Ecosystem services are the benefits derived from various ecosystems. These are defined to include provisioning services such as food and water; regulating services such as flood and disease control; cultural services such as spiritual, recreational, and cultural benefits; and supporting services such as nutrient cycling that maintain the conditions for life on Earth. The ecosystem of the rainforest is rich in all the services and benefits we need to support life on earth.
Some of the services the rainforests provides in each of these four categories are discussed below, but these only scratch the surface of the benefits we derive from healthy rainforests.
Monkey Ladder Vine (Bauhinia glabra)
Purification of water and air – On average it rains 212 days each year at La Selva Biological Station dropping 157 inches of water annually – that’s more than five times the average (30.7”) across the US! Storms which drop many inches of rain in a few hours are not uncommon. Only the incredibly dense forest with its extensive root structures and fertile soil can absorb and prevent horrible erosion with that much rain. Forest ecosystems purify water which mitigates pollution naturally. Storing water in the forest floor where it is released slowly minimizes flooding events and provides a slow release mechanism for that huge rainfall every year.
That dense forest also turns huge amounts of carbon dioxide into oxygen. Green plants on land provide about 50 % of the oxygen we breath. This is what makes the rainforest “the lungs of the planet”.
Carbon sequestration and climate regulation – The carbon extracted from the air is translated into lush growth, and massive trees, capturing that carbon. This is one of the best tools we have to mitigate climate change. We have extensive information about Carbon Capture throughout the site.
Pollination – the rainforest is home to more species of pollinators than any other area of the earth. Healthy rainforests ensure the genetic strength of the pollinators on which the planet depends for plant heath and the food we consume.
Genetic Resources – Earth is home to an estimated total of 8.7 million species, and experts suggest more than 80 percent of them have not been identified. Tropical rainforests house the world’s largest collection of living species of plants and animals. A new species is discovered every two days in the rainforest.
Biogenic minerals – Many of the minerals humans need to survive are now believed to be biogenic (produced or brought about by living organisms). It is critical that the densest, most diverse ecosystems are preserved to ensure that exotic crystals like hydroxylapatite (which is critical to bone and teeth) remain in abundance on our planet.
Medicinal resources – The medicinal compounds and discoveries from the diversity of the rainforest are innumerable and we continue to learn more every day. It is critical that we ensure the diversity of the rainforest doesn’t succumb to human encroachment or we might just wipe out the best natural cures the earth has to offer.
Recreational experiences – Ecotourism is a major source of national income for Costa Rica and other countries which are preserving their rainforest. We encourage people to come experience the rainforest firsthand, to truly understand this precious resource – for many of us it is life changing.
Habitat provision – there more species per acre of land in Costa Rica than anywhere else on the planet, meaning that there are more niches and habitat there than anywhere else.
Soil Formation – the soil of the rainforest is a thriving sub-ecosystem all its own, that we are just beginning to really study and understand. The effects of clearcutting devastate plants and the large animals’ habitat, but it also begins the gradual death of the rich soil life. Vast networks of mycelium, which we now understand can extend for many miles, provide a corridor of connection between forests, is lost. Massive colonies of insects and bacteria begin to die out without the support system living above. We really don’t yet understand the long-term impact of the loss of these interdependent populations – of how the loss may affect us.
The complexity of the rainforest ecosystems provides both a challenge and nearly unlimited areas of study for us as we work understand how relationships are interwoven among organisms, processes and their surroundings. Our work follows developing best practices in studying Ecosystems Services:
- identification of ecosystem service providers (ESPs)—what species or collective provide specific ecosystem services with the idea of understanding the symbiotic nature of the system;
- determination of community structures which influence how ESPs work and what factors might put them at risk;
- understanding of key environmental factors which impact the services;
- measurement of the spatial and temporal scales ESPs and their services operate on. This is critical to understand the potential impact caused by our changing climate and other factors.
Delivering the environment for Ecosystem Services to develop is a core ‘Effect’ we strive for. This evolving and critical discipline is a core are of study for us, too, and we will use our continually developing understanding of this to enhance the processes of reforestation to ensure the most robust services develop to support both the rainforest and people.