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Ecosystem services

Ecosystem services

In ecology, ecosystem services are the multitude of benefits that an ecosystem provides to society.

Ecosystem services can be divided into four categories:

  • provisioning: are characterized by the ability of humans to obtain products from ecosystems, such as food, water and resources, including wood, oil and genetic resources and medicines
  • regulating: Regulating services are categorised as any benefit obtained from the natural processes and functioning of ecosystems. Examples include climate regulation, flood regulation and other natural hazard regulation, pollination, water purification and more.
  • cultural: Cultural services include non-material benefits that people can obtain from ecosystems. These include spiritual enrichment, intellectual development, recreation and aesthetic values.
  • supporting: those which relate to habitat functioning themselves, and therefore influence survival. For example, photosynthesis, the water cycle and nutrient cycles are the basis of ecosystems, which in turn allow us to support ourselves.

Marine ecosystems can provide plenty of services to humans. The link between changes in the ecological status and the services provided is very complex. Local and global stressors and pressures to a marine ecosystem can cause the loss of the ecosystem services provided, which in turn can affect the environmental, social and economic domains.

Example of services provided by a healthy coral reef (Woodhead et al., 2019 )

  • Provisioning: subsistence and commercial fisheries attained from healthy reefs
  • Regulating: protection of beaches and coastlines from storm surges and waves
  • Cultural: tourism and recreation opportunities
  • Supporting: nursery habitats for many marine species