Ecological Services

Trillions of dollars are given away freely every year in the form of ecological services - Ecological Services introduction. Most people take for granted the services that our ecosystems provide at no cost. These services are essential to our way of life and happen behind-the-scenes on a daily basis. Protection from the sun’s harmful ultraviolet rays is one such service that we take for granted. Support and growth of plants, wildlife, and bacteria that supply the majority of medicines is another important service. Unfortunately many of these services are not only taken for granted, but are actually being subjected to harmful effects by the human species.

One service that is being subjected to decline by human influence is the detoxification and decomposition of waste products. The ability of ecosystems to maintain biodiversity is also subject to this decline. Sunlight contains three divisions of ultraviolet radiation; UVA, UVB, and UVC (which does not reach the Earth’s surface). The lower stratosphere of the Earth contains oxygen that absorbs the majority of the harmful UVB radiation. The overwhelming majority, 99 percent of the ultraviolet rays that reach the Earth’s surface, are UVA. When the ozone layer becomes thin, however, more UVB radiation reaches Earth’s surface and may have hazardous effects on organisms. For example, studies have shown that UVB radiation penetrates the ocean’s surface and may be lethal to marine plankton to a depth of 30 metres (about 100 feet) in clear water” (Ultraviolet Radiation, 2013). In humans, ultraviolet radiation can cause several harmful effects. Some of these include “reddening of the skin (sunburn), pigmentation development (suntan), aging, and carcinogenic changes.

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Ultraviolet sunburns can be mild, causing only redness and tenderness, or they can be so severe as to produce blisters, swelling, seepage of fluid, and sloughing of the outer skin. The blood capillaries (minute vessels) in the skin dilate with aggregations of red and white blood cells to produce the red coloration” (Ultraviolet Radiation, 2013). Protection from the sun’s radiation is fundamental to many species survival and the biodiversity of the many ecosystems affected by those species. Medicine is responsible for increasing the average lifespan of the human species by a large amount.

In addition to increased lifespan, some other benefits are less disease, better mental well-being, and a better standard of living. “Eighty percent of the world’s population relies upon natural medicinal products. Of the top 150 prescription drugs used in the U. S. , 118 originate from natural sources: 74 percent from plants, 18 percent from fungi, 5 percent from bacteria, and 3 percent from one vertebrate (snake species). Nine of the top 10 drugs originate from natural plant products” (Grantham, 2013). The majority of these medicines are derived from the plant life that is naturally managed by our ecosystems.

This ecological service is provided to us at no cost and is critical to our species. The natural detoxification and decomposition of many of the Earth’s wastes is another beneficial ecological service. Unfortunately, humans are influencing this service negatively. With an ever-increasing population, solid waste generation is through the roof, “humans generate roughly 400 million metric tons each year” (Encarta, 2009). The Earth cannot keep up with the massive amount of toxic, chemical, air, and solid waste that is being generated.

Soil plays an important role in the decomposition of organic wastes and is constantly subjected to pesticides and other human-generated toxins. Many of these toxins cannot be broken down such as the pesticide DDT. Altering the levels of carbon and nitrogen in the soil also causes long-term damage and contribute to greenhouse gases. (Ecological Society of America, 1997). The ability to maintain biodiversity within an ecosystem is another key area that human influence has been especially harmful. Clearing land for an ever-increasing population infringes on many species ability to survive by reducing living spaces and reducing food sources.

Humans have also been responsible for introducing outside organisms to an ecosystem that cause havoc and kill off other species or expand too rapidly. The draining of wetlands causes greenhouse gases to weaken the ozone layer, increasing the amount of harmful radiation enters ecosystems. Another example of negative impact is monoculture. Monoculture involves humans planting one variety of plant over a huge area. This leaves this area more vulnerable to predation or disease and the loss of many or all of the plants in the area. Monoculture also consumes all the nitrogen in an area, causing non-fertile soil. Agricultural Technology, 2013) Ecological services play an important role in the survival of our planet and of our species. These services are free of charge to us provided we do not prevent them from happening. While many of the harmful actions humans take have economic benefit, they dwarf in comparison to the extremely high cost of handling these issues on our own. The tangible benefits of helping to maintain these services are easy to see. Stronger economies, medical advancements, and diverse food products are just a few of these benefits. With so many reasons to help ourselves; when are we going to take a stand?

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