Ecosystems are not static but dynamic and discontinuous
systems with interactions and connections evolving both spatially
and temporally. They represent ecological processes and the
resources they provide can be expressed in terms of goods and
services. Ecosystem processes can be considered
value-neutral, whilst their goods and services are considered to
have a value to society.
Ecosystem services therefore are the benefits people obtain
from ecosystems. This terminology is derived from two
“Ecosystem goods (such as food) and services (such as waste
assimilation) represent the benefits human populations derive,
directly or indirectly, from ecosystem functions “(Costanza et
“Ecosystem services are the conditions and processes through
which natural ecosystems, and the species that make them up,
sustain and fulfil human life. They maintain biodiversity and the
production of ecosystem goods” (Daily, 1997).
Ecosystem services influence human well-being, which is
assumed to possess multiple constituents, including: basic
materials to support a good quality of life, such as secure
and adequate livelihoods, ample food, shelter, clothing, and access
to goods; health, including well-being, a healthy physical
environment, such as clean air and water; good social
relations, which includes social cohesion, mutual respect, the
means to assist others and provide for children; security,
including secure access to resources, personal safety, and
protection against natural and human induced disasters; and
freedom of choice and action, which are the opportunities
that enable individuals to achieve what they value doing and
It is important to recognise that humans are integral elements
of global ecosystems and that dynamic interactions take place
between them and other parts of ecosystems. The ever changing
human condition drives ecosystem change directly and indirectly,
thereby bringing about changes in human well-being.
Concurrently, economic, cultural and social factors, independent
from ecosystems, influence the human condition, and natural forces
Ecosystem management in some cases may lead to possible
ecosystem disservices. Examples of disservices can include:
increased prevalence of allergens; promoting invasive species;
hosting pathogens or pests; inhibiting human mobility or safety;
bringing about cultural and psychological effects that negatively
impact human well-being; or increasing the necessity for using
natural resources (i.e. water) or chemicals (i.e. pesticides and
The possibility that ecosystem disservices may occur must be
kept in mind when planning, evaluating and monitoring Ecosystem
Approach projects. The distinction between an ecosystem
service and disservice could be dependent upon the context and
perceptions of actors involved. To improve the understanding
of possible disservices collaboration between ecologists, social
scientists and epidemiologists should explore interactions and
provide quantifiable analysis of costs and benefits.
Ecosystem Service Classification
Ecosystem services have been classified in various ways,
- ‘Functional groupings’, such
as regulation, carrier, habitat, production, and information
services (de Groot et al. 2002)1
- ‘Organisational groupings’,
such as services associated with certain species that regulate
external inputs into a system, and those related to the
organisation of biological entities (Norberg 1999)2.
- ‘Descriptive groupings’,
such as renewable resource goods, non-renewable resource goods,
physical structure services, biotic services, biogeochemical
services, information services, and social and cultural services
(Moberg and Folke 1999)3.
The most widely adopted classification is the
‘functional grouping’ where ecosystem services are
divided into four categories. Some overlap occurs between
categories but the four main groupings include:
- Provisioning services are
the products that are obtained from ecosystems, such as: food,
fibre, fuel, genetic resources, biochemicals, natural medicines,
pharmaceuticals, water, and building materials.
- Regulating services are the
benefits obtained from the regulation of ecosystem processes, these
include: air quality maintenance, climate regulation, water
regulation and purification, erosion control, waste treatment,
regulation of human diseases, biological control, pollination, and
protection from extreme weather and climatic events.
- Cultural services are
nonphysical benefits that humans obtain from ecosystems through
spiritual enrichment, cognitive development, reflection,
recreation, and aesthetic experiences. These services are
connected to human behaviour and values, as well as institutions
and patterns of political, social and economic organisation.
Cultural services include: cultural diversity, spiritual and
religious values, knowledge systems, educational values,
inspiration, aesthetic values, social relations, sense of place,
cultural heritage values, and tourism.
- Supporting services are
those which are necessary for the production of all other ecosystem
services. They differ from other services as their impacts on
humans are indirect, or occur over a long time period. Some
services, such as erosion control, can be categorised as a
supporting and regulating service (depending on the time scale and
immediacy of their impact on humans). Examples of supporting
services include: production of atmospheric oxygen (through
photosynthesis), primary production, soil formation and retention,
nutrient cycling, water cycling and provisioning of habitat.
The Ecosystem Services Approach
The ecosystem services approach is a key element of planning for
sustainable development. JNCC’s goal is to embed the ecosystem
services framework in decision making. Phase one of this project
‘Spatial framework for
assessing evidence needs for operational ecosystem approaches’
identified habitat attributes which influence ecosystem services.
Phase two ‘Further
development of a spatial framework for mapping ecosystem
services’ continued on from this work to help design and
monitor management strategies. This report is accompanied by a
Microsoft Access database ‘Ecosystems Spatial Framework Database’
which takes into account the main factors and the logical steps
that need to be followed to facilitate and inform mapping of
1. De Groot, R.S., Wilson, M.A. & Boumans,
R.M.J., 2002. A typology for the classification, description
and valuation of ecosystem functions, goods and services.
Ecological Economics, 41, 393–408.
2. Norberg, J., 1999. Linking Nature’s
services to ecosystems: some general ecological concepts.
Ecological Economics, 29, 183–202.
3. Moberg, F and Folke, C., 1999. Ecological
goods and services of coral reef ecosystems. Ecological
Economics, 29, 215–233.