The National Wildlife Federation believes that Americans should be working together to protect wildlife and wild places for their own sake. Wildlife is important to the heritage, culture and heart of America and we want to preserve it as a legacy for our children.
Although you cannot put a value on all the ways that the natural world enriches our lives, there are many tangible benefits to living in a world with strong and healthy ecosystems. We have a stronger economy, diverse food products and advancements in medical research all as a result of wildlife and natural ecosystems.
Chipmunk with acorn in its mouth
What Does Wildlife Do For Us?
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 provides 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.
Types of Ecosystem 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:
Wood fuel, natural gas and oils
Plants that can be made into clothes and other materials
Kayaking through mangroves
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:
Erosion and flood control
Carbon storage and climate regulation
As we interact and alter nature, the natural world has in turn altered us. It is 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) Recreation
The natural world provides so many services that sometimes we overlook the most fundamental. Ecosystems themselves could not 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 would not exist.
In Focus: The Ecosystem Services of Wetlands
Wetlands are one of the most threatened ecosystems in the United States. We have lost over 50% of wetlands in the contiguous United States. Just a quick overview of some of the services provided by wetlands shows how important they are to people and why we...
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