Ecosystem Services

Ecosystem services are the direct and indirect benefits that ecosystems provide humans. Agroecosystems, rangelands, and forests provide suites of ecosystem services that support and sustain human livelihoods. These services are typically broken down into four categories:

  • Provisioning services: the material or energy outputs from an ecosystem, including food, forage, fiber, fresh water, and other resources
  • Regulating services: benefits obtained through moderation or control of ecosystem processes, including regulation of local climate, air, or soil quality; carbon sequestration; flood, erosion, or disease control; and pollination
  • Supporting services: services that maintain fundamental ecosystem processes, such as habitat for plants and wildlife, or the maintenance of genetic and biological diversity
  • Cultural services: the non-material benefits that ecosystems provide to human societies and culture, including opportunities for recreation, tourism, aesthetic or artistic appreciation, and spirituality
     

Ecosystem Services in Agriculture and Forestry

Farms, forests, and ranches are most readily identified and valued for providing provisioning services that support food, forage, and raw materials production. However, when managed well, these systems can also be both providers and beneficiaries of a number of additional ecosystem services, including pest control, pollination, flood protection, improved soil health, and water filtration.

Many of the additional services provided by farms, forests, and ranches, can be difficult to recognize and value. For example, ranching enterprises in California often support the conservation of native and endemic biodiversity that could otherwise be lost to urban or suburban development. Likewise, sustainably managed federal forests support wildlife habitat, store carbon, and provide the public with opportunities for recreation, relaxation, and scenic enjoyment.

A changing climate has the potential to alter many of the ecosystem services that are provided by and support agricultural and forestry systems, including food production, pollination services, pest control, and water quality regulation. Managing for adaptation and resilience can help stabilize production yields, and maintain the suites of additional ecosystem services we receive from our farms, forests, and ranches.

For more background on ecosystem services in general, see: The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity (TEEB), and the National Wildlife Federation. For more on ecosystems services and agriculture and forestry, see this factsheet from the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization and this webpage from the U.S. Forest Service.