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The National Ecosystem Services Classification System Plus (NESCS Plus)

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United States Environmental Protection Agency (U.S. EPA)

Latest documentation


Designed for use in

The NESCS was developed by the U.S. EPA, but has been implemented internationally.



Assessment purpose

Policy, Values/Services

Assessment criteria

Socio-cultural, Ecosystem/habitat, Physical and chemical

Method type

Desktop, expert panel, consultation


Medium-long term


Landscape/Catchment, Region, Site/habitat

Wetland system

Estuarine, Groundwater, Lacustrine, Marine, Palustrine, Riverine

Description and method logic

Method purpose

The National Ecosystem Services Classification System Plus (NESCS Plus) provides a framework for standardising ecosystem services[1] classification. The framework can then be used to identify how ecosystem service changes, resulting from policy-induced changes to ecosystems, impact human welfare[2][3].


The NESCS Plus answers the questions “Where”, “What”, “How,” and “Who?” by using categories and numeric codes to identify flows of final ecosystem services from ecosystems to human beings in a comprehensive and mutually exclusive way. NESCS Plus focuses on linking the direct, biophysical components[4] of nature that are directly beneficial to or directly valued/used by humans (i.e. ecological end-products (EEPs)) to human production processes or to human well-being.

The NESCS Plus structure is adapted from existing classification and accounting systems for economic goods and services: the North American Industry Classification System (NAICS), the North American Product Classification System (NAPCS) and the National Income and Product Accounts (NIPA).

Method logic

The 4-group structure and coding system used in NESCS Plus defines mutually exclusive and exhaustive categories for identifying a final ecosystem service (FES):
  • Environment classes (spatial units that contain or produce ecological end-products; answers the “Where?” question)
  • Ecological End-Product classes (biophysical components of nature directly used or appreciated by humans; answers the “What?” question)
  • Direct Use classes (ways humans can use ecological end-products, consistent with economic valuation frameworks (e.g. Total Economic Value); answers the “Who?” question)
  • Direct User classes (the sector through which people directly use or appreciate ecological end-products; answers the “How?” question)

Each classification category is nested within a hierarchy and associated with a unique numerical code; the most detailed subclass of each category will be the final code for that level. For instance, an example of a FES for recreational use of water in wetlands could be nested under the following categories:
  • Environment class of ‘Aquatic’ (1), and Environment Subclass of ‘Wetlands’ (12). Thus, the code for ‘environment’ will be 12.
  • Ecological End-Product Class of ‘Water’ (3). The code for ‘end products’ will be 3.
  • Direct Use Class of ‘Direct Use’ (1), Direct Use Subclass of ‘Recreation/tourism’ (111). The code for Direct use will be 111.
  • Direct User Class of ‘Households’ (2). The code for Direct User will be 2.

The NESCS Plus code for this flow of the FES will be

Note that NESCS Plus also offers a simplified, alternative three-component structure:
  • Environment classes
  • Ecological End-Product classes
  • Beneficiary (the interests of individuals, groups of people, or organisations that drive their direct use or appreciation of Ecological End-Products; answers the “How?” question)

If using the beneficiary codes for the FES of recreational use of water in wetlands, the codes for the Environment and Ecological End-Product classes/subclasses would remain the same. The following Beneficiary class and subclass codes could be substituted for the Direct Use and Direct User classes:
  • Beneficiary Class of Recreational (6), Beneficiary Subclass of Anglers (64). The code for Beneficiary would be 64.

The NESCS Plus code for this flow will be 12.3.64.

Criteria groupings of the method

The NESCS Plus classification system has four overarching classes: Environment, Ecological-End Product, Direct Use, and Direct User.

If using the simplified, alternative structure, NESCS Plus replaces the “Direct Use” and “Direct User” classes with the “Beneficiary” class.

Each class can consist of a subclass; for conciseness, the ‘Criteria by Category’ section presented below lists overarching Class. Refer to the NESCS Plus for detailed information about Subclasses.

Data required

  • Spatial data about where each Ecological End-Product is located when used or appreciated by humans
  • Information about relevant biophysical components that are directly used or appreciated by humans
  • Final ecosystem goods and services (FES Framework) data [5] for classifying Ecological End-Products and Beneficiaries 
  • Direct Use classes informed by NAICS

Resources required

Expertise required

  • In-depth biophysical knowledge about the environment, Ecological End-Products produced by the environment
  • In-depth social science knowledge about the Direct Use, Direct User and Beneficiary classes in the environment
  • GIS or other spatial software expertise if mapping Ecological End-Products
  • Expert knowledge of FES measurement or modelling methods to quantify or value ecosystem services
  • Expert knowledge to develop measures/indicators (if using)
  • Expert knowledge of relevant economic valuation methods (if using)

Materials required

  • Data described above
  • GIS or other spatial software
  • Modelling software for measuring or valuing final ecosystem services or for tracking policy changes

Method outputs


  • Classification of flows of FES for a particular environment that can support additional policy/economic analyses
  • List of Ecological End-products, Direct Use/User and Beneficiary classes for a particular environment


  • To identify and classify ecosystem service pathways between nature and humans (beneficiaries)
  • To identify potential pathways through which policy changes can result in changes to human welfare (impacts to benefits)
  • To inform valuation of final ecosystem services through other methods

Criteria by category

    Physical and chemical

    • Ecological End-Products
      • Atmospheric conditions (e.g. air, solar light/radiation)
      • Composite end products (e.g. scapes (such as landspaces), regulation of extreme events, presence of environmental class)
      • Other natural components (e.g. natural, non-living material)
      • Soils
      • Water


    • Beneficiary Class
      • Agricultural
      • Commercial/Industrial
      • Government, Municipal, and Residential
      • Humanity
      • Inspirational
      • Learning
      • Non-Use
      • Recreational
      • Subsistence
    • Direct Use Class
      • Direct Use Class (e.g. direct extraction, interaction with or physical sense of EEP in its environment)
      • Non-Use Class (e.g. appreciation or valuation of EEP that does not involve direct use or contact with EEP)
    • Direct User
      • Government
      • Households
      • Industry (e.g. agriculture, forestry, fishing, hunting, mining)


    • Environmental Class
      • Aquatic (e.g. rivers and streams, wetlands, groundwater)
      • Terrestrial (e.g. forests, scrubland, grasses)


Recommended user

Natural resource managers, government agencies, local government, technical practitioners (e.g. social scientists, economists, landscape architects, natural scientists, etc.), non-profit organisations, land managers


  • Provides explicit framework for defining flows of FES
  • Can be used to support environmental accounting
  • Avoids double counting of services by emphasising flows of FES
  • Framework is flexible and can be modified to describe a diverse range of habitats
  • Can be spatially mapped


  • Does not account for intermediate ecosystem services or processes (e.g. the ecosystem components or processes required to produce a FEGS)
  • Does not account for all non-use values (e.g. intrinsic values)
  • Does not provide links to the components and processes of ecosystems that drive the ecosystem itself

Case studies



  1. ^ Department of Environment and Science, Q (2022), Wetland services (services). [online] Available at:
  2. ^ US Environmental Protection Agency (2015), National Ecosystem Services Classification System (NESCS): Framework Design and Policy Application. [online], vol. PA/800/R-15/002, US Environmental Protection Agency, Washington DC, U.S.A.. Available at:
  3. ^ Newcomer-Johnson, T, Andrews, F, Corona, J, DeWitt, TH, Harwell, MC, Rhodes, C, Ringold, P, Russell, MJ & Van Houtven, G (2020), National Ecosystem Services Classification System (NESCS) Plus. [online], vol. EPA/600/R20/267, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Available at:
  4. ^ Department of Environment and Science, Q (2013), Plants, animals, soils, water and more (components). [online] Available at:
  5. ^ Landers, DH & Nahlik, AM (2013), Final ecosystem goods and services classification system (FEGS-CS). [online], vol. EPA/600/R-13/ORD-004914., United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).. Available at: [Accessed 22 September 2020].

Last updated: 9 December 2022

This page should be cited as:

Department of Environment and Science, Queensland (2022) The National Ecosystem Services Classification System Plus (NESCS Plus), WetlandInfo website, accessed 1 February 2023. Available at:

Queensland Government
WetlandInfo   —   Department of Environment and Science