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What are marine ecosystem services?

Ecosystem goods and services can be classified in many ways. Roughly they can be divided into goods and services. Ecosystem goods are products provided by the ecosystems, such as fish or water, while ecosystem services are non-material, such as climate regulation or the carbon cycle.

While some goods and services are more associated to the shoreline, e.g. recreational benefits, others are below the sea surface, e.g. biochemical cycling and biodiversity. The human use of ecosystem resources are often unsustainable, for instance overfishing and eutrophication resulting from an excess load of nutrients.

Four classes of ecosystem services
The Millenium Ecosystem Assessment (MEA 2005) divides ecosystem services into four categories:

  • Supporting services are indirect services for humans, e.g. primary production and habitats. They are essential to the provision of other ecosystem services and therefore essential for humans as well.
  • Provisioning services are direct services for humans, e.g., oil and food.
  • Regulation services include e.g. climate regulation and atmosphere regulation, and the services that reduce the human-induced disturbances, e.g. the regulation of eutrophication.
  • Cultural services are non-material benefits that the marine environment provides for people, e.g. education, cultural heritage, aesthetic benefits and recreational benefits.

Marine_ecosystem_servicesFour categories of services provided by the marine ecosystems. (From Garpe: Ecosystem services provisionedd by the Baltic Sea and Skagerrak, 2008)

Examples from PREHAB
The species and habitats we have studied contribute to the provision of several ecosystem services. Most belong to the class of supporting services, that is, the response variables contribute to the functioning of the ecosystem, which helps to provide other services. Red seaweed (Furcellaria lumbricalis), common eelgrass (Zostera marina), and bladder wrack (Fucus vesiculosus) contribute to primary production and food web dynamics, red seaweed being a dominant algae species in the south-eastern Baltic Sea.

The invertebrates associated with Furcellaria and Fucus are a prey species for fish, and Zostera meadows are important facilitators of secondary production, thus affecting also the higher trophic levels. For biodiversity, these species contribute by facilitating much larger diversity of aquatic animals (infauna and epifauna) in overgrowths of Furcellaria and Zostera than outside them, while reduction of Fucus leads to the reduced algal diversity affecting higher trophic levels. Furcellaria and Fucus provide and modify habitat for both algae and invertebrates as well as nursery grounds for fish.

Regulating, provisioning and cultural services
Zostera contributes to water clarity by keeping bottom sediments from resuspension (sediment retention). Furcellaria has a role in regulation of pollutants. Large predatory fish are important for eutrophication mitigation: when these fish are removed in eutrophied conditions, the bloom forming algae increases twice as much as in the presence of these fish.

The availability of spawning habitats contributes linearly to the density of large adult fish (food as a provisioning service). Furcellaria is commercially utilized due to the gelling properties of its extracted structural polysaccharide (chemicals).

The ecological variables contribute to the provision of cultural services, such as recreation and science and education. While algae species add interest to diving and snorkelling activities, fish species, such as perch (Perca fluviatilis) and pikeperch (Sander lucioperca), are valuable for recreational fishing. All species are of scientific interest.




Find out more

More information about the concept of ecosystem services and the ecosystem services in the Baltic Sea are available in reports produced by other projects:

MEA - Millennium ecosystem assessment

Ecosystem services provisioned by the Baltic Sea and Skagerrak Swedish Environmental Protection Agency, Stockholm. Report 5873. Garpe, K., 2008.

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