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Ecosystem services is the concept of viewing the functions of ecosystems in terms of the benefits that they provide to people. By acknowledging and understanding the impact and importance of ecosystem services in people's everyday lives, this can encourage careful use of and reliance on environmental resources, remembering that our well-being is dependent on the beneficial services that nature provides.
- Supporting services
- Regulating services
- Provisioning services
- Cultural services.
These categories can overlap, and often do, at differing scales.
While some aspects of ecosystem services are measurable, many aspects are not. This does not make the unmeasurable aspects any less valuable and a balance must be found between viewing ecosystems solely in terms of economic benefits and in terms of the intrinsic values.
Types of ecosystem services
- Supporting services: This refers to the ecosystem processes essential for providing all the other ecosystem services (and to life on Earth). These processes include the biochemical process by which organic compounds are produced from energy and carbon dioxide (see photosynthesis and the nutrient cycling of carbon, nitrogen, phosphorous and sulphur between land, water and atmosphere.
- Regulating services: This refers to the natural regulation of ecosystem processes that benefits human beings, such as buffering against storms and floods, for example mangrove forests along shorelines.
- Provisioning services: This refers to the products human beings gain directly from nature. Examples of this include the ability to harvest food from ecosystems (hunting and gathering, fisheries and fibre, fuel and timber from plants) and fresh water (aided by the maintenance of intact habitat). Biomass from animal manure, firewood, charcoal and grain ethanol is another example of a provisioning service.
- Cultural services: This refers to the non-material benefits gained by human beings from ecosystems, nature and biodiversity. This includes aesthetic, recreational, educational, scientific, spiritual, sense of belonging, inspirational, and so forth.
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