InVEST is a suite of free, open-source software models used to map and value the goods and services from nature that sustain and fulfill human life. If properly managed, ecosystems yield a flow of services that are vital to humanity, including the production of goods (e.g., food), life-support processes (e.g., water purification), and life-fulfilling conditions (e.g., beauty, opportunities for recreation), and the conservation of options (e.g., genetic diversity for future use). Despite its importance, this natural capital is poorly understood, scarcely monitored, and, in many cases, undergoing rapid degradation and depletion.
Governments, non-profits, international lending institutions, and corporations all manage natural resources for multiple uses and inevitably must evaluate tradeoffs among them. The multi-service, modular design of InVEST provides an effective tool for balancing the environmental and economic goals of these diverse entities.
InVEST enables decision makers to assess quantified tradeoffs associated with alternative management choices and to identify areas where investment in natural capital can enhance human development and conservation. The toolset currently includes eighteen distinct ecosystem service models designed for terrestrial, freshwater, marine, and coastal ecosystems, as well as a number of “helper tools” to assist with locating and processing input data and with understanding and visualizing outputs.
How it works
InVEST models are spatially-explicit, using maps as information sources and producing maps as outputs. InVEST returns results in either biophysical terms (e.g., tons of carbon sequestered) or economic terms (e.g., net present value of that sequestered carbon).
The spatial resolution of analyses is also flexible, allowing users to address questions at local, regional, or global scales.
InVEST models are based on production functions that define how changes in an ecosystem’s structure and function are likely to affect the flows and values of ecosystem services across a land- or a seascape. The models account for both service supply (e.g., living habitats as buffers for storm waves) and the location and activities of people who benefit from services (e.g., location of people and infrastructure potentially affected by coastal storms).
InVEST models can be run independently, or as script tools in the ArcGIS ArcToolBox environment. You will need a mapping software such as QGIS or ArcGIS to view your results. Running InVEST effectively does not require knowledge of Python programming, but it does require basic to intermediate skills in GIS software.
The tool is modular in the sense that you do not have to model all the ecosystem services listed, but rather can select only those of interest.
When translating policy to planning, it is often important to take guidelines (or “storylines”) and examine how they might play out across space. The Scenario Generator offers a relatively simple method of generating scenarios based on user-defined principles of where land changes could occur and the possible extent of these changes. It can be used to create alternate futures, the likely outcomes of which can be compared using InVEST. It is downloaded within InVEST, but can be used to generate potential future landscapes without running any additional InVEST models. Read its userʼs guide here.
This tool estimates the relative importance of regions for human use. Outputs can help decision-makers weigh potential conflicts among spatially-explicit management options that involve new activities or new infrastructure. The output maps help visualize hotspots of land or ocean use, and areas where the compatibility of various activities should be investigated when drafting new zoning or permitting schemes. It is downloaded within InVEST. Read its userʼs guide here.
This tool delineates watersheds for points of interest along a stream network (e.g., drinking water intake points, hydropower facilities, reservoirs). Using a DEM, DelineateIT identifies the area upstream of points of interest and creates watershed maps for use as inputs to InVEST freshwater models or for other analyses. DelineateIT is available as module within the InVEST software package, but useful without InVEST. Read its user’s guide here.
RouteDEM calculates flow direction, flow accumulation, slope and stream networks from a DEM using the d-infinity flow direction algorithm. RouteDEM outperforms routing algorithms as implemented in other free and proprietary GIS software. RouteDEM is available as a module within the InVEST software package, but also useful without InVEST. Read its user’s guide here.
InVEST Dashboards automate common synthesis and visualization tasks that may be necessary after running an InVEST model. With the dashboards, you can explore InVEST outputs in a web browser with interactive maps and charts, share results with colleagues by simply sending a link, and spend less time fussing over layer symbologies in GIS and more time exploring results. Try our dashboards for three InVEST models: coastal vulnerability, recreation, and habitat risk assessment (HRA).