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Ecosystem Services


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   ecosystem services are the good and services provided by (natural and semi-natural) ecosystems
   that benefit, sustain and support the well-being of people

'Ecosystem services' is the technical term in the Framework given to the 'goods and services' provided by ecosystems that benefit, sustain and support the well-being of people. They are derived from the structural components (e.g. vegetation, water, soil, atmosphere and animals) and the complex interactions between components of an ecosystem, or across ecosystems (e.g. across the landscape). These complex interactions are termed ecosystem functions.

Certain aspects and combinations of ecosystems and the functions they perform are valued by people because they make important contributions (goods and services) to the way we live, work and play. These goods and services freely delivered by ecosystems contribute to the (environmental, social and economic) well-being of the SEQ community, as well, to the well-being of the national and global community. It is therefore important to maintain the capacity of our ecosystems (i.e. their ability to perform ecosystem functions across the landscape) so they can provide goods and services to benefit us and future generations.

Recognising that ecosystems are dynamic entities, the Framework provides a 'snap shot' of the 'potential' of SEQ ecosystems to provide ecosystem services. Potential ecosystem services are recognised as the flows from ecosystem structure and function that can provide benefits to people. They do NOT include the human inputs into ecosystems (e.g. fertilisers, pesticides, equipment) required to further produce, acquire, extract or use goods and services derived from ecosystems to obtain a benefit. For example, 'recreation' is not an ecosystem service as it requires equipment such as water skis, bicycles or rock climbing equipment. 'Recreational Opportunities' however is an ecosystem service, because regardless of whether an individual has equipment or conducts the recreational activity, specific ecosystems have the potential or provide the opportunity for that activity to occur (see Framework Boundaries for more information).

In the Framework, ecosystem services are grouped into 3 categories based on those developed for the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment (MA). These 3 categories are listed and a description provided in Table 1. 

 

Table 1: Ecosystem Service Categories and descriptions.  

Ecosystem Service Category Description 
Regulating Services The regulation of natural conditions by ecosystem structure and function that contribute to human benefits.
Provisioning Services Material products obtained from ecosystem structure and function that contribute to human benefits.
Cultural Services

The contribution of ecosystem structure and function to non-material human benefits.

Under these 3 categories, 28 ecosystem services have been identified and incorporated in the Framework, providing a full inventory of the goods and services we receive from ecosystems. The inventory of ecosystem services is presented in Table 2. By clicking on the name of any ecosystem service more information can be obtained including: a description of the specific ecosystem service and how ecosystem functions contribute to its provision, the relative magnitude of the provision of that service by each ecosystem function in comparison to other ecosystem functions, any human inputs people may apply to actually obtain a benefit from the service, any barriers to people receiving the service, and how the service contributes to the well-being of the SEQ community.

 

Table 2: Lists and descriptions of ecosystem services. 

Ecosystem Service Category
Ecosystem Service
Description
Provisioning Services Food products The range of food products derived from plants, animals and microbes (including food products obtained through the recreational and commercial gathering of wild species, crops, fisheries and livestock).
Water for Consumption The provision (retention and storage) of water for consumptive use for a variety of purposes (e.g. aquaculture, production, humans, stock, irrigation and cooling).
Building and Fibre Resources Renewable biotic resources for building and fibre materials (e.g. timber, wool, cotton).
Fuel Resources Wood, gas and other biological materials that can serve as sources of energy.
Genetic Resources for Cultivated Products The maintenance of the genetic vitality of productive cultivars (includes the genes and genetic information used for microbe, plant and animal breeding and biotechnology e.g. cross breeding, new cultivars).
Biochemical, medicinal and pharmaceutical resources Biological materials that can be used for medicines, biocides and food additives. This includes test and assay organisms, medical tools, drugs and specimens for students.
Ornamental Resources Animal products such as skins, shells and flowers that can be used as ornaments (e.g. ornamental plants, souvenirs, handicraft, fashion and cultural/religious ceremonies).
Transport Infrastructure Ecosystems provide infrastructure for the transportation of people and goods (e.g. navigation on rivers, lakes and marine waters).
Regulating Services Air Quality The role of ecosystems in maintaining good quality air through the extraction of chemicals and dust from the atmosphere.
Habitable Climate Maintenance of a favourable climate at local and global scales (temperature, precipitation, greenhouse gases) for human habitation and cultivation.
Water Quality The role of ecosystems in the purification of water (e.g. pollution control, detoxification and waste assimilation).
Arable Land Arable land relates to the area and extent of land capable without much modification of producing crops.
Buffering Against Extremes The role of ecosystems in maintaining normal situations (e.g. buffering against extreme natural events such as droughts, floods, storms, tsunamis), natural irrigation and drainage (e.g. watertable regulation) that are important to the provision of safety to human life, structures and other assets.
Pollination The pollination of plant species (e.g. agricultural and horticultural crops).
Reduce Pests and Diseases Reduction of pests and diseases, vectors and pathogens. This includes the reduction of crop damage by herbivory (e.g. insects) and reducing the risk of disease to animals and humans.
Productive Soils Maintenance of natural productive soils (e.g. soils that are chemically fertile, structurally sound and contain a high diversity and biomass of soil organisms).
Noise Abatement The role of ecosystems in abating noise pollution.
Cultural Services Iconic Species Species revered as emblematic or charismatic (e.g. whales, dugongs, koalas, platypus, echidnas, wattles, bunya pine, bottle trees, macadamia, cattle).
Cultural Diversity The diversity of landscapes is one factor that influences the range of shared and accepted values and practices common to those in a particular landscape (e.g. Traditional Owner and European values and practices; rural and urban values and practices).
Spiritual and Religious Values Many ecosystems, processes and/or components are of special significance to groups of people.
Knowledge Systems The variety of ecosystems affects the variety of knowledge systems (e.g. education, social learning and understanding) and provide the resources necessary for their generation, transmission, maintenance, adaptation and use.
Inspiration Ecosystems provide a rich source of inspiration for art, folklore, national symbols, architecture and personal or group motivation.
Aesthetic Values Various aspects of ecosystems provide the opportunity for aesthetic enjoyment (e.g. beauty of the landscape, smell of the bush, sound of the surf and the feeling of sand between the toes).
Effect on Social Interactions Ecosystems influence the types and qualities of social relationships and interactions found in a particular place.
Sense of Place Ecosystems (particularly shared places) provide opportunities for people to develop a sense of belonging, commitment, identity and community.
Iconic Landscapes Ecosystems provide historically or culturally significant landscapes which form part of the heritage of the area.
Recreational Opportunities Ecosystems can provide a spectrum of leisure opportunities for such activities as tourism, sports, hunting, fishing and other outdoor pursuits.
Therapeutic Landscapes Ecosystems provide for the restoration, maintenance, development of emotional, mental and physical health and well-being.

In-situ

Line-of-sight

Omni-directional

One-directional downslope

One-directional upslope

One-directional Landscape

 
 

Because ecosystem functions that contribute to ecosystem service provision occur across a range of geographic scales, where the benefit is received by people is often not where the ecosystem functions occur and the goods and services are produced. The flow from ecosystem function to ecosystem service delivery will have directional bias. These directional bias are related to components of the ecosystem involved in the interaction, as well as topography and landscape mosaic. The rate, scale and directional bias of ecosystem function to service delivery will influence how ecosystem goods and services are received; and how and who benefits from the provision of these services. It is beyond the scope and resources of this Project to define the flow of ecosystem function to benefit received for each of the possible ecosystem function to ecosystem service relationships. The diagrams to the right however, aim to assist decision making by providing guidance on the possible directional bias from where an ecosystem service is produced (P = where an ecosystem function is being performed) to where an ecosystem service or benefit may be received (B = ecosystem service benefiting area). These directional bias include:

1. In-Situ: The ecosystem service is both produced (P) and received (B) in the same geographic location.

2. In Line of Sight: The ecosystem service is produced (P) in a specific location and received (B) in areas of the surrounding landscape that are in the line of sight of the provisioning location (i.e. a person must be able to view all or part of the provisioning area whilst standing in the benefit area).

3. Omnidirectional: The ecosystem service is produced (P) in a specific location, however the ecosystem service is received (B) in the surrounding areas without directional bias.

4. One - directional (downslope): The ecosystem service is produced (P) in a specific location, however the ecosystem service is received (B) downslope.

5. One - directional (upslope): The ecosystem service is produced (P) in a specific location, however the ecosystem service is received (B) upslope.

6. One - directional (landscape): The ecosystem service is produced (P) in a specific location, however the ecosystem service has a clear directional benefit (B) across the landscape.

Ecosystems and their functions can provide private benefits (e.g. those that accrue to individuals or private entities to the exclusion of others) or public benefits (e.g. benefits that are available without restriction to the community as a whole). Those receiving the benefits (private or public) are termed 'beneficiaries'. It is often helpful when considering the connections between ecosystem services and economic activities, to distinguish between beneficiaries that directly 'consume' ecosystem services (e.g. individuals and communities that breath fresh air or simply appreciate the existence of rare species or unique ecosystems) and commercial producers who take advantage of ecosystem services as inputs to their production processes (e.g. farmers who depend on pollination to grow crops).

The value of the benefits received by beneficiaries can be determined either through estimating the 'monetary' value of the benefit (i.e. using $ values as the unit of measurement) or assessing the contribution the benefit makes to 'well-being' (i.e. using indicators or indices of well-being). For the purpose of developing the Framework, stakeholders unequivocally agreed that the second approach be adopted, using scoring systems to represent the relative values of ecosystem services in terms of their contributions to the well-being of the SEQ community. Information regarding the relationships between ecosystem services and well-being is provided in the webpage for each of the ecosystem services. Additional information on well-being can be found under Constituents of Well-being

It is recognised however that some stakeholders may be interested in the monetary value of ecosystem services. The Framework (to date) does not provide such information. Some general guidelines on valuation techniques that are commonly applied by economists to estimate monetary values of ecosystem services is provided by clicking on the link. Briefly, market-based techniques use monetary data for transactions that actually take place in markets, such as raw water drawn from catchments and paid for by water supply utilities; surrogate market techniques focus on monetary data that act as proxies for environmental values, for example variations in house prices that reflect different environmental conditions, all other factors being the same; and stated preference techniques that simply ask people, hypothetically, what they would be willing to pay for ecosystem services, particular attributes of ecosystems, or ecosystems in their entirety. Like all valuation approaches, there are advantages and limitations that should be considered in the application of these approaches. Stakeholders are advised to seek professional economics expertise if they wish to pursue monetary valuation.