TENDUA - Association for biodiversity conservation

Ecosystem services

The concept of ecosystem services has emerged in the 1980s under the guidance of naturalists involved in the conservation of nature. It has grown significantly in the late 90s following the economic work of Costanza (1997) or Daily (1997) but has really gained momentum following the publication of Report Ecosystem Assessment for the Millennium.

The Assessment of the Millennium Ecosystem (or MEA Millennium Ecosystem Assessment), conducted between 2001 and 2005, including attempted to determine the consequences of ecosystem change for human well-being.
Indeed, one of the starting postulates that man is an integral part of ecosystems, through a dynamic interaction between the two.
The second major point made by the MEA is that these services (and hence human survival) is dependent on biodiversity on Earth (water, air or terrestrial).


Coal Creek falls, South Island, New Zealand
Coal Creek falls, South Island, New Zealand
services de support : cycle de l’eau, photosynthèse et production d’oxygène, cycle des nutriments, formation des sols - © © Myriam Dupuis

In the long and intimate relationship between the man and nature, man, having long used without restraint for centuries and especially in recent decades where the man has plundered the resources, finally took awareness of the fragility of this nature to which it belongs. The man has understood that protecting nature is to protect humanity. Indeed ecosystems provide to humanity many services without which man could not live. These ecosystem services are diverse.
The working group of the MEA (Millennium Ecosystem Assessment) in 2005, classified them into four groups.
Of the 24 services evaluated by the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment, four are on the rise, but 15 ecosystem services are degraded, most probably because of human activities.

What is an ecosystem service ?

The concept of ecosystem service refers to the value (monetary or otherwise) of ecosystems or of nature in general, in the sense that ecosystems provide to humanity of goods and services necessary for their well-being and development.

Affirm with force (and the key figures) that humanity is nothing without sustainable and quality ecosystems should increase awareness among humans on the more-than-necessary urgency to protect these ecosystems.

1 - Support services or self-maintenance

These are services that enable the development of other services and are linked to the existence of life on earth: there are the soil formation, primary production (photosynthesis that combines living formation) or yet, not least, the production of oxygen.
They are different from the other three categories of services, that their effects on people are either indirect or occur over long periods of time. Thus, some services, such as erosion control, can be characterized either as “support” or “control” based on the time scale of the effects of its changes on humans.
For example, human beings do not directly use ecosystem services of soil formation (“support” services), even if changes in the service indirectly affect humans through the effect on food production.

2 - Direct production or Supply services useful to man

This is indeed the provision of food (plants and animals), wood, fiber (cotton, wool), or drugs not to mention water, vital element par excellence. By exploitation of ecosystems, men obtain marketable products.
Examples:

  • Food, fiber. This includes a broad category of plant-derived food products, animals, bacteria, as well as materials such as wood, jute, hemp, silk ...
  • Fuel: fuel wood, peat, manure and other materials that serve as energy sources;
  • Genetic resources include genes and genetic information used for animal breeding, plant breeding and biotechnology;
  • Chemicals: many drugs, biocides, food additives such as alginates, and biological materials are derived from ecosystems;
  • Medicinal plants, ornamental resources are products such as skins and shells, flowers used as ornaments, although the value of these resources is often determined by the cultural context of their use;
  • Building materials: wood, fine sands, etc .;
  • The huntable wildlife.

3 - Regulating ecosystem services

The ecosystems in their functioning, are directly involved in trade with the atmosphere and thus on air quality and climate, in the water purification and waste, in the regulation of natural risks and the erosion, etc. It is obvious to everyone that the management of ecosystems or agrosystems directly influence these regulatory services and that the man in his management of nature can influence those services.
Examples :

  • Maintaining the air quality: ecosystems provide chemicals, and they extract chemicals from the atmosphere, thereby influencing the quality of the air;
  • Climate regulation: Ecosystems influence climate both locally and globally. For example, at local level, changes in land cover can affect both temperature and precipitation patterns. A global scale, ecosystems play an important role in climate, either sequestering or emitting greenhouse gases;
  • The water cycle: the recurrence and extent of the runoff, flooding and aquifer recharge can be strongly influenced by changes in land use, by alterations that can change the storage potential water at the ecosystem level. Such alterations can be determined by the conversion of wetlands or forests into agricultural areas, agricultural areas or in urban areas;
  • Control erosion;
  • Vegetation cover plays an important role in soil retention and preventing landslides;
  • The water purification and treatment of waste. Ecosystems can made of impurities in the water, but also can help filter and decompose organic waste introduced in wetlands, inland waters and marine ecosystems;
  • The regulation of human diseases. Changes in ecosystems can directly change the abundance of human pathogens; such as cholera, and can alter the abundance of disease vectors, such as mosquitoes;
  • Biological control: ecosystem changes may affect the prevalence of diseases and predators of crops and livestock;
  • Pollination: ecosystem changes may affect the distribution, abundance and effectiveness of pollination;
  • Protection against storms and floods: for example, the presence of forest ecosystems can reduce the intensity of the wind and / or water.

4 - Cultural ecosystem services

Ecosystems actually have spiritual values as is the case of some sacred groves in some countries, aesthetic and recreational values: walking in the countryside is to meet nature and enjoy what it offers (heritage, aesthetic, education, religion, ecotourism, etc.).

Social and cultural services are non-material benefits from ecosystems obtained by people through spiritual enrichment, cognitive development, reflection, creation, aesthetic experiences, including:

  • the employment offer, which is the result of management, restoration, protection etc. ecosystems,
  • The educational values: ecosystems and their components provide the basis for education in many societies;
  • source of inspiration;
  • Ecosystems provide a rich source of inspiration for art, folklore, national symbols, architecture and advertising;
  • Aesthetic values: many people find beauty or aesthetic value in various aspects of ecosystems; this is reflected for example in visiting parks, “landscapes” and in the choice of locations to build houses;
  • Social relations: Ecosystems influence social relations. For example, the fact to benefit from the aesthetic and recreational aspects of ecosystems (forest, urban parks ...) can contribute to the strengthening of social ties (e.g. between a group of young, between neighbours ....)
  • The “heritage” values: many companies appreciate the maintenance of historically important landscapes (“cultural landscapes”) or species of cultural significance;
  • Recreation and ecotourism: for example, people often choose locations for their holidays according to the natural characteristics of the place.

These services are seen as closely linked to the living.It is the diversity of life, what we call biodiversity, which is the basis of providing these services. This implies that conservation of biodiversity is fundamental.


The different types of ecosystem services (from Study & Documents No. 20, May 2010
The different types of ecosystem services (from Study & Documents No. 20, May 2010
© Commissariat Général au Développement Durable

In terrestrial ecosystems, the soil is the fundamental element in the provision of services. The soils allow plant growth by providing water and nutrients, they are also home to a huge number of organisms with different functions that will participate in the establishment of ecosystem services. This whole biodiversity that must be protected to maintain the services that nature gives us.

vidéo : Les services écosystémiques, interview of Eric Blanchart (in French)

Thanks to Eric Blanchart, Stéphane de Tourdonnet, SupAgro Montpellier, Mooc Agroécologie de septembre 2015.

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