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Ecosystems and Eco-system Service

Author: Amanda Bourne - Climate Action Partnership (CAP)

( Article Type: Explanation )

The term ecosystem refers to the combined physical and biological components of an environment and the interactions between these components. Ecosystems exist at many levels, from a rotting log to a small seasonal wetland to an entire ocean. They are interconnected with each other and we only isolate them in order to understand how natural systems work.

Ecosystems encompass communities of living organisms as well as non-living components which are both structural, such as rock or soil types, and functional, such as ocean currents, sunshine, or wind. These various interconnected elements interact directly and indirectly in often complex ways to form relatively stable natural systems. This interdependence and complexity leaves ecosystems vulnerable to interference and the unintended consequences of our actions– if any one element is damaged or removed, there is the potential for the other elements to be affected. Ecosystems services refer to the life-supporting essentials and other benefits that people derive from the multitude of resources and processes that are provided by natural systems.

In 2004, the United Nations Millennium Ecosystem Assessment grouped ecosystems services into four categories – provisioning, regulating, supporting, and cultural.

Provisioning services include products such as food, fuel, drinking water, and air. Regulating services include climate regulation, while supporting services refer to processes such as nutrient recycling and the decomposition of wastes, pollination, water purification, and soil formation. Cultural services involve recreational and aesthetic benefits. These services have immense political and moral significance as well as a direct monetary value that is not often captured by market mechanisms. For example, total ecosystem services have been estimated to be worth over US $ 21–72 trillion a year – comparable to the World Gross National Income of US $ 58 trillion in 2008.

In South Africa, fynbos ecosystems are estimated to have lost US $ 11.75 billion in value due to decreases in natural flower production for the cut flower markets and water services lost to alien invasion and agriculture. Drawing attention to the economic value attached to ecosystem services has proved a useful tool in bringing an understanding of the value of ecosystem services and the urgency with which we need to engage them into sectors such as governance and industry that frequently undervalue, insufficiently conserve, and unsustainably use these services. Various methods are used to value ecosystem services. One example is replacement costs – what it would cost for manmade infrastructure to produce the same ecosystem service. Payment for ecosystem services is starting to extend into areas such as water, biodiversity, and carbon. Ecosystems and ecosystems services are under pressure and increasingly threatened by human activities. There is an urgent need to act to ensure the long-term sustainability of ecosystems and ecosystem services through biodiversity conservation, sustainable natural resource use, and responsible consumption. Ecosystems and their services are intimately linked to people’s wellbeing and ability to adapt. The diagram below illustrates the links between ecosystems and well-being and highlights the important services ecosystems provide, and on which we depend.

Associated Topics:

Animal Welfare , Birds , Deep Ecology , Wildlife