College of Agriculture & Natural Resources
Environmental Science & Technology

Ecosystem Services

Patuxent Research Refuge, Prince Georges Co. Maryland. Attributed to Wikimedia commons user Quadell

Ecosystem services have become a popular way to think about how people gain from natural ecosystems, and rationale for increasing conservation of natural lands. Commonly, these benefits from the environment are placed into four categories—Provisional, Regulating, Supporting, and Cultural services. Examples and definitions of each category follow. Provisional— Products obtained from ecosystems. This includes food, drinking water, medicinal products, fuel wood, timber and drinking water. Regulating— Benefits gained from regulation of ecosystem processes. Examples being climate regulation, disease regulation, pollination, water quality, and water supply. Supporting— Ecosystem functions that are necessary to support the ability of an ecosystem to provide ecosystem services. For example, cycling of nutrients, formation of soil, and primary production of ecosystems. Cultural— Nonmaterial benefits people gain from ecosystems. This includes recreation, spiritual benefits, aesthetic enjoyment, education, and cultural heritage. Additional information on the definition of ecosystem services can be found through University of Maryland Extension.

ENST Ecosystem Service Research The term “ecosystem services” is obviously very inclusive, covering any benefit people gain from their environment; it has been implemented and defined many different ways and is not always well-understood by the public. Researchers in the Environmental Science and Technology Department at University of Maryland are helping to increase the understanding of the supply of ecosystem services in Maryland, along with how the population understands and values the ecosystem services they gain. Dr. Robert Tjaden has conducted a survey of Maryland tree farmers and agricultural landowners with the goals of assessing the knowledge base of ecosystem services for the survey population and potential willingness to participate in a program where the landowners would be paid for the services supplied by their lands. Preliminary results indicate that while most landowners were not familiar with the concept of ecosystem services, many would be interested in participating in a payment for ecosystem service program, with contract length and monetary return being strong influences on the decision. Click here to see the full report of this research. Dr. David Tilley and Dr. Elliott Campbell have piloted research in quantifying the supply of ecosystem services from the forests of Maryland. Their research focuses on ecosystem services hitherto unpaid for, (supporting and regulating services), suggesting that the people of Maryland should invest in increasing and preserving natural lands, consequently preserving and increasing the supply of ecosystem services in the State. Results from this research can be found in the dissertation and this article.

Currently, a survey is being circulated to Montgomery County residents to ascertain whether or not the public would be willing to participate in ecological investment, and if so, what type of institution, ecosystem services, and payment structure they would prefer to invest with. The results of this research, ideally, will be used to influence future ecosystem service policy.

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