green infrastructure at all spatial scales are suggested.

Infrastructure, Ecological infrastructure, Natural infrastructure, Ecological infrastructure, Blue infrastructure, Conservation planning