The concept of ecological services can be defined as all the benefits that people obtain from healthy ecological systems (Ortega, 2015). Any natural process that is beneficial, and that arises from a healthy ecosystem, such as pollination of plants, purification of air and water and the natural decomposition of waste can be categorized as ecological services. It is an idea that was popularized by the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment, a global initiative by the United Nations that assesses the ramifications of changes in the ecosystems for the well being of human beings (Millennium Ecosystem Assessment, 2005). Ecology services are grouped in 4 categories, namely: supporting, e.g. crop pollination and nutrient cycles, provisioning, e.g. food and water production, regulating, e.g. climate and disease control and cultural, e.g. recreational and other recreational benefits. These benefits not only accrue to human beings, but all living organisms, including plants and animals.
The fact that water offers natural flood protection services is a strong indication that we highly rely on ecosystems for survival. The US has had a history with flooding in the past, before flood protection measures were put in place. In California for example, before the development of Santa Clara Valley, the local streams would naturally and frequently flood. Consequently, the
communities around Santa Clara would suffer millions of dollars in property damages and very important roadways becoming impassable. Most homes and commercial buildings were built on lands that would frequently flood. When the need to provide flood protection and the need to protect streams and natural resources was balanced, the flooding issue became a bygone. One of the reasons natural flood protection is so important, therefore is that it protects wealth and resources, which would have been otherwise destroyed by flooding. Secondly, lives have been lost in the past through floods, something which can be averted through the natural flood protection, as an ecological service from the river valleys.
The other most important service attributed to the ecosystem, perhaps which could be a matter of life and death, is the amazing fact that nature and specifically the ecosystem provides the highest number of medical drugs in USA, and the world by Extension. The amazing part of this is that this is a free service by the ecosystem, to which we owe it nothing, but its conservation. This is the third reason why this service is so important, because without drugs, not even the most brilliant scientist can survive a life threatening disease, merely by his intellect. This is an important service because it touches on human life and to large extent animals as well.
Judging by history and current trends, the services that are likely to decline as time goes by is the ability of the ecosystems to protect human beings from the harmful effects of sun and its contribution to climatic stability. This is because of the constant human activities that contribute highly to the destruction of the ozone layer, like the combination of dangerous manufactured chemicals, e.g. chlorine and bromine, generally referred to as ozone-depleting substances (ODS). Statistics show that skin cancer is the most common type of cancer in USA, which comes from sun’s ultraviolet (UV) radiation. This is one of the most dangerous problems accrued to the decline of the service of protection of dangerous sun rays. Because of the green house effects, weather patterns are changing drastically, leading to climate change and global warming. That translates to a world where food safety globally will be threatened, because all the conditions necessary for crop production will be messed up by lack of water and very high temperatures. The third result of the decline of these services is that the universe will see a large number of species becoming extinct, because of the harsh climatic conditions associated with the decline of these services.
Ortega, J. (2015). Water ecosystem services: A global perspective. Cambridge: Cambridge
Millennium Ecosystem Assessment (MA). 2005. Ecosystems and Human Well-Being: Synthesis.
Island Press, Washington.