What is the Difference Between Ecosystem Functions and Ecosystem Services?
Ecosystem functions and ecosystem services are two different concepts that students of environmental science need to be familiar with. This article describes each of these concepts and provides examples to facilitate understanding.
What are Ecosystem Functions?
Ecosystem functions are natural process or characteristic exchanges of energy that take place in the various animal and plant communities of the different biomes of the world. Primarily, these are exchanges of energy and nutrients in the food chain which are vital to the sustenance of plant and animal life on the planet as well as the decomposition of organic matter and production of biomass made possible by photosynthesis.
Examples of these ecosystem functions are the following:
- Young plant shoots actively produce biomass to achieve growth
- Dead organic matter decompose into humus
- Plant seeds disperse in various places through special accessory parts or animals as vectors and germinate in areas where they get deposited
- Animals find their mate and reproduce
- Waste materials are degraded and recycled back into the soil
- Grazing and predation take place balancing plant and animal population
The quality and quantity of these ecosystem functions largely depend on the development stage of the ecosystem on which these processes occur. Ecosystems that are young will have much more active plant and animal life than one at the climax stage but the latter is more stable. Also, the geographic location of ecosystems is a prime determining factor for plant and animal life processes to take place. For example, cooler regions will allow slower decomposition of organic matter than hotter regions.
What are Ecosystem Services?
Ecosystem services are ecosystem functions that are directly beneficial to humans. Humans enjoy the natural functions of the ecosystem. Examples of ecosystem services are the following:
- The photosynthetic processes removes carbon dioxide in the air and supplies oxygen to man
- Trees serve as sources of timber for housing construction, among others
- Animals supply the protein needs of humans, serve as pets or animal skin for making shoes, bags, and other derivatives
- The watershed provides fresh, clean water for human consumption
- Trees serve as buffer against storms preventing destruction of houses by strong winds
- Some species of plants can cure human ailments
- Humus from decomposition of organic matter serve as natural fertilizer in areas cleared for agriculture
In general, ecosystem services provide life support services necessary for the survival of both humans and animals. These ecosystem services are also susceptible to human abuse when natural processes are not allowed to take place or too much is removed to sustain a growing human population. For instance, when too many trees are harvested, the life sustaining function of oxygen supply and carbon sequestration will be compromised. Therefore, understanding the nature of these ecosystem services and how these are sustained should be established.