Ecosystem services are the benefits to people derived directly from the natural environment. The reliable supply of clean water to cities, lush forests that capture carbon and filter the air, productive agricultural soil for food production, the beauty and serenity of open natural landscapes, or the very existence of rare and vulnerable species, are all examples of benefits, or services, provided by ecosystems.
Once these benefits are recognized and in some way measured, they may influence societal decisions regarding land and water uses. Much of the information we develop and maintain at NatureServe helps document the location, significance, and health of ecosystems and serves as a foundation for incorporating ecosystem services into conservation decisions. NatureServe’s distribution maps for ecosystems and species, together with their relative conservation status, indicate much about the relative significance of biodiversity in any given location. Our methods and tools for measuring ecological integrity tell us much about the quantity and quality of services being provided. Our methods and tools for conservation planning help to integrate ecosystem services into decision making.