Ecosystem services

 

Ecosystem services are the many and varied benefits that humans freely gain from the natural environment and from properly-functioning ecosystems. Such ecosystems include, for example, agroecosystems, forest ecosystems, grassland ecosystems and aquatic ecosystems. Collectively, these benefits are becoming known as 'ecosystem services', and are often integral to the provisioning of clean drinking water, the decomposition of wastes, and the natural pollination of crops and other plants.
The ecosystem services concept has continued to expand and includes socio-economic and conservation objectives, which are discussed below. A history of the concepts and terminology of ecosystem services as of 1997, can be found in Daily's book "Nature's Services: Societal Dependence on Natural Ecosystems".
By 2010, there had evolved various working definitions and descriptions of ecosystem services in the literature. To prevent double counting in ecosystem services audits, for instance, The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity (TEEB) replaced "Supporting Services" in the MA with "Habitat Services" and "ecosystem functions", defined as "a subset of the interactions between ecosystem structure and processes that underpin the capacity of an ecosystem to provide goods and services".
Understanding of ecosystem services requires a strong foundation in ecology, which describes the underlying principles and interactions of organisms and the environment. Since the scales at which these entities interact can vary from microbes to landscapes, milliseconds to millions of years, one of the greatest remaining challenges is the descriptive characterization of energy and material flow between them. For example, the area of a forest floor, the detritus upon it, the microorganisms in the soil and characteristics of the soil itself will all contribute to the abilities of that forest for providing ecosystem services like carbon sequestration, water purification, and erosion prevention to other areas within the watershed. Note that it is often possible for multiple services to be bundled together and when benefits of targeted objectives are secured, there may also be ancillary benefits´the same forest may provide habitat for other organisms as well as human recreation, which are also ecosystem services.
Another idea uses the analogy of rivets in an airplane wing to compare the exponential effect the loss of each species will have on the function of an ecosystem; this is sometimes referred to as rivet popping. If only one species disappears, the loss of the ecosystem's efficiency as a whole is relatively small; however, if several species are lost, the system essentially collapses—similar to an airplane that lost too many rivets. The hypothesis assumes that species are relatively specialized in their roles and that their ability to compensate for one another is less than in the redundancy hypothesis. As a result, the loss of any species is critical to the performance of the ecosystem. The key difference is the rate at which the loss of species affects total ecosystem functioning.
Novel and expedient methods are needed to deal with managing Earth's ecosystem services. Local to regional collective management efforts might be considered appropriate for services like crop pollination or resources like water.Another approach that has become increasingly popular over the last decade is the marketing of ecosystem services protection. Payment and trading of services is an emerging worldwide small-scale solution where one can acquire credits for activities such as sponsoring the protection of carbon sequestration sources or the restoration of ecosystem service providers. In some cases, banks for handling such credits have been established and conservation companies have even gone public on stock exchanges, defining an evermore parallel link with economic endeavors and opportunities for tying into social perceptions. However, crucial for implementation are clearly defined land rights, which is often lacking in many developing countries. In particular, many forest-rich developing countries suffering deforestation experience conflict between different forest stakeholders. In addition, concerns for such global transactions include inconsistent compensation for services or resources sacrificed elsewhere and misconceived warrants for irresponsible use. Another approach has been focused on protecting ecosystem service 'hotspots'. Recognition that the conservation of many ecosystem services aligns with more traditional conservation goals (i.e. biodiversity) has led to the suggested merging of objectives for maximizing their mutual success. This may be particularly strategic when employing networks that permit the flow of services across landscapes, and might also facilitate securing the financial means to protect services through a diversification of investors.