In a multitude of ways, human beings take advantage from ecosystems and these benefits are becoming known as ecosystem services.
For a long time, these environmental services have been taken for granted, but nowadays several initiatives try to put a value on nature. While scientists and environmentalists have discussed ecosystem services implicitly for decades, the concept got increasingly popular since the beginning of the Millennium.
In 1997, Gretchen Daily, one of the most know researchers in the field and professor of Environmental Sciences at Stanford University, defines ecosystem services as “the conditions and processes through which natural ecosystems, and the species that make them up, sustain and fulfill human life.”
In the early 2000s, a worldwide research activity under the name of “Millenium Ecosystem Assessment” (MA), conducted by authors from 95 different countries, evaluated the effects of human activity on the environment on a global scale.
MA not only raised awareness on the existing link between ecosystem services and human well-being, but the project provided as well a definition of how to distinguish between different types of ecosystem services.
Today, it is mainly accepted that ecosystem services can be regrouped into four broad categories: provisioning, such as the production of food and water; regulating, such as the control of climate and disease; supporting, such as nutrient cycles and crop pollination; and cultural, such as spiritual and recreational benefits.
For further reading:
• Millenium Ecosystem Assessment
• Earth Economics
• The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity
• Ecosystem Marketplace