Nature’s services

Usluge prirode

Natural ecosystems and plants and animals in them provide people with services that would be difficult to duplicate in the event of their loss.

Nature services, or ecosystem services, are defined as "the benefits ecosystems provide for human beings" (FAO). They directly or indirectly affect the survival of people and their quality of life. People sometimes forget how much nature and biodiversity are important for their day-to-day functioning. Food, clothing, housing, transport, drugs, and energy are products or services of different ecosystems.

Planet Earth will lose up to 50% of wild species of plants and animals by the half of this century (Biological Extinction Conference, 2017)

Agricultural areas to a large extent depend on ecosystem services provided by natural ecosystems. These services include pollination, biological control of organisms harmful to agricultural and forestry, maintenance of soil fertility and structure, hydrological and many other services. Research indicates that the value of these ecosystem services for agriculture is enormous.

Well-managed, sustainable agricultural ecosystems not only provide food but also provide many other benefits for farmers, wild plant and animal species and for the entire society.

There are four basic groups of ecosystem services in relation to their importance for people:

SUPPLY
SERVICES

They relate to raw materials obtained directly from the ecosystem

SUPPLY SERVICES

Water, food, and medical resources are some of the many raw materials that people get directly from different ecosystems. Many of the services in this group contribute to the existence of exactly the products represented on the market and traded. In addition, in many rural areas, rural households directly dependon services, which provide them with resources for living. These ecosystem services have a direct impact on the sustainability of many rural communities.


Food

Practically all ecosystems provide conditions for growing and collecting food, as well as hunting and fishing. Of all ecosystem services, food production is the only one that shows a constant trend of growth in recent history. Nevertheless, it is now acknowledged that profits in agricultural production and productivity are often accompanied by negative effects on the natural resource base that provides us with ecosystem services, including food. Further degradation of ecosystems as a resource base for agriculture is endangering food production potential in the future.


Water

No water, no life. Ecosystems play a vital role in ensuring the flow of water and storage of fresh water. Bodies that do not have high salt content are called freshwater ecosystems and include lakes, rivers, and streams. On the global level, fresh water is mostly found in thefrozen state in the form of glaciers or as soil moisture. Fresh water is not only important for the survival of people, but also for the survival of all existing species of animals and plants. Cereals, for example, largely depend on water. This is supported by the fact that almost 60% of all groundwater in the world is used to irrigate agricultural systems in which cereals are grown.


Medical resources

Many natural ecosystems grow different types of plants and fungi that provide medicines for many health problems. Many species are used in modern and traditional medicine as well as in pharmaceutical industry. Everywhere in the world (both in developing and developed countries) there is an increasing interest in medicinal and aromatic (spice) herbs related to their use, cultivation, conservation and sustainable use. Large grassy areas such as meadows and pastures represent a habitat for many types of medicinal and spice plants. Excessive use or abandonment of these natural ecosystems leads to the loss of many natural remedies.

REGULATION
SERVICES

They refer to regulation of ecosystem processes

REGULATION SERVICES

Ecosystems act as regulators of certain processes in nature. Maintenance of air and soil quality, flood prevention, disease control or pollination of fruits and vegetables are just some of the regulatory services provided by ecosystems.


Maintaining good air quality at the local level

Ecosystems affect local climate and air quality. For example, trees provide shade while forests affect the availability of water at both the local and regional levels. Trees and other plants also play an important role in regulating air quality, removing pollutants from the atmosphere. Polluted air can have a very negative impact on both human health and agricultural crops in terms of yield reduction and disease development. Many wild plant species, as well as agricultural crops, have the potential to clean the air. For example, lines of conifer trees on the edge of the field can protect farmers from pesticides from adjacent fields.


Treatment of wastewater

Ecosystems such as wet areas filter liquid waste. These areas, thanks to their structure, influence the decomposition of waste through the biological activity of microorganisms and also eliminate harmful pathogens. Agricultural waste is a major source of water pollution. Reducing wastewater can help reduce pressure on ecosystems. Agricultural systems can also be designed to reduce the use of agricultural chemicals that can end up in water bodies.


Prevention of erosion and maintenance of soil fertility

The vegetation cover prevents soil erosion and ensures its fertility through natural biological processes such as nitrogen fixation. Land erosion is the key factor in the process of soil degradation and desertification. Land degradation problems are numerous and include fertility reduction, acidity development, alkalization, soil deterioration, accelerated erosion, loss of organic matter and biodiversity.


Pollinating

Pollination of plants by animals (pollinators) is an ecosystem service mainly provided byinsects and in tropical areas some birds and bats. In agricultural ecosystems, pollinators are crucial for fruit growing, horticultural and forage production, as well as seed production.

Food security and diversity, people feeding and food prices strongly rely on pollinators, and pollination as one of the most important ecosystem services is under great pressure from unsustainable farming practices such as the conversion of natural habitats into agricultural land, cultivation of monocultures or excessive use of pesticides.

Pollinators such as bees, birds, and bats have an impact on 35% of the world's crop production, increasing the results of agricultural production of about 75% leading food crops around the world.

SUPPORT
SERVICES

They relate to accompanying services that are the basis of the existence of all other ecosystem services

SUPPORT SERVICES

Preserving the diversity of wild plant and animal species and providing living space for their life are accompanying ecosystem services or support services. They are also the basis of all ecosystems and of the existence of their services.


Habitat for wild species

Ecosystems provide a living space for wild plant and animal species; they also maintain a diversity of complex processes that are responsible for the existence of all other ecosystem services. If they are well managed, they can affect the increase in biodiversity and give high yields of agricultural products while ensuring long-lasting and sustainable agricultural production.


Maintenance of genetic diversity

Genetic diversity (diversity of genes of different species, of different populations, as well as within the same population of one species) refers to diversity (variety) of different species, that is, varieties of cultivated plants and animals, and provides the basis for good adaptation of animals and plants to local conditions in which they live and the existence of a basis for the development of commercial crops and livestock production.

Natural ecosystems provide important genetic resources through the potential that wild relatives of cultivated species and cultures give useful properties to plants or animals, such as resistance to pests or diseases, or improving yields. Therefore, genetic diversity provides the society with a wide range of opportunities to meet future challenges, changing environmental conditions as well as growing market demands.

75% of the genetic diversity of plants has been lost only in the last 30 years, as farmers around the world have neglected their local varieties and focused on genetically identical, high yielding varieties.

SERVICES OF
CULTURAL IMPORTANCE

They relate to the intangible benefits that people receive from the ecosystem

SERVICES OF CULTURAL IMPORTANCE

The intangible benefits people receive from ecosystems are called "cultural services" or services of cultural significance. These include the aesthetic value of nature, inspiration and spiritual experience in relation to the natural environment. It is common for this group to consider opportunities for tourism and recreation.

These types of services are often interconnected, but also with other ecosystem services groups. So, for example, a wide range of rural tourism combines several groups of ecosystem services, such as food (traditional cuisine), various types of recreation and rest as part of semi-natural landscapes, and often these areas are perfect locations for art colonies seeking inspiration and contact with nature.


Recreation and health

Walking and sports activities in nature are not only an excellent form of physical exercise, they also allow people to relax mentally. Despite the fact that it is difficult to measure it, the importance of green areas for physical and mental health is increasingly recognized. It is especially emphasized that staying in nature can contribute to improving health and social skills in children and young people.


Tourism

Ecosystems and biodiversity play an important role in many types of tourism that provide significant economic benefits and a vital source of income for many countries. Traditional rural areas have become a magnet for attracting tourists from large cities. Cultural and ecotourism educate citizens about the importance of biodiversity.


Aesthetic and spiritual value

Language, knowledge and natural environment have always been in close connection. Biodiversity, ecosystems and natural areas have been a source of inspiration for artistic creation, culture, but also for science. In many parts of the world, natural features such as individual forests, caves or mountains have religious value, and nature is a common element to all major religions.



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