By Janell Smith
What are ecosystem services and why are they important?
Ecosystem services are the benefits that nature provides to humans and are often categorized into provisioning, regulating, supporting and cultural. You may be most familiar with provisioning ecosystem services – including food from forests, fields, and oceans; lumber for timber and firewood; drinking water; and even natural gas and oil. Other provisioning services include plants for clothing and materials, as well as natural medicines.
Regulating services provided by natural ecosystems include climate regulation, pollination, purification of water, erosion control, flood control, and carbon storage. Supporting services include the processes that often go unseen but are fundamental to human health, such as soil formation, nutrient cycling, and water cycling. Cultural services are the non-material benefits provided by nature through spiritual enrichment, inspiration, recreation, and aesthetic value (as you can see, ecosystem services are vital to our everyday lives!). As with all life, the categories of ecosystem services are interconnected. For example, fruit trees (provisioning service) rely on the soil (supporting service) and pollination (regulating service) to thrive.