Box 2.1: Ecosystem Services

"Ecosystem Services are the benefits people obtain from ecosystems. These include provisioning, regulating, and cultural services that directly affect people and supporting services needed to maintain other services (CF-2). Many of the services listed here are highly interlinked (Primary production, photosynthesis, nutrient cycling, and water cycling, for example, all involve different aspects of the same biological processes.)

Provisioning Services. These are the products obtained from ecosystems, including:

  • Food. This includes the vast range of food products derived from plants, animals, and microbes.
  • Fiber. Materials such as wood, jute, cotton, hemp, silk, and wool.
  • Fuel. Wood, dung, and other biological materials serve as sources of energy.
  • Genetic resources. This includes the genes and genetic information used for animal and plant breeding and biotechnology.
  • Biochemicals, natural medicines, and pharmaceuticals. Many medicines, biocides, food additives such as alginates, and biological materials are derived from ecosystems.
  • Ornamental resources. Animal and plant products, such as skins, shells and flowers are used as ornaments and whole plants are used for landscaping and ornaments.
  • Freshwater. People obtain freshwater from ecosystems and thus the supply of freshwater can be considered a provisioning service. Freshwater in rivers is also a source of energy. Because water is required for other life to exist, however, it could also be considered a supporting service.

Regulating Services. These are the benefits obtained from the regulation of ecosystem processes, including:

  • Air quality regulation. Ecosystems both contribute chemicals to and extract chemicals from the atmosphere, influencing many aspects of air quality;
  • Climate regulation. Ecosystems influence climate both locally and globally. For example, at a local scale, changes in land cover can affect both temperature and precipitation. At the global scale, ecosystems play an important role in climate by either sequestering or emitting greenhouse gases.
  • Water regulation. The timing and magnitude of runoff, flooding, and aquifer recharge can be strongly influenced by changes in land cover, including, in particular, alterations that change the water storage potential of the system, such as the conversion of wetlands or the replacement of forests with croplands or croplands with urban areas.
  • Erosion regulation. Vegetative cover plays an important role in soil retention and the prevention of landslides.
  • Water purification and waste treatment. Ecosystems can be a source of impurities (e.g., in fresh water) but also can help to filter out and decompose organic wastes introduced into inland waters and coastal and marine ecosystems and assimilate and detoxify compounds through soil and sub-soil processes.
  • Disease regulation. Changes in ecosystems can directly change the abundance of human pathogens, such as cholera, and can alter the abundance of disease vectors, such as mosquitoes.
  • Pest regulation. Ecosystem changes affect the prevalence of crop and livestock pests and diseases.
  • Pollination. Ecosystem changes affect the distribution, abundance, and effectiveness of pollinators.
  • Natural hazard regulation. The presence of coastal ecosystems such as mangroves and coral reefs can reduce the damage caused by hurricanes or large waves.

Cultural Services. These are the nonmaterial benefits people obtain from ecosystems through spiritual enrichment, cognitive development, reflection, recreation, and aesthetic experiences, including:

  • Cultural diversity. The diversity of ecosystems is one factor influencing the diversity of cultures.
  • Spiritual and religious values. Many religions attach spiritual and religious values to ecosystems or their components.
  • Knowledge systems (traditional and formal). Ecosystems influence the types of knowledge systems developed by different cultures.
  • Educational values. Ecosystems and their components and processes provide the basis for both formal and informal education in many societies.
  • Inspiration.. Ecosystems provide a rich source of inspiration for art, folklore, national symbols, architecture, and advertising.
  • Aesthetic values. Many people find beauty or aesthetic value in various aspects of ecosystems, as reflected in the support for parks, scenic drives, and the selection of housing locations.
  • Social relations. Ecosystems influence the types of social relations that are established in particular cultures. Fishing societies, for example, differ in many respects in their social relations from nomadic herding or agricultural societies.
  • Sense of place. Many people value the "sense of place" that is associated with recognized features of their environment, including aspects of the ecosystem.
  • Cultural heritage values. Many societies place high value on the maintenance of either historically important landscapes ("cultural landscapes") or culturally significant species.
  • Recreation and ecotourism. People often choose where to spend their leisure time based in part on the characteristics of the natural or cultivated landscapes in a particular area.

Supporting Services. Supporting services are those that are necessary for the production of all other ecosystem services. They differ from provisioning, regulating, and cultural services in that their impacts on people are often indirect or occur over a very long time, whereas changes in the other categories have relatively direct and short-term impacts on people. (Some services, like erosion regulation, can be categorized as both a supporting and a regulating service, depending on the time scale and immediacy of their impact on people).

  • Soil Formation. Because many provisioning services depend on soil fertility, the rate of soil formation influences human well-being in many ways.
  • Photosynthesis. Photosynthesis produces oxygen necessary for most living organisms.
  • Primary Production. The assimilation or accumulation of energy and nutrients by organisms.
  • Nutrient cycling. Approximately 20 nutrients essential for life, including nitrogen and phosphorus, cycle through ecosystems and are maintained at different concentrations in different parts of ecosystems.
  • Water cycling. Water cycles through ecosystems and is essential for living organisms."

Source & © Millennium Ecosystem Assessment
 Synthesis Report (2005),
Chapter 2, p.40
(Responses Working Group Report, R9 Nutrient Management, Fig 9.2)

Related publication:
Ecosystem Change homeEcosystem Change
Other Figures & Tables on this publication:

Box 3.1 Table. Selected Water-related Diseases.

Table 1.1. Comparative table of reporting systems as defined by the Millennium Assessment

Table 2.1. Trends in the Human Use of Ecosystem Services and Enhancement or Degradation of the Service Around the Year 2000 - Provisioning services

Table 2.1. Trends in the Human Use of Ecosystem Services and Enhancement or Degradation of the Service Around the Year 2000 - Regulating services

Table 2.1. Trends in the Human Use of Ecosystem Services and Enhancement or Degradation of the Service Around the Year 2000 - Cultural services

Table 2.1. Trends in the Human Use of Ecosystem Services and Enhancement or Degradation of the Service Around the Year 2000 - Supporting services

Table 2.2. Indicative Ecosystem Service Trade-offs.

Table 5.1. Main Assumptions Concerning Indirect and Direct Driving Forces Used in the MA Scenarios

Table 5.2. Outcomes of Scenarios for Ecosystem Services in 2050 Compared with 2000

Table 5.3. Outcomes of Scenarios for Human Well-being in 2050 Compared with 2000

Table 5.4. Costs and Benefits of Proactive as Contrasted with Reactive Ecosystem Management as Revealed in the MA Scenarios

Table 8.1. Applicability of Decision Support Methods and Frameworks

Marine, Coastal, and Island Systems

Urban, Dryland and Polar systems

Forest systems

Cultivated systems

Inland water and Mountain systems

Box Figure B. Proportion of Population with Improved Drinking Water Supply in 2002

Box Figure C. Proportion of population with improved sanitation coverage in 2002

Figure 1.2. Conversion of Terrestrial Biomes

Figure 1.3. Decline in Trophic Level of Fisheries Catch Since 1950

Figure 1.4. Locations reported by various studies as undergoing high rates of land cover change in the past few decades.

Figure 1.5. Global Trends in the Creation of Reactive Nitrogen on Earth by Human Activity, with Projection to 2050

Figure 1.7. Growth in Number of Marine Species Introductions.

Figure 1.8. Species Extinction Rates

Figure 3.4. Collapse of Atlantic Cod Stocks Off the East Coast of Newfoundland in 1992

Figure 3.5. Dust Cloud Off the Northwest Coast of Africa, March 6, 2004

Figure 3.6. Changes in Economic Structure for Selected Countries

Figure 3.7. Human Population Growth Rates, 1990-2000, and Per Capita GDP and Biological Productivity in 2000 in MA Ecological Systems

Figure 4.1. GDP Average Annual Growth, 1990-2003

Figure 4.2. Per capita GDP Average Annual Growth, 1990-2003

Figure 4.3. Main Direct Drivers of Change in Biodiversity and Ecosystems

Figure 5.1. MA World Population Scenarios

Figure 5.3. Number of Ecosystem Services Enhanced or Degraded by 2050 in the Four MA Scenarios

Figure 6.1. MA Sub-Global Assessments

Figure 7.1. Characteristic Time and Space Scales Related to Ecosystems and Their Services

Box 3.1. Linkages between Ecosystem Services and Human Well-being

Box 6.1 Local Adaptations of MA Conceptual Framework

Scenarios of the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment

MA Scenarios - Global Orchestration

MA Scenarios - Order from Strength

MA Scenarios - TechnoGarden

MA Scenarios - Adapting Mosaic

Marine, Coastal and Island systems

Urban, Dryland and Polar systems

Forest and Cultivated systems

Inland waters and Mountain systems

MA Systems

Box 2.1: Ecosystem Services

Box 2.1: Ecosystem Services

Box 3.2. Ecosystems and the Millennium Development Goals

Box 3.1. Linkages between Ecosystem Services and Human Well-being: Basic Materials for a Good Life

Box 3.1. Linkages between Ecosystem Services and Human Well-being: Health

Box 3.1. Linkages between Ecosystem Services and Human Well-being: Good Social Relations

Box 3.1. Linkages between Ecosystem Services and Human Well-being: Security

Box 3.1. Linkages between Ecosystem Services and Human Well-being: Freedom of Choice and Action

Box 6.1 Local Adaptations of MA Conceptual Framework

Figure 1.1. Time Series of Intercepted Continental Runoff and Large Reservoir Storage, 1900-2000

Figure 1.6. Estimated Total Reactive Nitrogen Deposition from the Atmosphere

Figure 2.1. Estimated Global Marine Fish Catch, 1950-2001.

Figure 2.2. Trend in Mean Depth of Catch Since 1950.

Figure 3.1. Net National Savings Adjusted for Investments in Human Capital, Natural Resource Depletion, and Damage Caused by Pollution compared with Standard Net National Savings Measurements

Figure 3.2. Annual Flow of Benefits from Forests in Selected Countries

Figure 3.3. Economic Benefits Under Alternate Management Practices

Table 4.1. Increase in Nitrogen Fluxes in Rivers to Coastal Oceans

Figure 5.2. Comparison of Global River Nitrogen Export

Figure 5.4. Number of Undernourished Children Projected in 2050 Under MA Scenarios

Figure 5.5. Net Change in Components of Human Well-being Between 2000 and 2050 Under MA Scenarios.

Figure 8.1. Total Carbon Market Value per Year (in million dollars nominal)