The concept of ecosystem services provides a mechanism for understanding how changes in the environment may affect society. Defined as the direct and indirect contributions of ecosystems to human well-being1, they can be classified into four distinct groups:
Provisioning services are the products obtained from ecosystems including food (e.g. fish) and raw materials (e.g. fishmeal, medicinal resources).
Regulating services are those which control ecosystems such as climate regulation, coastal erosion prevention and waste treatment and assimilation.
Habitat services are the role that ecosystems play in providing living space for resident and migratory species (e.g. gene pool protection and migratory and nursery habitat provision).
Cultural services are the contributions of ecosystems to cultural goods and experiences such as leisure and recreation, aesthetic experiences, cultural heritage and diversity.
Ecosystem services are considered to be the products of ecosystem processes and functions (e.g. nutrient cycling, primary productivity and foodweb dynamics). They are therefore ecological in nature and are delivered by living components within the ecosystem. Once humans interact with these services, benefits are generated that reveal the human use or enjoyment of an ecosystem service. Monetary values can often be ascribed to these benefits although there are other metrics of some benefits (e.g. employment).
The potential to use ecosystem services to support management decisions has led to extensive research into how ecosystems generate services, how changes in biodiversity affect these services, and in some cases, whether technology can be used to substitute for them. It has also supported research into the value to people of benefits generated by ecosystem services and how these values can be used to support ecosystem management decisions.
This video provides an overview of the ecosystem services approach to understanding the marine environment and its application within the VECTORS project: