Ecosystem services are the naturally occurring benefits that we obtain from ecosystems! These services can be divided into four categories:
Provisioning services: These are the products that ecosystems provide, such as food, water, and timber.
Regulating services: These are the benefits that ecosystems provide in terms of regulating processes, such as climate regulation, water purification, and pest control.
Cultural services: These are the non-material benefits that ecosystems provide, such as recreational, aesthetic, and spiritual values.
Supporting services: These are the services that ecosystems provide that support the other three categories, such as soil formation and nutrient cycling.
Ecosystem services are essential because they contribute to human well-being and quality of life. They also have economic value, as they provide goods and services that can be bought and sold in the market. It is important to manage ecosystems in a way that preserves and enhances their capacity to provide ecosystem services.
Anthropogenic (human-caused environmental change) activity may damage or disrupt ecosystem services. Once impacted, the economic and ecological ramifications are difficult to return to normal.
Ecosystems provide a variety of products. Several are used in households or traded commercially in markets:
Food: Ecosystems provide a variety of food sources, such as crops, livestock, seafood, and wild game.
- Water: Ecosystems provide fresh water for drinking and irrigation.
- Timber: Forests provide wood for building, fuel, lumber, and other purposes.
- Medicinal plants: Many plants have medicinal properties that can be used to treat various ailments.
- Biofuels: Some ecosystems, such as wetlands and agricultural land, produce biofuels like ethanol and biodiesel.
Regulating services are often taken for granted because we tend not to see them in action. They are considered to be behind the scenes and include the following examples:
Natural disaster control
Cultural ecosystem services are the non-material benefits that people obtain from ecosystems:
Recreational values: Forests, beaches, and parks, are a few of the ecosystems that provide opportunities for people to engage in outdoor recreation activities like hiking, swimming, and picnicking.
Aesthetic values: Ecosystems provide beauty and aesthetic value that can improve quality of life and well-being, including the joy people feel from being outdoors in natural spaces!
Spiritual values: Some people derive spiritual or religious significance from ecosystems.
Educational values: Ecosystems can provide educational opportunities, such as through nature education programs or field trips.
National Parks, like Mount Rainier National Park in Washington, are excellent examples of preserving and enjoying the cultural benefits of ecosystems.
Image Courtesy of the U.S. Department of the Interior
Supporting services are necessary for other ecosystem services to function.
For example, photosynthesis allows plants to grow and provide habitats and food. The energy that primary producers create also serves as an energy base for food webs.
Moreover, biogeochemical cycles move the elements and molecules in order to support the existence of the ecosystem. Soil maintenance and nutrient cycling are critical components that allow ecosystems to have stability and provide services in other categories.