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Ecosystem services are the benefits to people from nature.  These benefits include food, water purification, carbon sequestration, soil stabilization, recreation, cultural values, among others.  The contribution of natural ecosystems to these benefits is often un-quantified and unmeasured, but the value of such benefits is gradually becoming more apparent as human populations grow and the demand for natural resources increases.  Ecosystems can provide for many human needs now and into the future.  Literature and research on this topic abounds.  Here we focus on ecosystem services at TNC.

The world’s ecosystems are necessary capital assets due to the ecosystem services and the biodiversity they provide. Ecosystem services link people and nature highlighting that people, in many ways, stand to lose as much as the other species in our ecosystems if degradation of natural ecosystems continues.   But there is a perceived conflict: people need to use natural capital for their economic and overall welfare, and ecosystems require natural capital to remain healthy. In addition ecosystem health links directly to human welfare and well-being.  Ecosystem services can be a solution to the perceived conflict.  Thinking about how this link can lead to conservation actions that both protect biodiversity and provide benefits for people’s well-being leading to sustainable use of natural capital, rather than overuse.  

The Millennium Ecosystem Assessment (MA) brought together numerous experts from around the world really detailing the importance of nature to people culturally, physically, spiritually, and socially.  Prior to publication of the MA numerous studies and reports had been published analyzing and assessing the benefits and drawbacks of ecosystem service-based approaches to conservation, but it was the MA that really pushed the conservation community to evaluate their on-the-ground approach making the link between people and nature very apparent.

From here has grown a new discipline both in research and in application with payment schemes, markets, and theoretical debates about best practices and efficiency.  Ecosystem services are slowly narrowing the gap between conservation and development.