Landscape Functions

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Traditionally, the concept of landscape functions has been considered in the landscape planning system of Germany and German-speaking countries. According to that concept, landscape has the following functions:

(1) Production (economic) functions (biomass production, water supply, suitability of nonrenewable resources);

(2) Regulatory (ecological) functions (regulation of material and energy fluxes, hydrological and meteorological functions, regulation and regeneration of populations and bio(geo)coenoses, habitat (genetical) function); (3) Social functions (psychological (esthetic and ethical) functions, information functions, human-ecological, and recreational functions).

This approach is very similar to the concept of ecosystem services and natural capital, which has recently gained extensive popularity. According to this concept, the typology of landscape functions includes four categories: (1) provisioning functions; (2) regulation functions; (3) habitat functions; and (4) cultural and amenity functions (see Table 1).

1. Provisioning functions comprise functions that supply 'physical services' in terms of resources or space. This category has been divided into two classes: production and carrier functions. Production functions reflect resources produced by natural ecosystems, for example, the harvesting of fish from the ocean, pharmaceutical products from wild plants and animals, or wood from natural forests. Carrier functions reflect the goods and services that are provided through human manipulation of natural productivity (e.g., fish from aquaculture or timber from plantations). In these cases, the function offered by nature is the provision of a suitable substrate or space for human activities, including agriculture, mining, transportation, etc.

2. Regulation functions result from the capacity of ecosystems and landscapes to influence ('regulate') climate, hydrological and biochemical cycles, Earth surface processes, and a variety of biological processes. These services often have an important spatial (connectivity) aspect; for example, the flood control function of an upper watershed forest is only relevant in the flood zone downstream of the forest.

3. Habitat functions comprise the importance of ecosystems and landscapes in maintaining natural processes and biodiversity, including the refugium and nursery functions. The refugium function reflects the value of landscape units in providing habitats to (threatened) fauna and flora, and the nursery function indicates that some landscape units provide a particularly suitable location for reproduction and thereby have a regulating impact on the maintenance of populations elsewhere.

4. Cultural and amenity functions relate to the benefits people obtain from landscapes through recreation, cognitive development, relaxation, and spiritual reflection. This may involve actual visits to the area, indirectly enjoying the area (e.g., through nature movies), or gaining satisfaction from the knowledge that a landscape contains important biodiversity or cultural monuments. The latter may occur without having the intention of ever visiting the area. These services have also been referred to as 'information functions'.

The evaluation of landscapes for planning and management purposes, as well as landscape synthesis and decision making, is based on landscape functions.

Table 1

Typology of ecosystem/landscape functions, goods, and services

Biophysical indicators (examples) (i.e.,


ecosystem properties providing the goods

Goods and services



Short description

or service)




Resources from

Biomass (production and stock)




Biochemical properties

Food (e.g., fish, bush meat)



Raw materials (wood, fodder)


Use of space to

Depending on the specific land use type,

Cultivation (e.g., agriculture,


(enhance) supply

different requirements are placed on

plantations, aquaculture)

resources or other

environmental conditions (e.g., soil

Energy conversion (e.g., wind,

goods and services

stability and fertility, air and water quality,


hydrology, topography, climate, geology)

Mining (ore, fossil fuels)

Transportation (esp. on




Direct benefits from

Role of ecosystems in biogeochemical

Climate regulation


ecosystem processes

cycles (e.g., CO2/O2 balance,

Maintenance of soil fertility

hydrological cycle)

Role of vegetation and biota in removal or

Waste treatment (e.g., water

breakdown of nutrients and toxic



Maintenance of air quality

Physical properties of land cover

Water regulation (e.g.,

buffering runoff)

Erosion prevention

Storm protection and flood


Population control through tropic-dynamic

Biological control (of pests


and diseases)




Maintenance of

Presence of rare/endemic species; species

Refugium for wildlife


biodiversity and



Reproduction habitat for migratory species

Nursery function (for


commercial species)


Cultural and

Nonmaterial benefits

Landscape (or ecosystem) properties with

Enjoyment of scenery (e.g.,


esthetic, recreational, historical, spiritual,

scenic roads)


inspirational, scientific, or educational

Ecotourism and recreation


Heritage value/cultural


Spiritual or religious sites

Cultural expressions (use of

landscapes as motif in

books, film, painting,

folklore, advertising)

Research and education

Adapted from De Groot RS and Hein L (2007) Concept and valuation of landscape functions at different scales. In: Mander U, Wiggering H, and Helming K (eds.) Multifunctional Land Use. Meeting Future Demands for Landscape Goods and Services, pp. 15-36. Berlin: Springer.

Adapted from De Groot RS and Hein L (2007) Concept and valuation of landscape functions at different scales. In: Mander U, Wiggering H, and Helming K (eds.) Multifunctional Land Use. Meeting Future Demands for Landscape Goods and Services, pp. 15-36. Berlin: Springer.

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