The concept of ecosystem services is increasingly being promoted by academics and policy makers as a means to protect ecological systems through more informed decision making. A basic premise of this approach is that strengthening the ecological knowledge base will significantly enhance ecosystem health through more sensitive decision making. However, the existing literature on knowledge utilisation, and many previous attempts to improve decision making through better knowledge integration, suggest that producing ‘more knowledge’ is only ever a necessary but insufficient condition for greater policy success. We begin this paper by reviewing what is already known about the relationship between ecological knowledge development and utilisation, before introducing a set of theme issue papers that examine—for the very first time—how this politically and scientifically salient relationship plays out across a number of vital policy venues such as land-use planning, policy-level impact assessment, and cost–benefit analysis. Following a detailed synthesis of the key findings of all the papers, this paper identifies and explores new research and policy challenges in this important and dynamic area of environmental governance.