Why is nature so important for humans? The basics of ecosystem services

Why is nature so important for humans?

The basics of ecosystem services

Why is nature so important for humans

The basics of ecosystem services

Nature gifts many benefits to humans. From the air we breathe, the water we drink, and the food we eat, nature enhances our wellbeing and freely provides the essentials for our survival.

For decades, scientists and environmentalists have discussed the concept of ECOSYSTEM SERVICES. However, it wasn’t until the early 2000s that it became more common place. From 2001-2005, the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment (MA) embarked on a study to determine the impact on humans should ecosystems continue to change. Drawing on the knowledge of over 1,000 experts from across the globe, they evaluated “the condition and trends in the world’s ecosystems and the services they provide,” according to the MA website. They also identified evidence-based science to determine the best methods for conservation, enhancement, and sustainable use of ecosystems.

While the concept of ecosystem services is commonly understood within the science and environmentalist community, one study found that it’s not necessarily common knowledge amongst the public. That’s why we’ve put together some basic explanations and examples below.

Woman picking strawberries
Photo by Leung Cho Pan via Canva

Ecosystem services are often broken down into four broad categories.

Supporting Services

Supporting services are the foundation of ecosystems. These natural processes keep them functioning and healthy. Supporting services include photosynthesis, the creation of soil, nutrient cycling, and pollination, among many others. They basically make it possible for all life to exist and thrive.

Provisioning Services

Provisioning services are basically anything that can be extracted from nature. The first thing people tend to think of is food. Fruits, vegetables, nuts, livestock, fish, and seafood are all direct products of ecosystems, according to the National Wildlife Federation (NWF). Beyond food, provisioning services include drinking water, plants that can be transformed into clothing and medicine, raw materials like timber and minerals, and other materials that can be converted into energy.

Regulating Services

Regulating services moderate natural occurrences in ecosystems. They also ensure ecosystems continue to function in sustainable and resilient ways. For example, plants clean and filter water and also help regulate air quality. Bees pollinate flowers, bacteria help decompose waste, while ladybugs help control pest populations (think aphids). Tree roots even prevent erosion as they hold soil in place.

Painting of bee on flower
"Bee Balm 2", by Leanne Cadden, watercolour

Cultural Services

Cultural services are incredibly important for human well-being as they enhance our physical, mental, and emotional health. Think of how nice it feels to hike through a forest, build driftwood huts on the beach, or camp along a lake. And aside from recreational activities, nature also plays muse to some of our greatest artists. Where would the Group of Seven be without Canada’s rugged wilderness? It also influences culture, symbology, and folklore. Think of the importance of maple trees in Canadian history. And for some, nature can facilitate spiritual experiences.

These are just a few examples of the different benefits that nature provides for humans, so be sure to check out the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations to learn more.