Because ecosystem services explicitly invoke human beneficiaries, basic scientific understanding of the ecosystem processes producing goods and services is meaningful only in the context of economic valuation and institutional structures. There is still much to learn on many fronts. Important questions include: Which ecosystems supply which services.? What levels and types of ecosystem protection are required to sustain service supply? Can we develop robust methodologies for the valuation of ecosystems? Even if clear answers are absent to all of these questions, numerous and diverse efforts are now underway worldwide to protect vital ecosystem services, often using innovative economic incentives.

Explicitly identifying and valuing the goods and services provided by ecosystems has two obvious benefits. First, understanding the role of ecosystem services powerfully justifies habitat preservation and biodiversity conservation as vital, though often overlooked, policy objectives. While a wetland surely provides existence and option values to some people, the benefits provided by the wetland's nutrient retention and flood mitigation services are both universal and undeniable. Tastes may differ over beauty, but they are in firm accord over the high costs of polluted water and flooded homes. Second, if given the opportunity, natural systems can in many cases quite literally pay their own way. Market mechanisms and institutions that can capture and maximize service values can effectively promote environmental protection at the local, regional, national, and international levels. In some cases, however, protection of ecosystem services will not justify conservation of natural habitats. In other cases, the services will be largely irrelevant to environmental protection efforts. While a focus on ecosystem services provides great potential to promote environmental protection, its practical implications remain largely unexamined.

See also: Agroforestry; Biodegradation; Biodiversity; Biomass, Gross Production, and Net Production; Climate Change 1: Short-Term Dynamics; Coastal Zone Management; Conservation Biological Control and Biopesticides in Agricultural; Deforestation; Denitrification; Ecological Economics 1; Ecosystem

Health Indicators ; Environmental Impact Assessment and Application Part 1; Erosion; Forest Management; Industrial Ecology; Lake Restoration Methods; Natural Wetlands; Resilience; Resistance and Buffer Capacity; Riparian Wetlands; Sediment Retention and Release; Stream Management; Sustainable Development; Water Availability; Water Cycle Management; Watershed Management; Wetland Models.

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