At times, Nature is defined as everything that does not involve human activity. In other words, Nature and things natural are held to be whatever “is not” constructed, seeded, fenced in, pruned, irrigated etc.. It is also said that Nature has its laws, and that these are not the same as Man’s. But in reality, this is not the case.
Man is part of Nature, and so his wellbeing is closely and necessarily tied to ecosystems functioning properly, and therefore to the existing level of biodiversity.
Ecosystems provide human populations with service and goods, with services meaning the improvement of certain conditions of quality, such as those of the water and the air, while the goods are tangible products, including food, wood, fuel etc..
As a rule, both categories are referred to as Ecosystem Services, and they constitute the multiple benefits ecosystems offer to the human race.
In recent years, Mankind, in order to meet its ever increasing need for food, fresh water, wood, fibres and sources of energy, has intervened in the environment, radically altering ecosystems, to the point where it is thought that 60% of the planet’s ecosystems have been compromised.
This explains the importance of the creation of the NATURA 2000 network, whose goal is to preserve habitats and safeguard the animal and vegetable species found within them, so as to ensure that the ecosystems function properly, in this way guaranteeing the wellbeing of Mankind.
Today the value of ecosystem services is widely acknowledged, and not only by biologists and naturalists, as certain enlightened economists and government administrators have begun to take this consideration into account in drawing up their territorial plans. Healthy ecosystems constitute an important economic factor, which is why a new approach is currently taking hold, through ecological economics, for assessing the resources of a given territory. At the same time, numerous projects have been promoted, both nationally and internationally, to arrive at monetary evaluations of ecosystem services.
The project GESTIRE is designed, among other things, to contribute to the economic assessment of the ecosystem resources supplied by the Natura 2000 areas in the Region of Lombardy, and therefore to determining the costs associated with a loss of biodiversity.
Ecosystem goods and services:
In order to describe the wide variety of ecosystem goods and services, 3 international classification systems have been proposed, including the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment, which subdivides ecosystem services into 4 main categories:
- Supporting Supports: this category covers all the ecosystem services needed to produce other types of services, such as the formation of the soil and the cycle of nutrients. They also support reproduction and the food chain, in addition to providing refuge for animal species and maintaining evolutionary processes in function. For the most part, the impact of support services on Man is indirect, with the effects manifesting themselves over an extended period of time.
- Regulating Services: in addition to maintaining the health and operational efficiency of ecosystems, the regulatory functions provide many other services that entail direct or indirect benefits for Man. Their importance normally becomes apparent only when they are no longer available.
Here are some examples:
- Regulation of gases: for example, the regulation of the O2/CO2 balance and maintenance of the ozone (O3) layer that provides protection from damaging ultraviolet light, making it possible to have clean, breathable air.
- Regulation of the climate
- Regulation of waters: ecosystems regulate hydrogeological flows on the Earth’s surface, ensuring that the quantity of water available always remains the same.
- Regulation of pollination: the service carried out by numerous animal organisms, as well as by the wind and the water, making possible the fecundation of plants, plus the production of fruit and other foods of vegetable origin.
- Provisioning services: this category covers all services involving the supply of the resources produced by natural and semi-natural ecosystems. The benefits for Man are immediately clear.
- Food: natural ecosystems are our sole source of animals and plants.
- Raw materials: Nature constitutes an irreplaceable source of natural resources, such as wood, minerals, metals, fibres (jute, cotton, hemp, silk and wool), resins and fossil fuels used as sources of energy.
- Cultural Services: ecosystems contribute to maintaining human health, given the possibilities they offer for thinking, spiritual enrichment, cognitive development and recreational and aesthetic experiences.
To know more: