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Evaluating ecosystem services
Date:8/4/2008

Environmental conservation efforts have traditionally focused on protecting individual species or natural resources. Scientists are discovering, however, that preserving the benefits that whole ecosystems provide to people is more economically and environmentally valuable. At the Annual Meeting of the Ecological Society of America (ESA), ecologists will explore the application of ecosystem services approaches to conservation.

Ecosystem services are the benefits that humans reap from natural areas where living and non-living things function in concert with each other. These services include a range of human essentials, such as food production, clean water and clean air. For example, grasslands and forests support pollinators, which promote healthy crops, while wetlands filter and purify our water supply.

An example of a managed area that provides many ecosystem services is tiny Lake Wingra, near Madison, Wisconsin. This 1-mile-square, 9-foot-deep lake is used for recreational fishing and swimming and houses one of the most biodiverse plant communities in the area. Amy Kamarainen, a graduate student at the University of Wisconsin-Madison wondered if the historical management decisions at the Lake Wingra watershed have affected the ecosystem services it provides today. She found that urbanization and filling of adjacent wetlands for agriculture and recreation have altered the lake's water quality and purity. Additionally, management decisions have not always been local, but sometimes at the regional and even national level: a national program that aimed to increase food resources in the early 1900s dictated the stocking of many non-native fish in the lake. Kamarainen believes these far-reaching management decisions have affected the lake's ecosystem services.

"Taking a long-term perspective on ecosystem services highlights tradeoffs among services and points to the level at which management actions will be effective," she says. "It's i
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Contact: Christine Buckley
christine@esa.org
202-833-8773
Ecological Society of America
Source:Eurekalert

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