'Ecosystem Services' describe the many ways we depend on Nature. Healthy ecosystems reliably deliver a bundle of different benefits to people. Learn more about different types of ecosystem services.
Download fact sheets on how to measure and how to manage them.
The material benefits people obtain from ecosystems are called ´provisioning services´. They include for example water, food, wood and other goods. Many provisioning services are traded in markets. However, in many regions, rural households also directly depend on provisioning services for their livelihoods. In this case, services may be much more important than is reflected in the prices they fetch on local markets. Download fact sheets on how to measure and how to manage provisioning services.
Virtually all ecosystems provide the conditions for growing, collecting, hunting or harvesting food.
Ecosystems provide a great diversity of materials including wood, biofuels, and fibres from wild or cultivated plant and animal species.
No water, no life. Ecosystems play a vital role in providing the flow and storage of fresh water.
Natural ecosystems provide a variety of plants and mushrooms which offer effective cures for many kinds of health problems. They are used in popular and traditional medicine, and for developing pharmaceuticals.
The services that ecosystems provide by maintaining the quality of air and soil, providing flood and disease control, or pollinating crops are called ‘regulating services’. They are often invisible and therefore mostly taken for granted. When they are damaged, the resulting losses can be huge and difficult to restore.
Trees and green space lower the temperature in cities and regulate air quality by removing pollutants from the atmosphere. Forests influence rainfall and water availability both locally and regionally.
Ecosystems regulate the global climate by storing greenhouse gases. As trees and plants grow, they remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and effectively lock it away in their tissues (‘sequestration’).
Ecosystems and living organisms create buffers against natural disasters. They reduce damage from floods, storms, tsunamis, avalanches, landslides and droughts.
Ecosystems such as wetlands filter effluents, decompose waste through the biological activity of microorganisms, and eliminate harmful pathogens.
Vegetation cover prevents soil erosion. Soil erosion is a key factor in the process of land degradation, loss of soil fertility and desertification, and contributes to decreased productivity of downstream fisheries.
About 80% of the world’s species of food plants rely on pollinators for reproduction. These include mainly insects and birds, many of which depend on the existence of intact ecosystems.
The activities of predators and parasites in ecosystems regulate pests and diseases that attack plants, animals and people.
These services underpin almost all other services. Ecosystems provide living spaces for plants or animals; they also maintain a diversity of plants and animals. Some habitats have an exceptionally high number of species which makes them more genetically diverse than others and are known as ‘biodiversity hotspots'
Ecosystems provide living spaces for plants and animals; they also maintain a diversity of complex processes that underpin the other ecosystem services.. Some habitats have an exceptionally high number of species which makes them more genetically diverse than others; these are known as ‘biodiversity hotspots'
Genetic diversity (the variety of genes between, and within, species populations) distinguishes different breeds or races from each other, providing the basis for locally well-adapted cultivars and a gene pool for developing commercial crops and livestock.
The non-material benefits people obtain from ecosystems are called ‘cultural services’. They include aesthetic inspiration, cultural identity, sense of home, and spiritual experience related to the natural environment. Typically, opportunities for tourism and for recreation are also considered within the group. Cultural services are deeply interconnected with each other and often connected to provisioning and regulating services: Small scale fishing is not only about food and income, but also about fishers’ way of life. In many situations, cultural services are among the most important values people associate with Nature – it is therefore critical to understand them.
Animals, plants and ecosystems have been the source of inspiration for much of our arts, culture, and design; they increasingly inspire science as well.
Enjoyment of nature attracts millions of travelers worldwide. This cultural ecosystem service includes both benefits to visitors and income opportunities for nature tourism service providers.
Nature is a common element in most major religions. Natural heritage, spiritual sense of belonging, traditional knowledge, and associated customs are important for creating a sense of belonging.
Nature-based opportunities for recreation play an important role in maintaining mental and physical health, e.g. walking and playing sports in parks and urban green spaces.
Counting on ecosystem services has tremendous potential to maintain and improve the quality of life:
Ecosystem services directly contribute to human well-being by providing food and shelter, but also supporting our health, joy, spiritual inspiration, and cultural identity.
In many places, Nature is the single most important input to regional economies, providing materials, clean water and good environmental conditions for industry, agriculture and the services sector.
Nature secures much of our fresh water, protects against erosion and droughts, and provides many other benefits without charging for them. If carefully planned and managed, ecosystem-based solutions can work more effectively and efficiently than solutions based on ‘built infrastructure’.
Maintaining well-functioning natural ecosystems is an excellent strategy to deal with future pressures and threats, for example, those linked to climate change.