Ecosystem Services

Ecosystem services (ES) comprise goods and services that have value to humans and which are derived from ecosystem functions (EF) (Costanza et al. 1997). The global monetary value of ES is currently estimated at US$145 trillion/yr (Costanza et al. 2014). ES can be enhanced by human manipulation of the environment such as improved pest management by planting non-crop vegetation that benefits biological control agents.

However, many ES have substantial inherent value to humans, with no manipulation. Examples include earthworms aerating the soil and mineralising plant material in agriculture (Blouin et al. 2013) or pollination of orchards by insects (Földesi et al. 2015). The value of ES is usually monetary, such as reduced costs and increased yield of crops (Pywell et al. 2015; Tschumi et al. 2015). However, they can also deliver cultural, aesthetic and spiritual value through the enhancement of human well-being. For example by maintaining natural areas used for recreation, and protecting areas of importance to indigenous people and endangered wildlife (Roberts et al. 2015). ES were first defined by Daily (1997) as, “the conditions and processes through which natural ecosystems sustain and fulfil human life.” Also, in 1997, Constanza et al. redefined this concept more specifically as goods and services derived directly or indirectly from ecosystem functions. This was then simplified further with ecosystem goods and services referred to as just ecosystem services.

EF is an outcome of one or more EPs. The table below shows how combinations of ecosystem processes result in ecosystem functions and how these can lead to some ecosystem services (Costanza et al. 1997; Wall and Virginia 2000; De Groot et al. 2002).

Costanza et al. (1997) went on to describe 17 ES that they considered to be “major” categories that encompassed most ES on a global scale. These can be found in the following table.

Examples of multiple ecosystem services delivered by different ecosystems:

In salad crops

Flowering strips with sweet alyssum (Lobularia maritima Benth L.) providing multiple ES, such as improved soil quality and resources for pollinating insects and biological control agents. Photo: Ryan Rayl.

In dairy farms

Miscanthus x giganteus (Greef et Deu.) shelterbelts on dairy farms can provide at least 15 ES such as biofuel production, shelter for livestock and increased pasture yield by 14% (Littlejohn et al. 2015; Chirino-Valle et al., 2016). Photo: Chris Littlejohn.

In natural areas

Mountainous areas provide multiple ES with monetary (e.g. tourism), cultural and recreational (e.g. hunting, walking, conservation) aesthetic and human well-being values, which are often undervalued. Photo: Morgan Shields.


Blouin M, Hodson M, Delgado E, Baker G, Brussaard L, Butt K, Dai J, Dendooven L, Peres G, Tondoh J, Cluzeau D, Brun J-J, 2013. A review of earthworm impact on soil function and ecosystem services. European Journal of Soil Science, 64: 161–182.

Chirino-Valle I, Kandula D, Littlejohn C, Hill R, Walker M, Shields M, Cummings N, Hettiarachchi D, Wratten S, 2016. Potential of the beneficial fungus Trichoderma to enhance ecosystem-service provision in the biofuel grass Miscanthus x giganteus in agriculture. Scientific Reports 6: 25109. DOI: 10.1038/srep25109

Costanza R, d’Arge R, de Groot R, Farber S, Grasso, M, Hannon B, Limburg K, Naeem S, O’Neill R, Paruelo J, Raskin R, Sutton P, van den Belt M, 1997. The value of the world’s ecosystem services and natural capital. Nature 387: 253 – 260.

Costanza R, de Groot R, Sutton P, van der Ploeg S, Anderson S, Kubiszewski I, Farber S, Turner K, 2014. Changes in the global value of ecosystem services. Global Environmental Change, 26: 152-158. Daily C, 1997. Nature’s services: societal dependence on natural ecosystems. Island Press, Washington D.C. 393p.

Földesi R, Kovács‐Hostyánszki A, Kőrösi Á, Somay L, Elek Z, Markó V, Sárospataki M, Bakos R, Varga A, Nyisztor K, Báldi A, 2015. Relationships between wild bees, hoverflies and pollination success in apple orchards with different landscape contexts. Agricultural and Forest Entomology, 18: 68-75.

Littlejohn C, Curran T, Hofmann R, Wratten S, 2015. Farmland, food, and bioenergy crops need not compete for land. Solutions May-June Issue, 36-50. Available at:

Pywell R, Heard M, Woodcock B, Hinsley S, Ridding L, Nowakowski M, Bullock J, 2015. Wild life friendly farming increases crop yield: evidence for ecological intensification. Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences 282: 20151740.

Roberts L, Brower A, Kerr G, Lambert S, McWilliam W, Moore K, Quinn J, Simmons D, Thrush S, Townsend M, Blaschke P, Costanza R, Cullen R, Hughey K, Wratten S, 2015. The nature of wellbeing: How nature’s ecosystem services contribute to the wellbeing of New Zealanders. Department of Conservation, New Zealand Government, Wellington, NZ. 145p.

Tschumi M, Albrecht M, Entling M, Jacot K, 2015. High effectiveness of tailored flower strips in reducing pests and crop plant damage. Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences 282: 20151369.