Although we experience this kind of partnership with Nature every day, almost all of the times and for almost all of the people living on this planet, the definition of ecosystem services is unknown.

Yet, every time you build a house, put your favorite dinner on the plate, drink a glass of water, rest under the shade of a tree or enjoy the relaxation of a beautiful view of a natural landscape, you are just enjoying ecosystem services.

The Common International Classification of Ecosystem Services (CICES) classification uses three main areas — provisioning, regulation and maintenance, cultural services — managed with a 5-level hierarchical structure: section, division, group, class, class type.

For example:

  • Section: procurement
  • Division: biomass
  • Group: terrestrial plants grown for nutrition, materials or energy
  • Class: Cultivated terrestrial plants (including fungi and algae) grown for nutritional purposes
  • Class type: Cereals - The ecological contribution to the growth of crops grown on land that can be harvested and used as raw material for food production

The question that may arise immediately is: what do cultural services have to do with nature? It is a fair observation, to understand it let's stop for a moment to put everything in the right perspective: what is a service? In everyday life, receiving and offering a service means, for example and not exhaustively speaking, enjoying an exchange between the parties that offers something useful, for work, for health, for leisure time.

Today the increasingly important evaluation criterion in all areas of non-strictly personal relationship (not in a family or in a couple, so to speak) is how good the service received is, be it customer assistance, purchase support. , the so-called value-added services that make us prefer one producer over another, and so on.

Sometimes it can be simply replying to an e-mail received, other times the efficiency with which a problem, large or small, is solved, other times still the support that is given to a problem, regardless of whether that problem is has been resolved or not.

Provisioning and cultural ecosystem services: fishing in a canoe, on the water in front of a sunset (Kal Visuals, Unsplash)

From this perspective, let's explore the three categories of ecosystem services.

With provisioning services (the provisioning of material and energy needs) we mean the supply of material and energy needs: from fish to fruit as food, from wood to build or to burn, from minerals to rare materials for technology up to the sun for solar energy, or wind power for wind power, and so on.

With regulation and maintenance services of the environment for humans (but in reality of all living species), everything that acts as a "manager" of the environment is defined: climate regulation, water purification, flood regulation and flooding and so on.

With cultural services (the non-material characteristics of ecosystems that affect physical and mental states of people, that is their cultural significance) we mean everything that is fundamentally considered immaterial, but which is directly connected to psychophysical well-being, therefore no less important than everything else: the relaxing and psychologically regenerating effect of a forest, a beautiful landscape, the recreational aspect, the educational aspect, etc.

The concept of ecosystem services emerges from the "distant" 1970, although the relationship between deforestation and water supply was already documented by Plato in his period, as well as the awareness that the constant presence of specific timber was strategic for the Serenissima Republic of Venice in the construction of its fleet, coming to regulate in a very strict way the management of the woods under the Venetian rule, both in use and in harvesting but also and above all in guaranteeing the constant cycle of regeneration of trees in the woods — a concept of very clear and practical sustainability centuries ago.

Provisioning ecosystem services: for many populations, fishing is the primary source of protein sustenance (Arseny Togulev, Unsplash)

Channeling our relationship with the ecosystem in which we live in a more objective and tangible definition helps us to better understand many aspects that we instinctively know very well, but that the growing detachment from natural contact in recent decades has made us partly forget, or made it difficult to recognize at a glance.

Recognizing the collaboration between all living species and the natural elements of the planet, therefore also between us — the human species — and between us and the rest of this "strange rock" called Earth, becomes strategic to understand how important it is and how much breaking the global balance leads to damage to the ecosystem services we enjoy, with a negative boomerang effect.

It allows us to see the entire natural ecosystem as an ally to collaborate with, to interact with, to benefit from in terms of service, exactly how we relate between customers and suppliers, between collaborators and partners, between creators of services and products and their direct users.

On the practical side, the definition and cataloging of ecosystem services also becomes useful in the design of cities, urban planning, transport and urban areas. But also take into account the synergy to be respected between renewable energies and the impact that these can have on the surrounding ecosystem, so as to design wind farms or photovoltaic parks in a more conscious way, by way of example.

An example? Designing a wind farm and basing it on a concrete base is not working in synergy with nature, but is predominating it with an antiquated model that will break one or more cycles of ecosystem services, useful for the environment, useful for the ecosystem, useful for us .

Because that concrete takes away the grass, trees and shrubs, or simply earth, which perform a regulatory service, and that in their absence the most direct effects we can easily receive are the danger of more flooding during the rains, since there are no roots to act as a natural barrier or the earth to naturally absorb some of the water. But also the immediate effect of greater heat in the air, since the natural cooling service composed of vegetation is missing.

Better then to design those parks considering all the services and how they can interact together, in the best win-win perspective, where all the parties win and obtain the greatest benefit from each other.

Let's play a game: with your family, friends, with your work colleagues, try to observe the world around you - and you - and identify which ecosystem services you experience every day, noting them and classifying them in the 3 categories mentioned above.

Then, observe which of these natural services give you well-being - like the winter sun, which comes from your office window - and try to describe to yourself how you feel when they are not there.

Now that you've done it, we can't wait to get to know your experience! Send us an email and tell us how it went.


It is part of the series: Understanding the biodiversity

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