Ecosystem Services – the prerequisite and basis for a good life
Ecosystem services are of central importance for human well-being. Ecosystems provide for example water, food, protection from natural disasters or good air quality, as well as recreational opportunities in nature and a variety of cultural and scientific stimuli.
In recent years, the understanding of ecosystem services has changed significantly. On the one hand, they are no longer understood carelessly as virtually inexhaustible "free products of nature", but as values that need to be preserved and developed. On the other hand, the one-sided concentration on providing services has given way to a more comprehensive appreciation.
Provisioning ecosystem services are those goods that are produced by ecosystems and used by humans. Food (such as fruit and vegetables), drinking water, timber (e.g. as building material) and fuel are provided by ecosystems.
Regulating ecosystem services are now receiving increasing attention and are of utmost importance to adaptation to climate change. These include services that result from the fact that the work of ecosystems positively influences the quality of the environment. Air and water purification, pollination, fertile soils, flood prevention (e.g. through soil and plant water retention), climate regulation and storage of the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide or biological control of pest infestation are important examples.
Cultural ecosystem services are of high relevance, especially in a modern, technology-oriented society. Varied and semi-natural landscapes offer a high recreational, educational and adventure value. The typical equipment and condition of ecosystems have a complex effect on the human psyche. In this way they also create identity and contribute to people feeling connected to their habitat.
There are interactions between many ecosystem services. If the human promotion of one service weakens another, this is called a trade-off. In contrast, if the promotion of one service also strengthens other services at the same time, this is called a synergy effect. A trade-off, for example, could be the large-scale planting of fast-growing tree species. This promotes the supply of large quantities of biomass. However, this comes along with the loss of biodiversity, soil formation processes and many other regulating services. It increases the risk for calamities and negatively affects microclimate and landscape water budget.
Trade-offs as well as synergies can be managed in the course of well-considered and adaptive management in such a way that they reduce disadvantages for society and improve the functionality of ecosystems and thus the well-being of the people living in them. For example, nutrient runoff from agriculture can be reduced by minimising the use of fertilisers and conservation tillage, or by maintaining riparian zones. This can be done without excessive losses in food production. At the same time, improving a service, such as increasing nutrient storage by promoting vegetative riparian zones, can also improve landscape beauty, wind protection, water quality, biodiversity and plant production, thereby increasing the benefits to society.
The various ecosystems provide the required services to varying degrees. In the course of an ecosystem-based development planning, an appropriate balance must therefore be achieved between the conservation and development of all ecosystems. The ecosystem services that are most needed and scarce must be strengthened in a targeted manner.