What are ecosystem services?

Ecosystem services are the benefits natural systems provide to human actors. As already defined in the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment (MA, 2005) different categories are distinguished:

Provisioning services  ("Products obtained from ecosystems")

  • 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)
  • water
  • minerals (including diatomite)
  • 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 ("Benefits obtained from the regulation of ecosystem processes")

  • carbon sequestration and climate regulation
  • waste decomposition and detoxification
  • purification of water and air
  • pest and disease control

Cultural services ("Nonmaterial benefits people obtain from ecosystems through spiritual enrichment, cognitive development, reflection, recreation, and aesthetic experiences")

  • 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)