What are ecosystem Services?
The natural environment is made up of ecosystems, or dynamic communities of plants, animals, fungi, and microorganisms interacting with the physical environment. Whether we are expressly aware of it or not, humans rely on natural ecosystems to survive. Everything from the production of oxygen, to crop pollination and food production, to air and water purification, and dampening of extreme weather events are a result of the natural environment. These natural processes from which humans directly benefit are collectively referred to as ecosystem services, and we as individuals and as a society could not function without them. The provisioning of ecosystems services relies on intact, properly functioning natural ecosystems. Therefore understanding our impact on the environment is crucial not only for our overall understanding of natural systems, but also for the long-term sustainability of humanity.
Ecosystem services are generally split into four categories, though some services fit into multiple categories.
Provisioning: Provisioning services are those which provide products for direct human use. For example the processes which produce food products, fuel (as wood or other biological materials), and freshwater would all be examples of provisioning services.
Regulating: Regulating services refer to benefits provided via the regulation of ecosystems processes. Regulating services include: air and water quality maintenance, climate regulation, pollination, and storm protection, among others.
Supporting: Supporting services are the processes required for all other ecosystem services. The impact of supporting services are generally indirect but can have long-term impact. Soil formation, oxygen production, nutrient cycling, water cycling, and production of habitats are all examples of supporting services.
Cultural: Cultural services are the non-material benefits we obtain from nature, and are generally difficult to quantify. Examples of cultural benefits include, but are not limited to: cultural diversity and heritage, inspiration, aesthetic values, social relations, recreation, and ecotourism.
Every ecosystem on earth produces multiple ecosystem services, and while human interventions can increase certain services (e.g. crop cultivation or irrigation), more often than not our actions dampen ecosystem services. It is important to remember that we humans are not separate from the natural systems that provide us so much.
Examples of coastal ocean ecosystem services: