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Introduction to the Natural Capital Project Approach

About This Course

The demand is growing for applications of natural capital information in decision-making. Mapping and modeling ecosystem services can help uncover hidden costs and benefits of different natural resource management options, providing key and spatially explicit information to improve the relationship between humans and the ecosystems on which we depend. This online course (NCP101) offers specific examples of approaches developed by the Natural Capital Project (NatCap) to bring ecosystem service information to decisions.

Split into four modules, NCP101 first introduces the concepts of natural capital and ecosystem services, the stream of vital benefits flowing from nature to people. Next, it describes the different tools NatCap has developed for producing relevant and science-based information on ecosystem service flows, distribution and value. This course will also provide recommendations for how to choose relevant models/tools based on your project goals, decision context, timeline, capacity, and the quality of data available. In modules 3 and 4, students can also obtain a detailed overview of the skills needed to utilize InVEST models, including recommendations for how to effectively summarize and communicate model outputs to stakeholders and other audiences.

Intended Audience

This course is intended for those interested in natural capital approaches to influence decisions in governments, multi-lateral development institutions, the private and finance sectors, and through NGOs. It can be a resource for individuals interested in using NatCap tools to achieve these objectives as well as researchers working to develop new methods and models. This mini-MOOC (Massive Open Online Course) can also serve as a primer for those individuals planning to attend one of our in-person training workshops in the future.


There are no prerequisites for this course. However, we recommend that you download InVEST and GIS software (either QGIS or ArcGIS) if you intend to follow the technical examples or complete the optional assessments contained in modules 3 and 4.

Course Staff

Gregg Verutes


Gregg Verutes leads NatCap's training program which hosts both introductory and technical workshops throughout the world. His current focus is developing innovative techniques that utilize maps, games, and problem-based exercises to teach students, scientists and practitioners about valuing nature. Gregg also serves as a GIS specialist for the marine team working on coastal zone management and spatial planning in Belize, Vietnam and the Americas. He worked previously for National Geographic as a GIS instructor and a visiting scientist with the World Wildlife Fund's Conservation Science Program. Gregg received his M.S. from San Diego State University and his B.S. in Policy Analysis and Management from Cornell University.

Adrian Vogl

Program Manager

Adrian Vogl is leading the application of InVEST models for watershed services, and developing decision support models for spatial planning, permitting new infrastructure projects and mitigation, and targeting investments in watershed conservation. Adrian co-led development of the RIOS tool, in partnership with The Nature Conservancy and the Latin American Water Funds Platform. In addition, Adrian is leading efforts to link the InVEST economic valuation approach with outputs from other hydrologic models. Before joining the Natural Capital Project, Adrian worked in central Texas developing land-use planning decision support tools that incorporate freshwater and groundwater ecosystem services, land development, and conservation planning. Adrian received her Ph.D. in Aquatic Resources from Texas State University-San Marcos, and her B.A. from the University of Arizona in Cultural Anthropology.

Frequently Asked Questions

Do I need to complete all the modules in the course?

While the lessons contained in each of the four modules are intended to stand alone, we strongly encourage all participants to begin by reading through the Course Roadmap. This section explains how the course is organized and provides important background information about the two case study examples included throughout. To launch the Course Roadmap, click the "Start here" button on the top-left panel of the Courseware.

Do you offer a Statement of Accomplishment for completing the course?

The course is structured to provide two levels of accomplishment. Students completing only Modules 1 and 2 will be provided with a Statement of Accomplishment for Intro to Ecosystem Services. Students who complete Modules 1 through 4 (including the 2 assessments) will receive a Statement of Accomplishment in Ecosystem Services and Applications.

Do I need to buy a textbook?

This course is completely free. Links to download all the necessary course materials and tools are provided within each unit.

How long should it take to complete this course?

The course is divided into four modules. It should take approximately one hour to finish each module and about four hours to complete the entire course.

What is the best way to ask questions or provide feedback?

Click on the "Discussion" tab to link to our online user forum. This forum is monitored daily by our software engineers and scientists.