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An Introduction to Ecosystem Services

The environment brings us many benefits that help us live and increase our quality of life. It provides us food, shelter, water and air purification, recreation and even aesthetics. All these benefits are known as ecosystem services.

Types of Services

Ecosystem Services are divided into four categories. Provisioning, regulating, supporting, and cultural services. These categories are explained in the table below. As you can see, there are countless benefits we obtain from our environment. Are any of the examples below surprising to you? Can you think of an ecosystem service not listed in the table?

Ecosystem Service Category Description Examples
Provisioning Products obtained from ecosystems Food, building materials, water, fuel
Regulating Benefits obtained  from the regulation of ecosystem processes Water purification, air purification, climate regulation, disease control
Supporting Services that are necessary for the production of other ecosystem services Nutrient cycling, pollination
Cultural Nonmaterial benefits obtained from ecosystems Recreation, education, cultural/spiritual/historical importance, aesthetic appeal

 

The Value of Ecosystem Services

How can we place a value on these important benefits provided to us by the environment? It can be difficult to place a quantitative (number) value on, for instance, clean water or aesthetics. However, researchers have worked hard to translate ecosystem services to economic value. Some common methods for economic valuation include:

  • Avoided Cost: Services allow us to avoid costs (e.g. water retention pond minimizes chance of flood and associated clean-up costs)
  • Factor Income: Services provide for increase of income (e.g. high quality water increases fishery profits)
  • Replacement Cost: Services could be replaced with man-made systems (e.g. wetlands can purify water instead of paying for a water treatment plant
  • Contingent Valuation: Hypothetical alternatives can be posed to assess how much a person is willing to pay for a service (e.g. Would you be willing to pay $10 to access this park?)
  • Hedonic Pricing: The value of a good can increase if related to an ecosystem service (e.g. the value of a home on a lake is more than one inland)
  • Travel Cost: If the service requires travel, the amount of travelling a visitor is willing to do can reflect the value of the service (e.g. visitor is willing to travel 100 miles to go hiking at a nature preserve)

 

Ecosystems provide us many valuable benefits. Although it can be difficult to place a price on many ecosystem services, there are several techniques to help us do so. For more information about ecosystem services, visit: Ecosystem Services in Florida.

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