Nature is not simply a warehouse of resources to serve human needs. Rather, it is a highly integrated, interdependent functioning system upon which all life forms, including the soil, water, plants, animals and humans depend for survival. In fact, Modern science has provided extensive empirical evidence which indicated that nature was a complex collection of water, air, soil, animal, plants and human beings. The components were sufficiently interdependent that the failure of one part of the system could undermine the productivity of other parts. As a result, it is necessary for us to treat the natural environment with love and respect because the failure of the system would ultimately threaten the subsistence of human beings.
The value of nature to people has long been recognized, but in recent years, the concept of ecosystem services has been developed to describe these various benefits. An ecosystem service is any positive benefit that wildlife or ecosystems provide to people. The benefits can be direct or indirect—small or large.
The Millennium Ecosystem Assessment (MA), a major UN-sponsored effort to analyze the impact of human actions on ecosystems and human well-being, identified four major categories of ecosystem services: provisioning, regulating, cultural and supporting services.
Provisioning Services: When people are asked to identify a service provided by nature, most think of food. Fruits, vegetables, trees, fish, and livestock are available to us as direct products of ecosystems. A provisioning service is any type of benefit to people that can be extracted from nature. Along with food, other types of provisioning services include drinking water, timber, wood fuel, natural gas, oils, plants that can be made into clothes and other materials, and medicinal benefits.
Regulating Services: Ecosystems provide many of the basic services that make life possible for people. Plants clean air and filter water, bacteria decompose wastes, bees pollinate flowers, and tree roots hold soil in place to prevent erosion. All these processes work together to make ecosystems clean, sustainable, functional, and resilient to change. A regulating service is the benefit provided by ecosystem processes that moderate natural phenomena. Regulating services include pollination, decomposition, water purification, erosion and flood control, and carbon storage and climate regulation.
Cultural Services: As we interact and alter nature, the natural world has in turn altered us. It has guided our cultural, intellectual, and social development by being a constant force present in our lives. The importance of ecosystems to the human mind can be traced back to the beginning of mankind with ancient civilizations drawing pictures of animals, plants, and weather patterns on cave walls. A cultural service is a non-material benefit that contributes to the development and cultural advancement of people, including how ecosystems play a role in local, national, and global cultures; the building of knowledge and the spreading of ideas; creativity born from interactions with nature (music, art, architecture); and recreation.
Supporting Services: The natural world provides so many services, sometimes we overlook the most fundamental. Ecosystems themselves couldn’t be sustained without the consistency of underlying natural processes, such as photosynthesis, nutrient cycling, the creation of soils, and the water cycle. These processes allow the Earth to sustain basic life forms, let alone whole ecosystems and people. Without supporting services, provisional, regulating, and cultural services wouldn’t exist.