SiteMap View

SiteMap Hidden

Main Menu

About Us


Our Actions

E-gen Events

Our Actions

Ecosystem Services: Types and Examples

by Bharat Adhikari | 17-04-2018 17:39

What are Ecosystem Services?

The Millennium Ecosystem Assessment defined Ecosystem Services as ¡°the benefits people derive from ecosystems¡±. Besides provisioning services or goods like food, wood and other raw materials, plants, animals, fungi and micro-organisms provide essential regulating services such as pollination of crops, prevention of soil erosion and water purification, and a vast array of cultural services, like recreation and a sense of place. Such ecosystems include, for example, agroecosystems, forest ecosystems, grassland ecosystems and aquatic ecosystems. Collectively, these benefits are becoming known as 'ecosystem services¡¯ and are often integral to the provisioning of clean drinking water, the decomposition of wastes, and the natural pollination of crops and other plants.


While scientists and environmentalists have discussed ecosystem services implicitly for decades, the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment (MA) in the early 2000s popularized the concept. There, ecosystem services are grouped into four broad categories: provisioning, such as the production of food and water; regulating, such as the control of climate and disease; supporting, such as nutrient cycles and crop pollination; and cultural, such as spiritual and recreational benefits. To help inform decision-makers, many ecosystem services are being assigned economic values.


In spite of the ecological, cultural and economic importance of these services, ecosystems and the biodiversity that underpins them are still being degraded and lost at an unprecedented scale. One major reason for this is that the value (importance) of ecosystems to human welfare is still underestimated and not fully recognized in every day planning and decision-making, in other words, the benefits of their services are not, or only partly, captured in conventional market economics. Furthermore, the costs of externalities of economic development (e.g. pollution, deforestation) are usually not accounted for, while inappropriate tax and subsidy (incentive) systems encourage the over-exploitation and unsustainable use of natural resources and other ecosystem services at the expense of the poor and future generations.



Four categories:

The Millennium Ecosystem Assessment (MA) report 2005 defines Ecosystem services as benefits people obtain from ecosystems and distinguishes four categories of ecosystem services, where the so-called supporting services are regarded as the basis for the services of the other three categories.


Supporting services:

These include services such as nutrient recycling, primary production and soil formation. These services make it possible for the ecosystems to provide services such as food supply, flood regulation, and water purification.


Provisioning services:

food (including seafood and game), crops, wild foods, and spices

raw materials (including lumber, skins, fuel wood, organic matter, fodder, and fertilizer)

genetic resources (including crop improvement genes, and health care)


biogenic minerals

medicinal resources (including pharmaceuticals, chemical models, and test and assay organisms)

energy (hydropower, biomass fuels)

ornamental resources (including fashion, handicraft, jewelry, pets, worship, decoration and souvenirs like furs, feathers, ivory, orchids, butterflies, aquarium fish, shells, etc.)


Regulating services:

carbon sequestration and climate regulation

waste management, decomposition and detoxification

purification of water and air

pest and disease control

natural hazard regulation


Cultural services:

cultural (including use of nature as motif in books, film, painting, folklore, national symbols, architect, advertising, etc.)

spiritual and historical (including use of nature for religious or heritage value or natural)

recreational experiences (including ecotourism, outdoor sports, and recreation)

science and education (including use of natural systems for school excursions, and scientific discovery)

Therapeutic (including Ecotherapy, social forestry and animal assisted therapy)



Some examples of key services provided by ecosystems are described below:

Climate regulation is one of the most important ecosystem services both globally and on a European scale. European ecosystems play a major role in climate regulation, since Europe¡¯s terrestrial ecosystems represent a net carbon sink of some 7-12% of the 1995 human generated emissions of carbon. Peat soils contain the largest single store of carbon and Europe has large areas in its boreal and cool temperate zones. However, the climate regulating function of peatlands depends on land use and intensification (such as drainage and conversion to agriculture) and is likely to have profound impacts on the soil capacity to store carbon and on carbon emissions (great quantities of carbon are being emitted from drained peatlands).


Water purification by ecosystems has a high importance for Europe, because of the heavy pressure on water from a relatively densely populated region. Both vegetation and soil organisms have profound impacts on water movements: vegetation is a major factor in controlling floods, water flows and quality; vegetation cover in upstream watersheds can affect quantity, quality and variability of water supply; soil micro-organisms are important in water purification; and soil invertebrates influence soil structure, decreasing surface runoff. Forests, wetlands and protected areas with dedicated management actions often provide clean water at a much lower cost than man-made substitutes like water treatment plants.


Pests and diseases are regulated in ecosystems through the actions of predators and parasites as well as by the defense mechanisms of their prey. One example of these regulating services is provided by insectivorous birds in farms that use most of their land for agriculture.


Soil biodiversity is a major factor in soil formation, which supports a range of provisioning services such as food, fiber and fuel provision and is fundamental to soil fertility, being a highly important ecosystem service in Europe. In addition, a diverse soil community will help prevent loss of crops due to soil-borne pest diseases.


Cultural services provided by ecosystems are also very important to EU citizens. Evidence can be found in the scale of membership of conservation organizations. For example, in the United Kingdom the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds has a membership of over one million and an annual income of over £50 million.


Although most people associate them mainly with nature conservation and tourism, well managed protected areas can provide vital ecosystem services, such as water purification and retention, erosion control and reduced flooding; they support food and health security by maintaining crop diversity and species, play an important role in climate change adaptation and contribute to mitigation through the storage and sequestration of carbon.


A new classification of ecosystem services is under development at international level, the Common International Classification of Ecosystem Services (CICES) to facilitate integration of ecosystem services in environmental accounting.



More on:


Image from: