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Walk It Out

The holidays are a great time to stop and reflect on all we are thankful for, to gather with friends and family (during non-COVID times), and of course, to eat…a lot! If you’re like me, after I eat my holiday meals, I want to go on a walk (to make room for dessert of course). Since you’re already in the mindset of giving thanks, I’m going to encourage you to give thanks to nature on your walk.

Participants on a guided hike at Brooker Creek Preserve led by author

Yours truly leading a guided hike at Brooker Creek Preserve (Image taken prior to COVID-19 pandemic) Photo Credit: Julia Myers.

I can’t ask you to do something I haven’t done, so I just went on a walk with this article in mind. On my walk, I looked around and thought about all I was thankful for (as it relates to nature).

Here’s what I came up with:
  • The space and ability to go on a walk and recreate in nature
  • Fresh air
  • Shade
  • Trees, plants, wildflowers
  • Wildlife
  • Beauty of nature
  • Sunshine
  • Water

It’s kind of fun to think about the many benefits nature provides us. In the science world, we call these benefits: ecosystem services. Simply put, ecosystem services are benefits we obtain from ecosystems. Ecosystems being a living community of creatures interacting with each other and their physical environment, or what we might generally call nature.

To comprehend all the ecosystem services nature provides, it helps to categorize them. Different institutions have different categories, but these are most common ones I have seen. It’s impressive how much the natural world does for us every day!

Provisioning services
  • Provisioning services are the benefits nature physically provides us…the tangibles, such as: food, fuel, fiber, wood, biochemicals (such as sap, rubber or glue), medicines, and fresh water.
Persimmon fruit

Persimmon fruit. Photo credit: Julia Myers.

Regulating Services
  • Regulating services are the benefits we receive from supporting a healthy ecosystem, including: better air quality, a comfortable climate, water storage and purification, erosion prevention, disease control, decomposition by bacteria, and pollination by bees and other insects. They help regulate our environment to make it livable.
Brooker creek and surrounding flooded forest

Brooker Creek Preserve exhibits many ecosystem services such as water storage and purification. Photo credit: Lara Milligan.

Cultural Services
  • Cultural services are non-material (non-tangible) benefits we receive from nature such as: cultural heritage and identity, aesthetic beauty, learning through interactions with nature, recreation, and creative hobbies such as art and music. Nature has and continues to shape many cultures and cultural activities around the world.
Two elderly ladies examining an oak tree

Participants of a phenology workshop studying characteristics of an oak tree. (Image taken prior to COVID-19 pandemic) Photo credit: Lara Milligan.

Supporting Services
  • Supporting services make provisioning, regulating and cultural services possible. These benefits include natural cycles such as the water and carbon cycle, the process of photosynthesis, and soil formation. Without these natural processes, ecosystems would not be able to provide provisioning, regulating and cultural benefits.
sunrise at brooker creek preserve

Sunrise at Brooker Creek Preserve in Tarpon Springs, FL. Photo credit: Lara Milligan.

I know. It’s a lot. There’s a lot to be thankful for. There’s a lot we take for granted. Sometimes it helps to think about what life would be like without one of these ecosystem services. The whole, “you don’t know what you got till’ it’s gone” mentality. Life on earth is not possible without all these services. Some researchers are working to figure out what it would cost us to provide the same services in the absence of ecosystems.

A lot of economists are working hard on how we can put a value on ecosystem services. For example, a study of the urban forests of the City of Tampa revealed their ecosystem services to be valued at over two billion dollars annually! I don’t have time to get into this today, but it’s a tool in the toolbox to help people better understand the importance of the green spaces we have left.

Happy Walking!

Diving Deeper - Investigate the ecosystem services of the trees right in your own yard or neighborhood.