Although ecosystem service (ES) approaches are showing promise in moving environmental decision-making processes toward better outcomes for ecosystems and people, ES modeling (i.e., tools that estimate the supply of nature's benefits given biophysical constraints) and valuation methods (i.e., tools to understand people's demand for nature's benefits) largely remain disconnected, preventing them from reaching their full potential to guide management efforts.
Here, we show how knowledge of environmental perceptions explicitly links these two lines of research. We examined how a diverse community of people with varying degrees of dependencies on coastal and marine ecosystems in southern Chile perceived the importance of different ecosystem services (ESs), their states (e.g., doing well, needs improvement), and management options. Our analysis indicates that an understanding of people's perceptions may usefully guide ecosystem modeling and management efforts by helping to: (1) define which ESs to enter into models and tradeoff analyses (i.e., what matters most?), (2) guide where to focus management efforts (i.e., what matters yet needs improvement?), and, (3) anticipate potential support or controversy surrounding management interventions. Finally, we discuss the complexity inherent in defining which ESs matter most to people. We propose that future research address how to design ES approaches and assessments that are more inclusive to diverse world views and notions of human wellbeing.