Ecosystem Services
What are they?

'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.

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Fact sheets on ecosystem services

Download fact sheets on how to measure and how to manage them.

Provisioning Services

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.

Food

Virtually all ecosystems provide the conditions for growing, collecting, hunting or harvesting food.

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Raw Material

Ecosystems provide a great diversity of materials including wood, biofuels, and fibres from wild or cultivated plant and animal species.

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Fresh Water

No water, no life. Ecosystems play a vital role in providing the flow and storage of fresh water.

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Medicinal Resources

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.

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Regulating Services

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.

Local Climate

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.

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Carbon Sequestration

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’).

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Extreme Events

Ecosystems and living organisms create buffers against natural disasters. They reduce damage from floods, storms, tsunamis, avalanches, landslides and droughts.

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Waste Water Treatment

Ecosystems such as wetlands filter effluents, decompose waste through the biological activity of microorganisms, and eliminate harmful pathogens.

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Soil Erosion and Fertility

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.

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Pollination

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.

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Biological Control

The activities of predators and parasites in ecosystems regulate pests and diseases that attack plants, animals and people.

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Habitat or Supporting Services

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'

Habitats for species

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'

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Maintenance of genetic diversity

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.

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Cultural Services

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.

Aesthetic appreciation and inspiration
for culture

Animals, plants and ecosystems have been the source of inspiration for much of our arts, culture, and design; they increasingly inspire science as well.

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Tourism

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.

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Spiritual experience and identity

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.

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Recreation

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.

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Land use and ecosystem services

Here is an example: One forest three uses - choose a land use intensity.

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Why do ecosystem services matter?

Counting on ecosystem services has tremendous potential to maintain and improve the quality of life:

Contribution to human well-being

Ecosystem services directly contribute to human well-being by providing food and shelter, but also supporting our health, joy, spiritual inspiration, and cultural identity.

Input to regional economies

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.

Efficient natural solutions

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’.

Ready for the future

Maintaining well-functioning natural ecosystems is an excellent strategy to deal with future pressures and threats, for example, those linked to climate change.