What do we mean when we see the word ‘ecosystem’ and how does it differ from ‘environment?’ The ecosystem is the biological community of interacting organisms and the abiotic conditions in which it is set. Abiotic conditions are non-living factors which contribute to the environmental conditions, for example rainfall, temperature and soil salinity. Ecosystem services are services provided by the ecosystem which us humans benefit from.
Ecosystem services can be divided into four different types; supporting, regulating, provisioning, and cultural services. This is based on the Millennium Ecosystem assessment. Some goods and services can fall into all four categories, like water, we will see how this is so as we progress.
Supporting services are required for the production of all other services. Think of it this way, if we wanted to build a beautiful watch, we would require the materials and utensils needed to make the watch. Important supporting services can be soil formation, photosynthesis, primary production, and nutrient cycling.
Regulating services are the benefits obtained from the regulation of the environment. This can be air quality, climate, erosion, pests and diseases, pollination, and natural hazards. Let’s focus on erosion to get a better understanding of these services. Erosion is the process of eroding or being eroded by wind, water or other natural agents. Although erosion has its disadvantages, one of its strongest advantages is that soil erosion helps to fight global warming. When soil erodes, carbon is taken along with it, carrying the carbon to wetland areas where it can be stored for very long periods of time. Managing carbon levels is essential as carbon dioxide is a greenhouse gas.
Provisioning services are material benefits obtained from the environment. For example: food, fibre, fuel, ornamentals, novel products, and genetic resources. This service is quite self-explanatory but is rather essential maintaining a high standard of living. Various drugs are originally found in natural sources, such as penicillin being found in fungi and certain cancer drugs being found in soil.
Cultural services are the non-material benefits obtained from the environment. Examples are: spiritual value, inspirational value, heritage, diversity, aesthetic values, recreational values, tourism and educational value. We can learn from our environment, we can explore our environment and we can most definitely feel at peace. A beautiful natural landscape often has wonderful healing properties. Both cultural and provisioning services also lead to economic advantages, helping to meet the demands of society. However, not everyone benefits from ecosystem services.
So how does water fall into all four types of services?
Supporting- water cycling
Regulating- water quality
Provisioning- supply of water used by people
Cultural- recreational value
What is the ecosystem approach?
This is the strategy for the integrated management of human activities (including management of land, water and living resources) based on the best scientific knowledge about the ecosystem and its dynamics. The aim is to achieve sustainable use of ecosystem goods and services and maintain ecosystem integrity.
What does the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment do?
The MEA assesses the current state of knowledge, evaluates human well-being and provides a guide for decision making regarding public issues.