— by Carol Malnor
This is the season for giving gifts. In the last week we’ve had Black Friday, Small Business Saturday, Cyber Monday, and Giving Tuesday. But it’s good to remember that we receive gifts every day of every year. I’m talking about gifts from Nature! They’re sometimes called “ecosystem services.” I’ve excerpted a list of “Nature’s Gifts” compiled by Monabay Bay Environmental News.
- Fresh water: There is no physical substance humans require more than freshwater: without water we can only survive a few days. Healthy freshwater ecosystems—watersheds, wetlands, and forests—naturally clean pollution and toxins from water. Soils, microorganisms, and plant roots all play a role in filtering and recycling out pollutants with a price far cheaper than building a water filtration plant.
- Pollination: Imagine trying to pollinate every apple blossom in an orchard—this is what nature does for us. Insects, birds, and even some mammals, pollinate the world’s plants, including much of human agriculture. Around 80% of the world’s plants require a different species to act as pollinator.
- Seed dispersal: Much like pollination, many of the world’s plants require other species to move their seeds from the parent plant to new sprouting ground. Seeds are dispersed by an incredibly wide-variety of players: birds, bats, rodents, megafauna like elephants and tapir, and even, researchers have recently discovered, fish.
- Soil health: The ground under our feet matters more than we often admit. Healthy fertile soil provides optimal homes for plants, while participating in a number of natural cycles: from recycling nutrients to purifying water. Although soil is renewable, it is also sensitive to overuse and degradation often due to industrial agriculture, pollution, and fertilizers.
- Climate regulation: The natural world helps regulate the Earth’s climate. Ecosystems such as rainforests, peatlands, and mangroves store significant amounts of carbon, while the ocean captures massive amounts of carbon through phytoplankton.
- Fisheries: Humankind has turned to the rivers and seas for food for at least 40,000 years but probably even longer. Today, more than a billion people depend on fish as their primary source of protein, many of them among the global poor. Fisheries also provide livelihoods, both directly and indirectly, for around half a billion. Coral reefs, mangroves, and seagrass ecosystems provide nurseries for the world’s fisheries, while the open ocean is used for migrating routes and hunting.
Read more about these and other gifts from nature at Mongabay.