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Have You Thanked Your Ecosystem Today?


Have you thanked your ecosystem today? The benefits we humans receive
from ecosystems of the world are collectively referred to
as ecosystem services. The Millennium Ecosystem Assessment
was completed by the United Nations in 2005. According to its Synthesis Report, “the objective…was to assess
the consequences of ecosystem change for human well-being and to establish the scientific basis
for actions needed to enhance the conservation
and sustainable use of ecosystems and their contributions
to human well-being.” The report identified 4 categories
of ecosystem services important to humans: provisioning, regulating,
cultural, and supporting. Think about how ecosystems
sustain your life. Which ecosystem services are
considered to be provisioning services? Of course, you need food,
freshwater, protection, in the form of clothing and
shelter, and energy. How about fisheries? Biochemical resources like medicines? Genetic resources to improve
or save plant varieties? All are tangible and consumable. These are products obtained
from the ecosystem. These are provisioning services. These sustain life on a daily basis. Now think bigger. What are regulating ecosystem services? Even though you may have
these needs met, you may be miserable, or not even survive,
in the long term. What regulating services do
ecosystems provide for you? What about a livable climate,
water filtration, climate regulation (including sequestering carbon), flood control, disease and pest regulation,
waste recycling, pollination and seed dispersal,
natural hazard regulation, and erosion control? These are regulating ecosystem services. They manage the services that
keep the ecosystem functioning. Which ecosystem services are cultural services? There is certainly more to human life
than fulfilling physical needs. Think bigger still. Spiritual and religious values,
ecotourism, education, inspiration, heritage, sense of place, recreation,
and aesthetic values. These are cultural ecosystem services. The Millennium Ecosystem Assessment
describes these as the “non-material things people obtain through
spiritual enrichment, cognitive development, reflection,
recreation, and aesthetic experiences.” What supports all of these needs and wants? What are supporting ecosystem services? What forms the basis of an ecosystem? Plants do photosynthesis, that is, they capture the energy of the sun
to produce food and oxygen. Water is cycled through the ecosystem. And nutrients are cycled through the ecosystem. These supporting ecosystem services
are necessary for the production of the other services. The Millennium Ecosystem Assessment
explains that supporting ecosystem services differ from provisioning, regulating,
and cultural ecosystem services in that their impacts on people
are often indirect, or occur over a very long period of time. So, to summarize the types of
services ecosystems provide: Supporting services include
primary production, or photosynthesis, oxygen production, nutrient and
water cycling, and soil formation. Provisioning services include the
basic products we receive from the ecosystem: food, water, shelter, protection,
medicine, and genetic resources. Regulating services maintain
the balance in the ecosystem. These include water filtration,
carbon uptake, flood and disease regulation, erosion control and hazard regulation. Cultural benefits from ecosystems
include spiritual solace, recreation, education, heritage, tourism, aesthetics,
inspiration, and a sense of place. In 1991, four men and four women
entered Biosphere 2, a man-made closed ecological system,
in Oracle, Arizona. It covered 3.14 acres and
included 6 different ecosystems. The purpose of this “human experiment”
was to see if the eight biospherians could be sustained by this miniature
version of earth, for two years, with no outside support of any kind. If the project was successful, Biosphere 2 might serve as a prototype
for a human habitat on Mars, or a retreat for humans on earth during a
crisis. Biosphere 2 was designed to provide
all the services of Biosphere 1 – in other words, the earth! The experiment failed. The project was not able to sustain humans. What ecosystem services failed in Biosphere
2? So why can’t we bottle up these
ecosystem services and create a compact biosphere
for human survival?

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