Rural System's

Ecological Services

The Processes for People

Information and Diagnoses

See "Services" under Synergism in Chapter 15 System Processes in Rural System? ... Just Dreaming

These interactions and feedbacks are so complex that they nearly defy human understanding.

N.R. French, 1972

Concept parallel? A therapist may be called to meet the needs of addicts. Is that that a service ... to call?... the action of the therapist? Parallel for "service" within "ecological services"?

See Ecological Impacts of Economic Activities

In a major article in Bioscience (vol 47:747-757), the global ecological life support system, i.e., ecological services and natural capital, was analyzed. The phrases and concepts were mixed and cause and effect were often disputable, but the analysis suggested that world ecological services were worth $2.9 trillion annually. The actual amounts hardly seem relevant. The list is important for it might become the basis for a consequence table, one depicting the changes in system processes and thus outputs of systems when modified by some process or form.

In addition to producing things, land also provides services such as retaining water, decomposing waste, and cooling air. It (land as a platform) )provides options for the future which may be services but also provides the production itself, the action of producing the "product units." We call the variety of services, functions, or processes (all verbs) service units. They are rate- and area-related but always have a nominal product unit as their fundamental measure. We know a "condition" at a specific time by its product and benefit units resulting from service units (or lack of them).

A built structure (e.g., a bridge, a warehouse) may provide services. Perhaps the origin and destination platforms are the real service units.

Harvey (1979:450, recognizing 10 services, said, minizing these concepts, "these are extremely broad categories because they include all the values that people have placed upon the land."


In another paper Costanza, R. R. d'Arget, de Groot, S. Farber, M. Grasso, B Hannon, K. Limburg, S. Naeem, R.V. O'Neill, J. Paruelo, R.G. Raskin, P. Sutton, and M. van den Belt. 1997. The value of the world's ecosystem services and natural capital. Nature 387 (6230) reported that the ecological services were of 17 types in 16 biomes. The estimate was $16-54 trillion and averaged $33 trillion per year.

They said, for comparison, the gross "global national" product (for all of the world's countries) was $18 trillion per year.

The biome analyses required summing of (the services in each biome/unit area) x (area of each biome)

The 17 services highlighted in this paper (shown here) can be compared to those listed below. The services are changing flows of matter or material, energy, and information:

  1. Gas regulation
  2. Climate regulation
  3. Disturrbance regulation
  4. Water regulation
  5. Water supply
  6. Erosion control and sediment retention
  7. Soil formation
  8. Nutrient cycling
  9. Waste treatment
  10. Pollination
  11. Biological control
  12. Refugia
  13. Food production
  14. Raw material supply
  15. Genetic resource supply
  16. Recreation
  17. Cultural

The categories can become difficult and naming them is, in part, influenced by the ability to provide a word for and measure of them.

Whether a life-saving use has been found for a plant (e.g., Taxis brevifolia as a deterrent to cancer cell growth) can be called a service seems worth discussing. The plant exists, does nothing, until a use is discovered ... and that implemented by people. One cactus (Hoodia gordonii) needles reduce appetite of desert travelers. Pharmaceuticals (anaesthesia, poison, medicines) as a group, real or potential, may be resources but serving them up as services of ecological systems seems petty and mis use of the word. Does an iron ore seam perform a service?

Psychologists say people are reluctant to change. We may need a strong perception of dire consequences to change...but perhaps a vision of something so "right" may be as motivating for people to tend well their environment.

Perhaps the following list may be re-organized and it may provide one basis for work to produce a computer program(s) that will show the likely changes within wildlands before each decision to change the environment is made. Evidence is in however, that people do not respond well to threats of disease (smoking, diabetes, alcoholism) and rebuild in flood plains, fire-prone areas, and even in places recently destroyed by hurricanes.

Ecological services are difficult to discuss for "services" sounds positive and often there are negatives effects ... which are human value judgements and not "natural" or "ecological" or bio-physical. For example, animals disperse seeds but they aggregate others (into caches). They eat some, but their gnawing or passage through their digestive system allows others to germinate. Thus they increase some, decrease others. They change the life form of some plants by their grazing, good in some situations for some forms of life, harmful for others. They propagate and influence mycorrhizae, beneficial to some plants (which may be competitors to others of great value). Some insects sting humans but also pollinate their foods.

"Processes" from general systems theory, is a better word to use than "services." (Even "influences.")

There are commodities provided such as building material, fuel, and other forest products. They once contributed to coal and fossil energy buildups and some are believed to continue to do so. Whether this can be called "services" needs to be discussed. Services may be:

  1. Protecting downstream watershed areas
  2. Holding soil in place
  3. Generating and developing soils
  4. Generating and maintaining fertile soils
  5. Stabilizing soils (26 billion tons of top soil are lost per year)
  6. Protecting soil from rainfall impact
  7. Regulating the hydrologic cycle
  8. Maintaining gases of the atmosphere
  9. Modifying the climate in desired ways
  10. Cycling nutrients and wastes
  11. Detoxifying waster products
  12. Controlling agricultural and forest pests
  13. Pollinating plants
  14. Preserving genetic opportunities
  15. Producing and cleaning quality waters
  16. Storing water
  17. Providing spaces for fauna
  18. Producing oxygen
  19. Providing windbreaks
  20. Providing privacy (visual and audile protection by separation and buffers)
  21. Provide intangible benefits
  22. Enhancing spiritual and religious functions; opportunities for mental and physical regeneration of people
  23. Enriching the esthetic opportunities for people
  24. Providing the grounds for research-based answers
  25. Sequestering carbon
  26. Providing flexibility and adaptability in the face of long-term environmental change
  27. Capturing sunlight
  28. Building phytomass
  29. Decomposing wastes
  30. Redistributing water
  31. Purifying the air (supporting a favorable atmosphere)
  32. Creating genetic materials
  33. Providing pharmaceuticals
  34. Buffering the effects of floods, fire, and pestilence
  35. Modifying disease threats (plus and minus as in so many other "services")
  36. Stabilizing the landscape structure (forests as more stable and long-term)
  37. Providing a refuge for some plants and animals
  38. Providing extra precipitation as fog drip
  39. Dispersing some seeds, killing or consuming others
  40. Creating cavities and dens
  41. Providing food for some animals, eating others
  42. Aerating the soil and reducing bulk density
  43. Providing space or spatial separation (as predator from prey)

While products are well known and easy to list, the services of Rural System have often been provided by state and federal agencies. Many of these services have been delayed, insufficient, and inadequate. Some have lead to high productivity in falling markets and thus financial ruin. Many services formerly performed have been removed in changing administrations, regulations, laws, and policies. Governmental startup has matured into private activity in the best forms of American entrepreneurship and capitalism.

Rural System exists to operate, to perform services, especially those that benefit from research results and that can utilize the power of the computer, the Internet, and other high technology. We can demonstrate the advantages of simulation and optimization, moving us all to the positive side of the economic "margin."

We know about ecological services as discussed above and how to protect them, restore those lost, and safely exploit them.

The services we offer are as follows (we suggest using "Find" under the Edit tab at the edge of the screen to search for key words):

    System Central

  1. Conducting literature Searches add links throughout)
  2. Managing and supplying systems of Bed and Breakfast Inns
  3. Supplying land analyses for realtors
  4. Providing storage in warehouses
  5. Providing adult writing instruction
  6. Memorializing retiring and remembered people
  7. Conducting educational and ecotourism tours
  8. Helping in diverse ways groups on difficulty
  9. Providing safety instruction, inspections, and security systems
  10. Providing GIS images and analyses
  11. Providing means for assured energy conservation and local development projects
    Forestry and Other Topics
  12. Doing forest inventory and dynamic plans
  13. Preventing, protecting, and supressing wildfires
  14. Making prescribed burns for several purposes
  15. Planting and harvesting walnut products
  16. Managing urban trees
  17. Building and maintaining superior hikling and bike trails
  18. Describing and educating people about wilderness characteristics and functions
  19. Conducting area noise analyses
  20. Conducting landscape analyses and analyzing scenic beauty
  21. Conducting management services for large outdoor and ecotourism groups
  22. Conducting nature-oriented tours
  23. Analyzing small lakes and ponds
  24. Analyzing game populations, conducting studies, and managing such populations
  25. Implementing Avi Courses
    Agriculture Topics
  26. Developing livestock and crop systems among farmlands
  27. Developing protected productive garden systems
    Sports and Recreation
  28. Managing the Wildland Crew and its lasting benefits over time
  29. Sponsoring several a new organizations
  30. Creating new sports
    Products and Services
  31. Creating and managing the Geezers
  32. Recording and providing music
  33. Collecting and making available poetry of the people
  34. Conducting laboratory analyses and related services
  35. Operating a data collection and presentation unit, the Wired Ecosystem
  36. Developing and selling new products
  37. Conducting analyses of individual competence of natural resource workers.

If you cannot find the service(s) needed, please be sure to email us. We are growing and we have many contacts and colleagues who might meet your needs.

See 43 page text on services formerly reported at:

See the 69 key ecological "functions" such as pollination and cavity creating in Berwick, S., B.G. Marcot, P. Paquet, and P. Whitney. 2001. Ecosystem-based selection of wildlife species for comparing future landscape alternatives in Columbia River Basin, p.60-63 in R. Filed, R.J. Warren, H. Okarma, P.P. Sievert (editors) Wildlife, land, and people: priorities for the 21st century, The Wildlife Society, Bethesda, MD.

See Daily, Gretchen C. 1997. Nature services, Island Press

The following is an abstract of a paper by Martin Doyle, Duke University 2013

Title:  How ecosystem service markets work, and why they don’t

If you restore a wetland, can you sell the carbon sequestered there to a buyer in Germany, while you sell the wetland habitat created to a nearby housing developer, and the improved water quality to a municipal treatment plant downstream in the next state?  Environmental regulators increasingly confront this vexing scenario at every level of market-based environmental policy, from local water quality initiatives to global carbon markets.
Markets in environmental credits are now common. Local, national and global jurisdictions have created many market-like arrangements in which someone who causes environmental damage can mitigate their impacts through the purchase of credits produced by people or firms engaged in resource conservation.  Although these credits can be measured in units of area, it is increasingly common to see them defined in units of ecosystem services – the benefits that humans derive from the environment.  The move from area-based credits toward function- or service-based credits raises the possibility of credit stacking – the sale of multiple credit types from a single site.  Credit stacking can incentivize conservation activity by multiplying possible revenue streams from a credit site.  But it also poses difficulties in even tracking and accounting for the many services involved, and challenges ecosystem ecologists and economists to more precisely define and understand what ecosystem service markets are really designed to conserve. 

See note from Costanza: 5-2014

our new paper titled "Changes in the global value of ecosystem services" in Global Environmental Change.

This paper builds on our 1997 paper published in Nature on the global value of ecosystem services, and estimates the changes since then. It updates the unit value estimates based on work done by the TEEB (The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity) study and combines them with new global land use estimates to arrive at the first estimates of the changes in global ecosystem services value between 1997 and 2011 in monetary units. We estimate (with appropriate caveats) that the loss of ecosystem services from 1997 to 2011 is on the order of $20 Trillion/yr.

The paper also addresses some of the misconceptions and critiques arising from the 1997 paper and compares the results with more elaborate global systems modeling approaches.

You can view and download the paper at:


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Perhaps you will share ideas with Rural System staff about some of the topics above.

Revisions: July 1, 2004, December 23, 2009, 1-11-2016