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Nature’s Benefits

What are you thankful for this holiday season? Spending time with friends and family? Turkey and mashed potatoes? As the holiday season approaches, take time to give thanks to nature for the benefits it provides us every day. Many of these benefits are obvious (food and water), while others often go unnoticed.

Ecosystem Services

The benefits we get from the environment are called ecosystem services. Ecosystem services can be material goods like food, water, building materials, or fuel. These are known as Provisioning Services. However, this is only the tip of the benefit iceberg.

Nature also works hard to purify water and air, control diseases, and regulate climate. These services are called Regulating Services. Without these benefits, we would be without clean air and water. Our world would be completely uninhabitable.

Many ecosystem services would not be possible without Supporting Services such as soil formation, nutrient cycling, water cycling, or pollination. For instance, pollination may not provide us a direct benefit, but it does support habitats for wildlife, pollinate crops for food, and pollinate flowers for our enjoyment.

And finally, one of the most often overlooked category of benefits we get from nature: Cultural Services.  They include recreation, education, and aesthetic appeal (beauty). Nature also holds cultural and historical importance. Without these benefits, the quality of our lives would be severely impacted. Imagine a world without nature.

The Value of Nature

What value do you place on fresh air and water or taking a walk outside? Not surprisingly, most find these extremely valuable. Even if you don’t go outside, simply looking out your window at some trees or just knowing that it exists provides value. So while money doesn’t technically grow on trees, researchers are working hard to determine the monetary value of all these benefits. Years of research suggest that the value of these benefits is on par with the economic gain of development.

Recently, more attention has been given to the mental and physical health benefits of nature. A 2019 study from the University of Michigan found that urban residents can reduce their stress (cortisol levels) significantly by spending time outside. In the study, cortisol levels dropped at a rate of 21% per hour, and the benefits were strongest when people spent only 20-30 minutes outside. You don’t have to be walking or taking a hike. Simply sitting outside provides these health benefits.

So give thanks this holiday season to our environment for its wonderful benefits. Without it, there would be no Thanksgiving turkey or mashed potatoes – and what kind of world would that be?

 

For more information on Florida’s Ecosystem Services, visit: http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/topic_ecosystem_services

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