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Scientific evidence for ecosystem-based disaster risk reduction


Ecosystems play a potentially important role in sustainably reducing the risk of disaster events worldwide. Yet, to date, there are few comprehensive studies that summarize the state of knowledge of ecosystem services and functions for disaster risk reduction. This paper builds scientific evidence through a review of 529 English-language articles published between 2000 and 2019. It catalogues the extent of knowledge on, and confidence in, ecosystems in reducing disaster risk. The data demonstrate robust links and cost-effectiveness between certain ecosystems in reducing specific hazards, something that was revealed to be particularly true for the role of vegetation in the stabilization of steep slopes. However, the published research was limited in geographic distribution and scope, with a concentration on urban areas of the Global North, with insufficient relevant research on coastal, dryland and watershed areas, especially in the Global South. Many types of ecosystem can provide sustainable and multifunctional approaches to disaster risk reduction. Yet, if they are to play a greater role, more attention is needed to fill research gaps and develop performance standards.

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Fig. 1: Summary of the literature on the role of ecosystems in DRR between 2000 and 2019.
Fig. 2: Level of confidence in ecosystem functions and/or services in attenuating disaster risks.
Fig. 3: Geographic distribution of articles reviewed by continent and thematic group.
Fig. 4: Distribution of the number of hazards mentioned in the 529 articles reviewed.

Data availability

The data that support the findings of this study are available from the corresponding author upon request, mentioning any restrictions on availability.


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The authors are grateful to the many other people who made substantial contributions to this paper, including M. Estrella, H. Rossum, A. Gomez, M. Ford, T. Chareyre (UN Environment Programme, Crisis Management Branch, Switzerland), R. Lin (Institute for Environment and Human Security, United Nations University (UNU-EHS), Germany), I. Katrinnada, L. S. Ern (Yale-NUS College, Singapore), K. Compton (University of Massachusetts-Amherst, USA) and A. Casteller. We offer special thanks to Yale-NUS College, UNU-EHS and the University of Massachusetts-Amherst for funding research assistants who contributed to this article and M. Jaboyedoff (University of Lausanne, Switzerland) for funding the main author’s salary at the beginning of this research project.

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Authors and Affiliations



Project administration: K.S.R. Funding acquisition: B.G.M., F.G.R. and M.V. Conceptualization: K.S.R., B.G.M. and U.N. Methodology: K.S.R., B.G.M., M.V., F.G.R., S.S., U.N., T.A.M., N.D. and P.P. Data curation: K.S.R., L.S., T.A.M., Y.W., B.G.M., F.G.R. and S.S. Formal analysis of the thematic category articles reviewed: urban: S.S., F.G.R., W.L., A.T., H.J. and L.N.; coastal: U.N., D.A.F. and C.L.; forests/vegetation: H.J.B. and S.G.; economics: M.V., L.E. and J.M.; rivers/wetlands: M.v.S., P.v.E., T.T. and L.N.; mountains: C.M. and T.A.M.; agroecosystems: P.L., Y.W. and M.H.; drylands: P.L. and Y.W.; multiple ecosystems: K.S.R., Z.S. and N.D.; out-of-scope thematic category articles reviewed: climate-related: K.S.R. and P.P.; geology: B.G.M. and T.A.M.; health: B.G.M. and T.A.M.; hydrology/pollution: Z.S., M.H. and K.S.R.; wildlife: S.G. and H.J.B. Writing—original draft preparation: K.S.R., U.N., S.S. and B.G.M. Writing—review and editing: K.S.R., S.G., H.J., U.N., D.A.F., M.H., P.P., B.G.M., C.L., F.G.R., S.S., M.V., L.E., C.M., H.J.B., N.D., J.M., Z.S., Y.W., P.L., T.A.M., L.S., M.v.S. and W.L. Visualization: L.S., P.P., U.N. and B.G.M.

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Correspondence to K. Sudmeier-Rieux.

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The authors declare no competing interests.

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Peer review information Nature Sustainability thanks Ana Bugnot and the other, anonymous, reviewer(s) for their contribution to the peer review of this work.

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Supplementary Figs. 1–3 and Tables 1–6.

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Sudmeier-Rieux, K., Arce-Mojica, T., Boehmer, H.J. et al. Scientific evidence for ecosystem-based disaster risk reduction. Nat Sustain 4, 803–810 (2021).

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