Simply put, ecosystem services are the conditions and processes through which ecosystems, and the biodiversity that makes them up, sustain and fulfill human life. Ecosystem services are tightly interrelated, making their classification somewhat arbitrary. The Millennium Ecosystem Assessment (MA) - the formal international effort to elevate awareness and understanding of societal dependence on ecosystems - has suggested four categories.
First, 'provisioning services' provide goods such as food, freshwater, timber, and fiber for direct human use; these are a familiar part of the economy. Second, and much less widely appreciated, 'regulating services' maintain a world in which it is biophysically possible for people to live, providing such benefits as water purification, pollination of crops, flood control, and climate stabilization. Third, 'cultural services' make the world a place in which people want to live; they include recreation as well as esthetic, intellectual, and spiritual inspiration. Fourth, 'supporting services' create the backdrop for the conditions and processes on which society depends more directly. All of these services are provided by complex chemical, physical, and biological cycles, powered by the sun, and operate at scales ranging from
Table 1 A classification of ecosystem services. Examples of ecosystem services and how they can be categorized
Provisioning services: Production of... Food
Seafood, agricultural crops, livestock, spices Pharmaceuticals
Medicinal products, precursors to synthetic pharmaceuticals Durable materials
Natural fiber, timber Energy
Biomass fuels, low-sediment water for hydropower Industrial products
Waxes, oils, fragrances, dyes, latex, rubber Genetic resources Intermediate goods that enhance the production of other goods
Regulating services: Generation of... Cycling and filtration processes Detoxification and decomposition of wastes Generation and renewal of soil fertility Purification of air and water Translocation processes Dispersal of seeds to sustain tree and other plant cover Pollination of crops and other plants Stabilizing processes Coastal and river channel stability Control of the majority of potential pest species Carbon sequestration Partial stabilization of climate Protection from disasters: regulation of hydrological cycle (mitigation of floods and droughts)
moderation of weather extremes (such as of temperature and wind) Cultural services: Provision of... Esthetic beauty, serenity Recreational opportunities Cultural, intellectual, and spiritual inspiration Supporting services: Preservation of... Processes underlying services in the classes above Options maintenance of the ecological components and systems needed for future supply of the goods and services above and others awaiting discovery smaller than the period at the end of this sentence to as large as the entire biosphere (Table 1).
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