What Are Ecosystem Services?

All of life depends on the goods and services that natural ecosystems provide. Goods are the things we use food, materials, and the like. Ecosystem services are less obvious but no less important water purification, flood damage control, pollination, maintenance of biodiversity, and fisheries production, for example 1 2. Providing living space and food to nurture marine life is an essential ecosystem service provided by marine nursery areas.

The key to maintaining these services is to ensure that ecosystems continue to function in a healthy, natural state. To do so, we must ensure that human activity does not interfere with critical ecological processes that provide these services. Unfortunately, current practices worldwide compromise the ability of marine nurseries to provide young for many marine species, including those that humans utilize.3 4 5.

The value of ecosystem services for human welfare is often not recognized or appreciated until the processes that produce these services are threatened or lost. In general, ecosystem services tend to be given low value only in part because they are poorly understood6. As with other public goods, getting people to pay for the protection of these services is difficult. Willingness to cooperate in conservation management practices, and to pay for them, also depends on being able to identify effective management actions, and insure that those who pay their costs will also have access to their benefits.

1 Costanza, R., R. d’Arget, R. de Groot, S. Faber, M. Grasso, B. Hannon, K. Limburg, S. Naeem, T.V. O’Neill, J. Paruelo, R. Sutton, and M. Van den Belt. 1997. The value of the world’s ecosystem services and natural capital. Nature 387: 253-260.

2 Miller, M.J., L.B. Crowder, J.A. Rice, and E.A. Marschall. 1998. Larval size and recruitment mechanisms in fishes: toward a conceptual framework. Canadian Journal of Fisheries and Aquatic Sciences 45: 1657-1670.

3 Agardy, T.S.  1997. Marine Protected Areas and Ocean Conservation. Austin, TX: R.E. Landes Co. (Academic Press).

4 Beck, M., K.L. Heck, K.W. Able, D.L. Childers, D.B. Eggleston, B.M. Gillanders, B. Halpern, C.G. Hays, K. Hoshino, T.J. Minello, R.J. Orth, P.F. Sheridan, and M.P. Weinstein. 2001. The identification, conservation, and management of estuarine and marine nurseries for fish and invertebrates. BioScience 51(8): 6-33-641.

5 Miller et al. 1998.

6 Daily, G.C., S. Alexander, P.R. Ehrlich, L. Goulder, J. Lubchenco, P.A. Matson, H.A. Mooney, S. Postel, S.H. Schneider, D. Tilman, G.M. Woodwell. 1997. Ecosystem services: benefits supplied to human societies by natural ecosystems. Issues in Ecology 2:  2-15.