Thursday, 30 May 2013

Ecosystem services

The aim of funding programs designed to promote sustainable agriculture (Caring for our Country) is to increase producer knowledge, skills and use of sustainable land management practices. The ultimate goal is to increase productivity and improve the quality of ecosystem services.

What are ecosystem services? Firstly, an ecosystem is the interaction between living and non-living things that form a complex network. The benefits that we derive from this complex network are ecosystem services.

Benefits include (Reference):

·         Climate regulation (greenhouse gas regulation)

·         Soil formation

·         Detoxification, decomposition and nutrient cycling by soil organisms

·         Water supply, retention and regulation of flow

·         Erosion control and nutrient retention (e.g. ground cover)

·         Pollination

·         Food production

·         Biological pest control (reduced herbivory by natural predators),

·         Raw materials (fuel)

·         Genetic resources (medicines)

·         Recreation

·         Cultural and spiritual stimulation

Improving the quality of ecosystem services means conducting business in ways that complements these services. For example, retaining groundcover can minimise erosion and maximise nutrient retention, nutrient cycling and soil health, improving water infiltration, storage and flow regulation. These can also help productivity (healthier crops, fewer costs).

Here is some food for thought from Daily et al. (1997):
‘Biodiversity supplies genetic and biochemical resources that underpin our current agriculture and pharmaceutical enterprises… Different populations of the same species differ in their ability to resist pests and disease…Our ability to increase crop productivity in the face of new pests, diseases, and other stresses has depended heavily upon the transfer of genes from wild crop relatives that confer resistance…..’

 ‘…of the top 150 prescription drugs in the US, 118 are based on natural sources.’

‘The abundance of soil organisms is staggering. In a 1m2 plot of pasture in Denmark, researchers found 50,000 earthworms, 50,000 insects and mites, and 12 million roundworms. A pinch of fertile soil can contain over 30,000 protozoa, 50,000 algae, 400,000 fungi and billions of individual bacteria.’

‘About 220,000 out of an estimated 240,000 species of plants require an animal such as a bee or bird for pollination…One third of human food is derived from plants pollinated by wild pollinators. Without these services, crop yields would decline precipitously.’

‘Pests destroy 25-50% of the world’s crops. An estimated 99% of potential crop pests are controlled by natural enemies e.g. birds, spiders, parasitic wasps and flies. But these populations are decimated by heavy pesticide use, leading to an explosion of pest numbers that are quicker to return following disturbance.’

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