What are Ecosystem Services?
“Ecosystem services” are the benefits provided by natural systems that contribute to our well-being and health. They support our basic needs like clean water, food, and raw materials for building, and they can include intangible benefits like recreational opportunities and aesthetic value. Some ecosystem services have a clear, well-known economic value, but the value of most services is harder to calculate. Given the essential role that ecosystem services play in our lives, it is important to map, measure, and value these services. With this information, Albertans can make the best possible decisions about how to manage our landscape.
Alberta’s economic prosperity is strongly linked to nature’s bounty and the ongoing supply of a range of Ecosystem Services, such as:
Soil Nutrient Cycling
Productive, fertile soils are essential for the success of Alberta’s farmers and ranchers. All life above ground, including planted crops, depends on the activity of below-ground biodiversity—such as bacteria, fungi, mites, worms, and ants—to break down organic matter and cycle nutrients back into the soil.
Ranchers in Alberta have been grazing their cattle on native grassland for over a century. The forage provided by native grassland is a critically important food source relied upon by ranchers to feed their livestock during the growing season. The annual value of forage produced by native prairie in Alberta is approximately $200 million.
Wild Pollinators like bumblebees are incredibly efficient and effective at pollinating native plants and commercial crops. Wild Pollinators nesting in natural areas within agricultural landscapes can promote the yield of nearby crops like canola and alfalfa, increasing revenue to farmers. And while domesticated honeybees are used for many commercial agricultural practices, they are not effective pollinators for all plants. Blueberries and tomatoes, for instance, need native bumblebee species for successful pollination.
Trees from Alberta’s forest ecosystems generate timber that not only supplies our sawmills and pulp mills, but also acts as an important storehouse of carbon, which helps to mitigate the impacts of climate change.
Riparian and wetland habitats act as natural water filters by removing pollutants and sediments from water. Maintaining healthy aquatic habitat in our environment is easily the most cost-effective way of providing a clean and reliable source of drinking water (Stanton et al. 2010).
Camping, hiking, hunting, fishing, bird watching or berry picking–Albertans love to spend time in the great outdoors. Alberta’s natural areas provide any number of recreational opportunities, enhancing our quality of life.