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In a 2-3 page paper, using APA-style formatting, define and discuss the concept of ecological services. Then, review the “Ecological Services of Rivers” outlined in Mini Lecture: Water Resources and Water Pollution. From the list, identify two services you believe are the most important and cite at least 3 reasons why. Also, choose two services that you think are most likely to decline due to human influence and cite at least 3 examples of the result of decline of those services.
Our water resources provide important ecological and economic services. These are particularly evident in the services provided by rivers. According to the Ecological Society of America, ecosystem (or ecological) services are processes by which the environment produces resources that we often take for granted. Although ecological systems support plants and animals, they also provide vital services to people that improve well-being. Ecosystems purify water and air, reduce flood and drought risks, provide food and fuel, and support recreation, to name a few of their many benefits. To ensure these valuable services continue, our natural areas must be healthy.
Natural ecosystems and the plants and animals within them provide humans with services that would be very difficult to duplicate. While it is often impossible to place an accurate monetary amount on ecosystem services, we can calculate some of the financial values. According to the Ecological Society of America, many of these services are preformed seemingly for “free,” yet are worth many trillions of dollars, for example:
- Much of the Mississippi River Valley’s natural flood protection services were destroyed when adjacent wetlands were drained and channels altered. As a result, the 1993 floods resulted in property damages estimated at twelve billion dollars partially from the inability of the Valley to lessen the impacts of the high volumes of water.
- Eighty percent of the world’s population relies upon natural medicinal products. Of the top 150 prescription drugs used in the U.S., 118 originate from natural sources: 74 percent from plants, 18 percent from fungi, 5 percent from bacteria, and 3 percent from one vertebrate (snake species). Nine of the top 10 drugs originate from natural plant products.
- Over 100,000 different animal species — including bats, bees, flies, moths, beetles, birds, and butterflies — provide free pollination services. One third of human food comes from plants pollinated by wild pollinators. The value of pollination services from wild pollinators in the U.S. alone is estimated at four to six billion dollars per year.
In addition to the “services” listed above, our ecosystems provide the following critical services to us:
- protect people from the sun’s harmful ultraviolet rays
- cycle and move nutrients
- detoxify and decompose wastes
- control agricultural pests
- maintain biodiversity
- generate and preserve soils and renew their fertility
- contribute to climate stability
- regulate disease carrying organisms
- pollinate crops and natural vegetation