Appendix A: The Benefits of Healthy Ecosystems

Ecosystem services are the benefits people obtain from ecosystems. Many of the services listed here are interlinked.


Provisioning Services. These are the products obtained from ecosystems, including:


  • Food. This includes the vast range of food products derived from plants, animals, and microbes.
  • Fibre. Materials such as wood, jute, cotton, hemp, silk, and wool.
  • Fuel. Wood and other biological materials serve as sources of energy.
  • Genetic resources. This includes the genes and genetic information used for animal and plant breeding and biotechnology.
  • Biochemicals, natural medicines, and pharmaceuticals. Many medicines and food additives such as alginates, and biological materials are derived from ecosystems.
  • Ornamental resources. Animal and plant products, such as skins, shells and flowers are used as ornaments and whole plants are used for landscaping and ornaments.
  • Freshwater. Freshwater in rivers is also a source of energy. Because water is required for other life to exist, it could also be considered a supporting service.


Regulating Services. These are the benefits obtained from the regulation of ecosystem processes, including:


  • Air quality regulation. Ecosystems both contribute chemicals to and extract chemicals from the atmosphere, influencing many aspects of air quality;
  • Climate regulation. Ecosystems influence climate both locally and globally. Changes in land cover can affect both temperature and precipitation.
  • Water regulation. The timing and amount of runoff, flooding, and aquifer recharge can be strongly influenced by changes in land cover.
  • Erosion regulation. Vegetation plays an important role in soil retention and the prevention of landslides.
  • Water purification and waste treatment. Ecosystems can help to filter out and decompose organic wastes introduced into inland waters and coastal ecosystems.
  • Disease regulation. Changes in ecosystems can directly change the abundance of human disease.
  • Pest regulation. Ecosystem changes affect the frequency of crop and livestock pests and diseases.
  • Pollination. Ecosystem changes affect the distribution, abundance, and effectiveness of pollinators.

Cultural Services. These are the non-material benefits people obtain from ecosystems through spiritual enrichment, reflection, recreation, and aesthetic experiences, including:


  • Cultural diversity. The diversity of ecosystems is one factor influencing the diversity of cultures.
  • Spiritual and religious values. Many religions attach spiritual and religious values to ecosystems or their components.
  • Knowledge systems (traditional and formal). Ecosystems influence the types of knowledge systems developed by different cultures.
  • Educational values. Ecosystems and their components and processes provide the basis for both formal and informal education in many societies.
  • Inspiration. Ecosystems provide a rich source of inspiration for art, national symbols, architecture, and advertising.
    Aesthetic values. Many people find beauty or aesthetic value in ecosystems, as reflected in the support for parks, scenic drives, and the selection of housing locations.
  • Social relations. Ecosystems influence the types of social relations that are established in particular cultures.
  • Sense of place. Many people value the "sense of place" that is associated with recognized features of their environment.
  • Cultural heritage values. Many societies place high value on the maintenance of either historically important landscapes ("cultural landscapes") or culturally significant species.
  • Recreation and ecotourism. People often choose where to spend their leisure time based in part on the characteristics of the natural or cultivated landscapes in a particular area.

Supporting Services. Supporting services are those that are necessary for the production of all other ecosystem services. They differ from provisioning, regulating, and cultural services in that their impacts on people are often indirect or occur over a very long time.


  • Soil Formation. Because many provisioning services depend on soil fertility, the rate of soil formation influences human well-being in many ways.
  • Photosynthesis. Photosynthesis produces oxygen necessary for most living organisms.
  • Primary Production. The assimilation or accumulation of energy and nutrients by organisms.
  • Nutrient cycling. Approximately 20 nutrients essential for life, including nitrogen and phosphorus, cycle through ecosystems and are maintained at different concentrations in different parts of ecosystems.
  • Water cycling. Water cycles through ecosystems and is essential for living organisms.


Source: Millennium Ecosystem Assessment Synthesis Report (2005).