What is InVEST?

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.

InVEST put our team of meteorologists, hydrologists, and ecologists on the fast track to start mapping and quantifying ES in watersheds of Patagonia. If in search of ecosystem modeling tools you bump into InVEST, you are up for a surprise. It will open for you the door to NatCap, a most exciting project conducted by a unique blend of people and organizations, from academics to practitioners. With human-well being and green solutions as guiding principles, NatCap is developing views and tools that are shaping the future of conservation science and practice. Miguel Pascual

The National Scientific and Technical Research Council (CONICET), Argentina

InVEST Models


The InVEST Carbon Storage and Sequestration model estimates the current amount of carbon stored in a landscape and values the amount of sequestered carbon over time. First it aggregates the biophysical amount of carbon stored in four carbon pools (aboveground living biomass, belowground living biomass, soil, and dead organic matter) based on land use/land cover (LULC) maps provided by users. A fifth optional pool represents carbon stored in harvested wood products, such as firewood, charcoal, or long-lived timber products. If the user provides a future LULC map, the carbon sequestration component of the model estimates expected change in carbon stocks over time. This portion of the model values the amount of carbon sequestered as an environmental service using additional data on the market value or social cost of carbon, its annual rate of change, and a discount rate. With optional inputs on probability distributions of carbon amount in different pools, the model can perform uncertainty analysis providing standard deviations for carbon estimates and a map showing where sequestration or emissions will occur with confidence. The carbon model can also optionally perform scenario analysis according to the Reducing Emissions from Forest Degradation and Deforestation (REDD) and REDD+ frameworks.

User’s guide: http://releases.naturalcapitalproject.org/invest-userguide/latest/carbonstorage.html

Key references:

Find other information about our work on this model in our library.

Coastal Blue Carbon

Coastal vegetation and wetland habitats can remove large amounts of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, helping to regulate the Earth’s climate. Coastal marine plants, such as mangroves, seagrasses, and salt marshes, not only store carbon, but they also continually accumulate carbon in their biomass and sediments, creating long term carbon reservoirs. By analyzing changes in carbon storage over time and comparing this across alternative management scenarios, the InVEST Blue Carbon model quantifies the value of carbon storage and sequestration services provided by coastal ecosystems. This model is one of the first coastal blue carbon tools where users can provide spatially-explicit information on disturbances to vegetation caused by climate change (e.g., sea level rise) and human activities (e.g., draining of a wetland or shoreline hardening). The Blue Carbon model can also be used to value avoided emissions and identify where on the land or seascape there are net gains or losses in carbon over time.

User’s guide: http://releases.naturalcapitalproject.org/invest-userguide/latest/coastal_blue_carbon.html

Key references:

  • Guannel et al. white paper: Changes in the delivery of ecosystem services in Galveston Bay, Texas, under a sea-level rise scenario.

Find other information about our work on this model in our library.

Coastal Vulnerability
The InVEST Coastal Vulnerability model uses geophysical and natural habitat characteristics of coastal landscapes to compare their exposure to erosion and flooding in severe weather. When overlaid with data on coastal population density, the model’s outputs can be used to identify where humans face higher risks of damage from storm waves and surge.

User’s guide: http://data.naturalcapitalproject.org/nightly-build/invest-users-guide/html/coastal_vulnerability.html

Key references:

Find other information about our work on this model in our library.

Crop Pollination
The InVEST Crop Pollination model focuses on wild pollinators providing an ecosystem service. The model estimates insect pollinator nest sites, floral resources, and flight ranges to derive an index of pollinator abundance on each cell on a landscape. If desired, the model can creates an index of the value of these pollinators to agricultural production, and attributes this value back to source cells.

User’s guide: http://data.naturalcapitalproject.org/nightly-build/invest-users-guide/html/croppollination.html

Key references:

Find other information about our work on this model in our library.

The InVEST Fisheries Production model produces estimates of harvest volume and economic value of single-species fisheries. The model is an age- or stage-structured population model, and is presented as a generic model that can be adapted to most species and geographies. Inputs to the model include parameters for life history characteristics (e.g., age at maturity, recruitment, migration and natural mortality rates), behavior of the fishery (e.g., fishing pressure), habitat dependencies (e.g., importance and availability of nursery habitat), and, optionally, economic valuation (e.g., price per unit biomass). The model outputs the volume and economic value of harvest within the area(s) designated by the user. It is best to compare outputs from multiple runs of the model, where each run represents different scenarios of habitat extent, environmental conditions and/or fishing pressure. A library of four sample models is provided, which the user can adapt to their own species or region, or the user can choose to build a model from scratch.

User’s guide: http://data.naturalcapitalproject.org/nightly-build/invest-users-guide/html/fisheries.html

Key references:

Find other information about our work on this model in our library.

Habitat Quality
The InVEST Habitat Quality model uses habitat quality and rarity as proxies to represent the biodiversity of a landscape, estimating the extent of habitat and vegetation types across a landscape, and their state of degradation. The model combines maps of land use land cover (LULC) with data on threats to habitats and habitat response. Modeling habitat quality alongside ecosystem services enables users to compare spatial patterns and identify areas where conservation will most benefit natural systems and protect threatened species. This model does not attempt to place a monetary value on biodiversity.

User’s guide: http://data.naturalcapitalproject.org/nightly-build/invest-users-guide/html/habitat_quality.html

Key references:

Find other information about our work on this model in our library.

Habitat Risk Assessment

The InVEST Habitat Risk Assessment model evaluates risks posed to coastal and marine habitats in terms of exposure to human activities and the habitat-specific consequence of that exposure for delivery of ecosystem services. The model can be employed to screen habitat risks under current and future scenarios of use, helping inform management strategies to minimize the impairment of habitat quality and function. More broadly, the model enables users to visualize areas on the seascape where the impacts of climate change and anthropogenic pressures may create tradeoffs among multiple ecosystem services.

User’s guide: http://releases.naturalcapitalproject.org/invest-userguide/latest/habitat_risk_assessment.html

Key references:

Find other information about our work on this model in our library.

Managed Timber Production
The InVEST Managed Timber Production Model estimates the net present value of legal timber harvests over user-defined time intervals. Based on timber harvest rate, market prices, extraction and management costs, and a discount rate, the model calculates the economic value of timber in user-defined management zones. This information serves timber companies, governments, and communities in exploring the benefit of timber production and its tradeoff with other forest ecosystem services.

User’s guide: http://data.naturalcapitalproject.org/nightly-build/invest-users-guide/html/managed_timber_production_model.html

Key references:

Find other information about our work on this model in our library.

Marine Fish Aquaculture
The InVEST Marine Fish Aquaculture model estimates the weight and economic value of Atlantic salmon grown in netpen aquaculture facilities. Using data on farming practices, water conditions and existing economic markets, the model calculates the weight of harvested fish and the net revenue per cycle for each farm that is specified by users. The model also yields a map of the total harvested weight of aquacultured salmon, total net revenue, and net present value over a time period of interest.

User’s guide: http://data.naturalcapitalproject.org/nightly-build/invest-users-guide/html/marine_fish.html

Key references:

Find other information about our work on this model in our library.

Offshore Wind Energy

The InVEST Offshore Wind Energy model measures the electricity generation potential of wind over ocean and large lake surfaces. For a chosen region, the model estimates expected wind power and harvested energy, and calculates the levelized cost of energy and the net present value of constructing and operating a wind energy facility. Spatially explicit outputs equip users to evaluate siting wave energy facilities to optimize energy production and value in conjunction with other ocean uses.

User’s guide: http://releases.naturalcapitalproject.org/invest-userguide/latest/wind_energy.html

Key references:

Find other information about our work on this model in our library.

Recreation and tourism are important components of many national and local economies and they contribute in innumerable ways to physical wellbeing, learning, and quality of life. To quantify the value of natural environments, the InVEST recreation model predicts the spread of person-days of recreation, based on the locations of natural habitats and other features that factor into people’s decisions about where to recreate. In the absence of empirical data on visitation, we parameterize the model using a proxy for visitation: geotagged photographs posted to the website flickr. Using photographs, the model predicts how future changes to natural features will alter visitation rates and outputs maps showing current and future patterns of recreational use.

User’s guide: http://data.naturalcapitalproject.org/nightly-build/invest-users-guide/html/recreation.html

Key references:

Find other information about our work on this model in our library.

Reservoir Hydropower Production (Water Yield)

The InVEST Reservoir Hydropower Production model (also known as the “Water Yield model”) estimates the annual average quantity of water produced by a watershed. The economic model then estimates the value of the water yield for reservoir hydropower production. It calculates the relative contribution of each land parcel to annual average water yield and production of hydropower, values this contribution in terms of energy production, and calculates the net present value of hydropower production over the life of the reservoir. Spatially-explicit outputs of relative water yields can identify areas contributing the most to hydropower value and inform how changes in the landscape will alter that contribution.

User’s guide: http://releases.naturalcapitalproject.org/invest-userguide/latest/reservoirhydropowerproduction.html

Key references:

Find other information about our work on this model in our library.

Scenic Quality
The InVEST Scenic Quality model assesses the visual quality of a landscape based on sited or planned features that impact visual quality. The model allows you to value scenic quality in a variety of ways, such as the number of “viewer days” per year or the monetary value of a change in scenic quality using valuation functions from peer-reviewed literature. With these features, the tool can produce sophisticated impact assessments. If you have a research question about where to site a feature that impacts scenic quality, the tool can pull in information about where people are on a landscape to assess what they can see across the landscape to determine the optimal siting location. This open source tool was designed to be flexible but powerful to answer a wide array of questions for any landscape.

User’s guide: http://data.naturalcapitalproject.org/nightly-build/invest-users-guide/html/scenic_quality.html

Key references:

Find other information about our work on this model in our library.

Sediment Retention
The InVEST Sediment Retention model estimates the capacity of a land parcel to retain sediment by using information on geomorphology, climate, vegetative coverage and management practices. A land parcel’s estimated soil loss and sediment transport informs the service step of the InVEST model, which produces outputs in terms of avoided sedimentation. The model can also value the landscape in terms of water quality maintenance or avoided reservoir sedimentation, and determines how land use changes may impact the cost of sediment removal.

User’s guide: http://data.naturalcapitalproject.org/nightly-build/invest-users-guide/html/sdr.html

Key References:

Find other information about our work on this model in our library.

Water Purification
The InVEST Nutrient Delivery Ratio model maps nutrient sources from watersheds and their transport to the stream. This spatial information can be used to assess the service of nutrient retention by natural vegetation. Model outputs can inform conservation efforts by targeting areas of soil and vegetation that most effectively clean water supply for people and aquatic life.

User’s guide: http://data.naturalcapitalproject.org/nightly-build/invest-users-guide/html/ndr.html

Key References:

Find other information about our work on this model in our library.

Wave Energy

The InVEST Wave Energy model measures and values the electricity generation potential of ocean waves. For each specified region, the model estimates expected wave power and harvested energy, and calculates the net present value of constructing and operating a wave energy conversion facility. Spatially explicit outputs equip users to evaluate tradeoffs when siting wave energy facilities to optimize energy production and value throughout their lifespans.

User’s guide: http://releases.naturalcapitalproject.org/invest-userguide/latest/wave_energy.html

Key references:

Find other information about our work on this model in our library.

In development: Urban InVEST
Urban InVEST:
Designing resilient cities by nature

In a rapidly urbanizing world, the design of cities will determine the health and wellbeing of billions of people. Although cities are highly engineered places, incorporating nature into urban design can yield large benefits. Urban InVEST provides tools to show how incorporating the value of nature into urban design can deliver better outcomes for people and the planet.

The Platform
We are creating a data and modeling platform called Urban InVEST that provides information and analytics to developers, lenders, municipal governments, consultants and advocacy groups. Urban InVEST features spatially explicit biophysical and socio-economic models that enable users to quantify and map the impacts of alternative urban designs on multiple urban ecosystem services (e.g. urban water management, heat island mitigation, mental health benefits), showing the benefits and costs to communities by socioeconomic status and vulnerability.

Building on Success
Urban InVEST builds on the Natural Capital Project’s existing free and open-source Integrated Valuation of Environmental Services and Tradeoffs (InVEST) platform. InVEST is the result of a 11-year partnership between Stanford University, the University of Minnesota, the Nature Conservancy, and World Wildlife Fund working together with local and international organizations. InVEST is used in planning by governments worldwide, with active users in over 80 countries.

The Demand
The demand for Urban InVEST is high and growing rapidly, motivated by an urgent need to mitigate risks from climate change, pollution, and unplanned development. Cities are looking to nature-based solutions to address these challenges, but leaders lack tools and approaches that integrate urban ecosystem services in city design and spatial planning. The demand for Urban-InVEST is coming from:

  • city leaders interested in evaluating alternative urban growth scenarios
  • advocates for greater investments in parks and open space
  • municipal governments seeking to plan green infrastructure and its co-benefits
  • multi-lateral development banks interested in making more strategic and resilient loans

Early development
We are partnering with municipal governments and city leaders across the United States and in Asia-Pacific to co-develop Urban-InVEST. The first applications will support urban ecological assessments in major Chinese cities (Beijing, Shanghai, Shenzhen, Dalian) and the evaluation of co-benefits of green infrastructure in Minneapolis-St Paul and the San Francisco Bay Area.
Services and development leads:

Services and development leads:

Stormwater management
Flood risk mitigation
Urban heat island mitigation
Recreation/physical health
Carbon sequestration
Habitat quality
Coastal vulnerability
Mental Health
Noise attenuation
Air quality

*CAS: Chinese Academy of Sciences; UW: University of Washington

Contact: Perrine Hamel, Livable Cities Lead (perrine.hamel@stanford.edu)
Download the Urban InVEST one pager PDF.

InVEST Helper Tools

In some cases, weʼve found that “helper tools” can really simplify the use of InVEST. Learn more about these and other experimental tools by checking out the experimental tools thread on our Forums.

Scenario Generator

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.

Overlap Analysis

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

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).


InVEST can be integrated into more complex workflows and analyses by using its Application Programming Interface (API) within the Python programming language. InVEST is available for download on the Python Package Index, and API documentation is available online.

Data Requirements and Data Sources For InVEST

InVEST 3.0 Data Requirements

A data matrix that identifies the optional, required, and valuation inputs for each InVEST 3.0 model. Please submit any updates or changes to resources@naturalcapitalproject.org.

Download the InVEST 3.0 Data Requirments

Sediment and Nutrient Model Parameters

We have assembled potential parameter values for InVEST sediment and nutrient models based on a global literature review. Here we provide the raw values collected from the literature and allow the user to select values from certain land cover types or geographic areas in order to choose the parameter values that are most appropriate for their desired application. Please submit any additions or corrections to resources@naturalcapitalproject.org.

Download Parameter Value Database
Download Nutrient Database
Download Sediment Database

Spatial Data

This Microsoft Excel file contains data sources of spatial data that may be of use for InVEST models. Data includes land use/land cover maps, digital elevation models, climate data, soil properties and more. Nearly all data listed is freely accessible. Please submit any additions or corrections to resources@naturalcapitalproject.org.

Download Spatial Data List

Need help? Check out these resources.

InVEST User’s Guide

The InVEST User’s Guide introduces InVEST and its use in decisions, provides tips on getting started (installation, data preparation, etc.), and describes each model within the toolbox in detail (inputs, outputs, and the functions between them).  Read the User’s Guide on-line or download a pdf version.

Frequently Asked Questions

Find some answers to frequently asked questions about InVEST.

The Forums

The Forums are a great place to get help with InVEST from NatCap staff and from our broader user community.  Report bugs, ask questions, and maybe even help others with their questions.

Our Training Program

We offer a number of different courses to familiarize you with an ecosystem services approach, help you learn to use InVEST, and to connect with other InVEST users.

InVEST Publications Database

Download our database of publications using InVEST to see how our models are being used around the world. Search the database by model, climate or region to find peer-reviewed papers, reports and dissertations relevant to your work. Please submit any additions or corrections to resources@naturalcapitalproject.org.