What Are Ecosystem Services?

Ecosystems services are benefits to human welfare made possible by processes of the natural world. Modern livelihoods depend on nature for various services, materials and ingredients. Micro-bacteria in marine ecosystems produce oxygen. Plants and soils regulate our climate through capturing and storing carbon dioxide in the air. Wetlands curb flooding for coastal territories. Medicines are pulled from various kinds of plants like sage, ginger, turmeric and aloe vera. Ecosystems play a critical role in managing biological diversity, and supporting the food webs, species abundance and habitat variety which produce ecosystem services.

What then, are ecosystem services? They are natural capital, the biotic and abiotic benefits that people obtain from natural environments, plants, microscopic bacteria and animals. The 2006 Millennium Ecosystem Assessment (MA) outlined four distinct categories of ecosystem services to help map the different kinds of benefits provided by habitats and natural environments. The categories are useful for identifying how an ecosystem service is beneficial, and perhaps hint at the value of the service.

Though it is impossible to put a price figure on nature’s contributions, we may determine the value of an ecosystem service by its utility, either for humanity, other species or the ecological system itself. Categorizing these services is useful for policy and research purposes. Which may be the reason that conservation efforts are usually designed to manage, protect or enhance an environment because human welfare-interests or economic motives. Overuse of an ecosystem’s resources is characterized by accelerated rates of species loss, habitat destruction, deforestation, changes in climate and pollution.

Four Types of Ecosystem Services

There are four main types of ecosystem services: provisioning, regulating, supporting and cultural. Each one of these classifications describes unique qualities made possible by ecological systems. A single ecosystem may encompass multiple types of services or it may offer only one.

managed park garden
managed ecosystem; garden

Provisioning Services

Provisioning ecosystem services are the substantive, or material benefits that humanity derives from ecosystems. This type of service includes raw materials like wood, fresh water, metals and medicinal herbs. Foods too are provisioning services, as they supply communities of people with the nutrients they need. Most human foods are grown on farms, synthesized from natural ingredients or extracted from animal stores. In any case, our foods and medicines are sourced from nature’s processes in some capacity or another.

Regulating Services

Regulating ecosystem services are sometime known as managing services. Services of this type governs various cycles and processes of the ecosystem. Regulating services play essential roles in managing the water cycle, the carbon cycle, soil quality, crop pollination and water purification. Regulating services also moderates climate and the intensity and frequency of weather events.

Supporting Services

The natural processes within ecosystems are part of the ecosystem’s own continued survival, health and maturity. As ecosystems mature, they grow more complex, supporting greater profiles of species richness and allow more interactions between organisms. Supporting services refer to an ecosystem’s capacity to sustain various forms of life and the operations that keep the ecosystem functioning.

Cultural Services

Our art, architecture, knowledge, religions, tourism and recreational practices are all influenced by cultural services. Cultural services are the non material contributions that we derive from the natural world.

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