Ecosystems services and biodiversity in Europe
The life support systems that are provided by the environment ("ecosystem services") are undervalued by Europeans and must be protected by new legislation, warns a new report by the European Academies Science Advisory Council (EASAC).
The report identifies and assesses the essential and often irreplaceable benefits that Europeans get from their environment and shows that biodiversity is fundamental to sustaining them. Current threats to biodiversity, for example from climate change, intensive agriculture and urbanisation, will lead to loss of essential services, crucial to Europe's economy and society. Despite this, the full range of these services is currently not fully acknowledged, objectively valued or protected.
"We rely absolutely on our natural environment for services that range from pollinating crops to regulating climate and water supply. Despite this, we typically manage land for a single purpose, such as crop production, ignoring and often damaging the other services which that ecosystem provides." said Professor Alastair Fitter, Chairman of the EASAC Working Group and Fellow of the Royal Society. "As a result, we are vastly restricting the ability of Europes ecosystems to function in all their other roles, and putting our own future at risk."
Europes ecosystem services will become even more important as global food prices rise, increasing reliance on home-grown produce, as cities expand and the demands on water supplies rise, and as climate change makes carbon storage more critical. Despite this, the management of urban and rural land does not take into account all of the services the areas provide. Key ecosystem services are suffering, in particular soil carbon stores, nutrient cycling and disease and pest control, with extensive implications for the EU and its member states.
Professor Fitter added, "Europe must create far more sophisticated environmental management practices that consider all the services that an ecosystem provides and how they can be supported. We advocate the creation by the European Union of a new European Directive that adds to existing legislation by focusing on ecosystem services. This should lead to the better protection of ecosystems and wildlife, and benefit the human population by ensuring the continued functioning of all of the natural services it relies upon."
Ecosystem services are defined as benefits humankind derives from the workings of the natural world. These include most obviously the supply of food, fuels and materials, but also such hidden benefits as the formation of soils and the control and purification of water.
The EU ecosystem services identified by the report are:
- Supporting services, comprising primary production, nutrient cycling, water cycling and soil formation
- Regulating services, comprising climate regulation, disease and pest regulation, water regulation and purification, protection from hazards, environmental quality regulation and pollination services
- Provisioning services, comprising provision of food, energy resources, provision of fibres, biochemical resources and genetic resources
- Cultural services, comprising spiritual, religious, aesthetic, inspirational and sense of place and recreation, ecotourism, cultural heritage and educational