Wetlands & Ecosystem Services

Wetlands provide a range of benefits and functions for people and the environment.  The multifunctional nature of wetlands has been conceptualised in the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment’s ‘wetland ecosystem services’, which stresses how they contribute to human well-being and poverty alleviation.

Many ecosystem services, especially provisioning, have direct economic value to people, while regulating and support services in general help maintain environmental functions which are of indirect benefit to communities. Wetlands also provide cultural ecosystem services with respect to the spiritual, recreational and aesthetic values that are prized highly among many societies. Meanwhile, the intrinsic biodiversity and ecological value of wetlands continue to be a key element in the discourse driving the development of management policy for these areas.

Services Examples
Provisioning Food, freshwater, fibre, fuel, medicinal, genetic
Regulating Climate regulation, water regulation (hydrological flows), water purification and waste treatment, erosion control, natural hazard protection, pollination
Cultural Spiritual and inspirational, Recreational, Aesthetic, Educational
Supporting soil formation, nutrient cycling

However, not all wetlands support the full range of ecosystem services. Specific services are associated with particular types of wetland in specific ecological and geographical settings.  Because of the complexity of natural systems it is often difficult to predict the exact nature and the magnitude of services that any given wetland provides. Furthermore, different societies under different socio-economic, cultural and development conditions value these ecosystem services differently and this adds to the diversity which needs to be recognized when discussing wetlands.

Wetland Action supports peoples’ use of wetlands in order to achieve sustainable livelihoods as long as there is no overall degradation in ecosystem services. However, identifying the range of ecosystems services that individual wetlands support, through engaging in multidisciplinary field research with local communities, is often the starting point for many of our projects and an essential precursor to the development of management strategies.