Ecosystem functions and services

Abstract

In our increasingly technological society, people give little thought to how dependent they are on the proper functioning of ecosystems and the crucial services for humanity that flow from them. Ecosystem services are “the conditions and processes through which natural ecosystems, and the species that make them up, sustain and fulfill human life” (Daily 1997); in other words, “the set of ecosystem functions that are useful to humans” (Kremen 2005). Although people have been long aware that natural ecosystems help support human societies, the explicit recognition of “ecosystem services” is relatively recent (Ehrlich and Ehrlich 1981a; Mooney and Ehrlich 1997). Since the entire planet is a vast network of integrated ecosystems, ecosystem services range from global to microscopic in scale (Table 3.1; Millennium Ecosystem Assessment 2005a). Ecosystems purify the air and water, generate oxygen, and stabilize our climate. Earth would not be fit for our survival if it were not for plants that have created and maintained a suitable atmosphere. Organisms decompose and detoxify detritus, preventing our civilization from being buried under its own waste. Other species help to create the soils on which we grow our food, and recycle the nutrients essential to agriculture. Myriad creatures maintain these soils, play key roles in recycling nutrients, and by so doing help to mitigate erosion and floods. Thousands of animal species pollinate and fertilize plants, protect them from pests, and disperse their seeds. And of course, humans use and trade thousands of plant, animal and microorganism species for food, shelter, medicinal, cultural, aesthetic and many other purposes. Although most people may not know what an ecosystem is, the proper functioning of the world’s ecosystems is critical to human survival, and understanding the basics of ecosystem services is essential. Entire volumes have been written on ecosystem services (National Research Council 2005; Daily 1997), culminating in a formal, in-depth, and global overview by hundreds of scientists: the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment (2005a). It is virtually impossible to list all the ecosystem services let alone the natural products that people directly consume, so this discussion presents a brief introduction to ecosystem function and an overview of critical ecosystem services.

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Cite this paper

@inproceedings{Sekercioglu2011EcosystemFA, title={Ecosystem functions and services}, author={Cagan Hakki Sekercioglu}, year={2011} }