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What Nature does for us? Ecosystem services

An ecosystem includes all forms of life (plants, animals and micro-organisms - biotic component), which inhabit a given area, interact with each other and with the surrounding physical environment - soil nutrients, atmosphere, climate (abiotic component).

Human activities, since the dawn of humanity, have been affecting ecosystems in often irreversible ways, with incalculable losses in biodiversity. The Millennium Ecosystem Assessment aims to provide an integrated assessment of the consequences of changes in ecosystems for human well-being, as well as to create a scientific basis for better management of the Earth's ecosystems in order to guarantee conservation and sustainable use. One of the practices that has the most influence on ecosystems is conventional agriculture.

The Intergovernmental Platform for Science-Policy on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) produces reports on biodiversity and ecosystem services, It is an independent intergovernmental body, established in 2012, with the aim of strengthening the knowledge base through science, and with the mission to improve policies for the conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity, long-term human well-being and sustainable development.

Ecosystem services

Ecosystem services or environmental services translate the benefits that humanity derives from ecosystems and may include tangible goods and/or intangible services. They are divided into three categories of services: productive, regulating and cultural.

Production services

Forest areas, for example, in addition to more immediate products such as wood, cork and fruit or seeds, also contribute to reducing air pollution by retaining particles and dust, and to water purification, they capture and store carbon, reduce the probability of flooding and influence precipitation at local and regional levels. They also provide recreational and leisure facilities and improve the aesthetic quality of the landscape.

Production services concern the goods that can be produced by ecosystems: food, water, raw materials, natural fertilisers. firewood, medicinal resources, ornamental resources.

Regulation services

Regulating services are the benefits obtained by regulating ecological processes.

Take for example Portuguese agro-forests, as a carbon sink, their contribution to reducing the local and global impacts of greenhouse gas emissions and their function in protecting soil and water, particularly in areas highly susceptible to desertification and erosion and contributing to the preservation of biodiversity and landscape quality.

The following services are also examples of regulation services:

  • Regulation of the hydrological cycle (water uptake by soil and vegetation cover, filtration, storage.)

  • Regulation of the climate

  • Regulation of diseases and pests

  • Regulation of floods and fires

  • Pollination

  • Soil formation

  • Flood regulation, fires

  • Habitat for species

Cultural services

Cultural services provided by ecosystems benefit a range of beneficiaries of the non-material benefits of ecosystems such as visitors, consumers, producers and their families. They are the non-material benefits obtained from ecosystems.

  • Recreational areas, ecotourism

  • Landscapes of great natural beauty

  • Charismatic species

  • Sense of well-being

  • Cultural, religious values

  • Inspiration for technology, design

  • Scientific information/education

Ecosystem services in sustainable food systems

On 9, 16 and 23 March 2023, in the webinar cycle with the theme "Ecosystem services in sustainable food systems" we will address questions such as: how ecosystem services benefit food production and, how are ecosystems affected by agriculture? Are there any agricultural practices that are more ecosystem friendly? How can we implement and disseminate them?

Attend these webinars by registering here.

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