Other ecosystem resources

Ecosystem services are the benefits that we obtain from ecosystems. They include:

  • Provisioning services such as food, water, timber and fibre;
  • Regulating services that affect climate, floods, soil, disease, wastes and water quality; and
  • Cultural services that provide recreational, aesthetic and spiritual benefits.

Provisioning services are those that provide resources – such as timber, crops, livestock (i.e. grasslands), freshwater and others. Regulating services include water regulation, water purification, climate regulation (e.g. carbon sequestration), natural hazard protection, air quality regulation, erosion control, pollination services and soil quality regulation. An example of a cultural service is the provision of areas for recreation.

The European Commission (EC) has called for a more coherent approach to planning and development of land that can take into account areas important for the provision of ecosystem services. The biodiversity strategy to 2020 (COM(2011) 244) committed the EC to develop a first set of biophysical maps of ecosystem services of key importance by the end of 2014 ("Action 5"). The UN's forthcoming revised system of environmental-economic accounting (SEEA) Part II will contain a framework for experimental ecosystem accounting, providing a description of the structure and scope of ecosystem accounting.

Using the SEEA framework, a number of indicators are being developed to track the usage of ecosystem services within the EU with high spatial resolution where most relevant/possible. These include metrics on:

  • Natural capital stocks, in physical terms (rather than monetary terms, initially);
  • Market benefits from ecosystem services;
  • Non-market benefits from ecosystem services;
  • Landscape ecosystem potential; and
  • Ecosystem degradation.

These will be broken down by sectors/products according to the national accounting matrix including environmental accounts (NAMEA). This data will also be aggregated into a single statistic, the inclusive domestic product/full cost of goods and services (IDP/FCGS) that indicates whether the full costs of the population's welfare are covered or whether there is over-consumption.

 

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Data sources

At present there are a variety of datasets which can act as indicators or proxies to assess the following different aspects of ecosystem services:

  • The capacity of ecosystems to provide services (stock);
  • Changes in the provision of ecosystem services (flow);
  • Benefits thus derived; and
  • The biodiversity required for the provision of the service.

Additionally, ecosystems and their services can be evaluated in terms of:

  • Mapping;
  • Accounting; and
  • Valuation.

Datasets will generally only partially capture a particular aspect of the service. Several metrics may be used therefore to fully cover each aspect.

An example of the different types of data might be as follows (for timber):

  • A measure of capacity might be timber stock (ha or m3);
  • A measure of flow, average dry matter productivity in forests (m3/yr);
  • A measure of benefits gained, round wood production (m3/yr);
  • A measure of biodiversity required, tree species diversity.

At present, there are a variety of initiatives which are addressing the assessment of ecosystem services in different regions and scales (see this DG Environment review of approaches). Currently, there is no standardised framework for doing so. An EU-wide initiative by the JRC examined thirteen different ecosystem services, scoping the data required to assess them, and the current availability of that data. Data was found on capacity and flow, but little to no data is currently collected on benefits or biodiversity as relevant to these particular services.

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