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Prioritizing Ecosystem Services in Conservation


The current work is focused on estimating the pros and cons of prioritizing ecosystem services in conservation. The significance of saving and protecting ecosystems requires interfering with the natural flow of events and taking action in order to get more profit for human well-being. From one side, people depend on the environment as it provides a variety of goods and beneficiaries for their satisfaction and comfortable lifestyle.

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Humans use natural resources to develop and progress their activities, worship them, and make them a part of their culture, and spiritual state. Assessing various demands of humans on different territories can help enhance smart and efficient conservation of resources. On the other side, it is hardly possible to estimate the long-term effects of humans interfering with ecosystems, its impact on other species. Moreover, the costs of conservation might bring poor outcomes to society and unsuccessful actions towards nature. As the result, it is essential to estimate the profits of prioritizing ecosystem services in conservation before taking action as it might lead to disadvantageous results. Still, the current work concluded prioritizing is more beneficial than destructive for both individuals and nature.

Ecosystem services are beneficial products humans receive from nature to survive, function, and progress. Nature goods are fundamental to people’s healthy and flourishing lifestyle, and taking care of natural recourses, developing plans that help limit the negative influence of anthropogenesis should be a central concern of the modern population. The current goal is to concentrate less on human demand from ecosystems and to emphasize the conservation of ecosystem services and saving biodiversity. Achieving this outcome can provide sustainable development and proper interconnections between human satisfaction and benefits and natural resources safety.

The efforts on conservation should be considered in terms of human demands which can increase the importance of prioritizing ecosystem services. However, any activity from human beings interrupts the natural system functioning, and organizing the plan in conservation brings both positive and negative effects. The goal of this paper is to investigate and assess the pros and cons of prioritizing ecosystem services in conservation and prove that the latter is more beneficial than destructive for individuals and nature.

Ecosystem Services

Ecosystem services provide humans with food, pure water, climate regulation, disease management, spiritual fulfillment, and aesthetic pleasure. According to Millennium Ecosystem Assessment (2005), over the past 50 years, a human being has changed ecosystems faster and more intensely than in any other comparable period of history. The degradation of the ecosystems has a tendency to grow unless any action is taken. Current changes are more likely connected with the concern of human well-being and economic development, and contemporary concerns should be reconsidered on saving the ecosystem functioning for further beneficiaries of people. However, the profits for individuals depend on supply and demand interrelations, and the latter varies due to human ways of life, priorities, and needs.

Ecosystems can be characterized as a summation of biotic and abiotic elements in spatio-temporal conditions. The interconnections between them define their structural specialties and functional attributes that lead to the way they connect with society, the supply. Another essential feature, biodiversity defines the ability of ecosystems to have a diversity of functions that provide humans water provision, soil fertility, food production, and other beneficiaries. Based on the profits of the services nature provides, individuals form various values towards them. This process can be called an intrinsic attitude that has been formed within centuries as a human has always been in a close connection with natural resources.

All ecosystem services can be formed into four categories: provisioning, regulating, supporting, and cultural. Every category is essential for human beings and is widely used by them to support their welfare and lifestyle quality. Biodiversity is also represented in four organization levels: gene, species, ecosystem, a landscape that provide a vast number of species, their functions, and the ability to adjust to the constantly changing surrounding conditions. Complex cooperation between ecosystem functions and biodiversity is shown in Figure 1. For instance, diversity of functions focuses on such processes as photosynthesis, carbon flows, nutrient cycling, which are important for the supply of regulating services (Burkhard & Maes, 2017).

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Interconnections between ecosystem services and four levels of biodiversity. ES ecosystem services.
Figure 1. Interconnections between ecosystem services and four levels of biodiversity. ES ecosystem services. (Burkhard & Maes, 2017).

Pros of Prioritizing Ecosystem Services in Conservation

Conservation planning of ecosystem services can be advantageous for the human population by saving a variety of species providing bigger supplies, providing local communities essential products, prolonging the aesthetic enjoyment and cultural fulfillment. Concentrating on regions with high service variety, increased number of biophysical value of resources can lead humanity to higher benefits from saving the areas and taking care of their stable functioning.

The raised capability of supplying services can bring more efficient and useful outcomes by their protection. Such reflections might sound egocentric and human-oriented; however, conservation planning will take a certain amount of natural and human resources and redistribute the costs, time spending, and natural flow of processes in other territories. Any intervention in ecosystems, even in terms of saving and protecting them, is breaking into the usual biophysical mechanisms. The main concern is to get the most profit with minimum action towards the environment.

As one of the possible methods of identifying the high monetary value services is a mapping that can provide guidance for conservation policymaking. Li et al. (2017) proposed the cost-efficient framework for ecosystem service conservation by mapping sites with an increased number of biophysical values, or hotspots, using several spatial datasets and models. The authors of the research emphasized the importance of identifying compact areas with a low edge-to-era ratio to achieve cost-effectiveness in the set of limited finances and resources (Li et al. 2017). Such a method can be easily implemented for different purposes of ecosystem services conservation varying the definition of a hotspot.

Since ecosystems are complicated nature inventions, they usually collect several functions and services. Using the method for highlighting and conserving multifunctional hotspots to protect and save the targeted ecosystem.

Sustainable development is based on logical prioritizing ecosystem service maintenance and safeguarding biological diversity. The spatial overlap of priorities is essential for achieving the most profit from implemented action. For instance, targeting the reduction of emissions by limiting deforestation may destabilize biodiversity conservation in Indonesia as priorities for both aims do not spatially coincide (Watson et al. 2019). The importance of demand evaluation should be primarily considered before planning the conservation of ecosystems despite the actual shortage and extinction of species. The natural flow of events leads the environment to the rarity of bioorganisms, and human participation is only one of the influencing factors.

A significant part of the population lives in rural areas and depends on food, water supply from nature. Human interventions oftentimes interfere with the ecosystem and cause the extinction of vitally important goods for local tribes. In this case, it is more efficient to save the biodiversity and ecosystem services instead of spending impressive costs on food and water transportation or increasing spending on medical needs from various disorders caused by the issue. For example, coastal communities of Indonesia, the Philippines, and Malaysia were defined by Tan et al. (2018) as lacking seagrass that is also a cultural value for some groups of society. Seagrass is also participating in other profitable processes such as sediment accumulation and stabilization, the storage of sedimentary carbon, and coastal protection (Tan et al. 2018). Seagrass is known to be selective for the growth conditions, and lately anthropocentric activities have ruined the natural balance of the environmental areas.

Putting more effort into hotspot areas aiming to get high profit with less cost spending might be different in rural areas with relatively biophysical value. Saving one of the most important products for the population of the urban areas in developing countries leads to set different priorities while estimating these landscapes. The consequences of food lack might cause higher expenses for maintaining the coastal communities depending on the marine supplies. The assessment of the conservation plan should take into consideration the values of local people and their demands. With such approach, an efficient conservation planning will enhance the life quality of a bigger amount of population.

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Human attraction to nature as a source of aesthetic fulfillment has increased over the last decades. A man was always a part of ecosystems, and historical connection with the environment brings humans to a certain level of satisfaction. Maslow’s motivation model includes aesthetic needs as one of the growth factors that improve self-esteem and confidence level. The beauty of natural zones can also be one of the factors motivating society for conservation activity (Pearson 2016). The Internet data allowed Do (2019) to assess the attitude of people towards nature and their level of joy. It was proved that the general interest in landscapes has increased lately and people feel more positive and satisfied in the natural surroundings (Do 2019).

Nature locations can also be a part of human culture and religion. People of urban areas are interested in protecting and saving the areas they and their ancestors lived. Cultural similarities unite individuals and make them feel safe and social which is essential for human well-being. Lacy and Shackleton (2017) investigated the attitude of the population of a mid-sized city in South Africa towards the worship place. As the result, the majority of inhabitants (96%) claimed that the place garden, a worship place was important to them as it gives them the opportunity to better concentrate, relax, and feel more spiritually experienced (Lacy and Shackleton 2017).

This research emphasizes the significance of ecosystem services to the urban population and their different prioritization of natural resources. Considering the main concerns of various community groups should be an important goal on the way of reaching the decent quality of life by different people.

Cons of Prioritizing Ecosystem Services in Conservation

Conservation of ecosystem services has its disadvantages on the way of implementing it. As mentioned before, all the human actions tend to reach the most efficiency spending minimum effort. However, in any circumstances, the conservation planning takes redistribution of resources which leads to their shortage in other areas, time, and cost loss. Throughout the last decades, people have become witnesses of a significant increase in Payments for Ecosystem Services (PES). PES can be called a political instrument taking into action various programs that ensure ecosystem services.

Nowadays, there are more than 550 programs all over the world and an estimated US$36-42 billion in yearly transactions (Salzman et al. 2018). Sharing costs for ecosystem services might be unprofitable for the world’s economy as it will always be an investment for an endless period. The issue of conservation planning will remain central and unsolved within decades as human activity puts its impacts on the environment. It is hard to estimate the efficiency of the investments in ecosystem services conservation in a long-term perspective. Possibly, these costs spend on more efficient branches of the economy will bring a greater benefit to the population. Focusing on low-transaction costs should be a primary goal for humans as saving all extinct species is a utopic plan wasting resource, time, and energy. Analyzing the profits of the action before implementing the conservation plan will help enhance the strategy and reduce extra spending.

Moreover, the interference in the natural flow of events might be harmful to other species and organisms. Trying to save something essential for human well-being, people can easily destroy the other inhabitant’s area and conditions of life. The latter can lead to a chain of circumstances causing the extinction of various species which means it is harsh to estimate the further effects on the interconnected complex systems of nature. Before the intervention, humans must consider if their actions are valuable enough and worth risking the possible negative outcomes.

Moreover, not always rare kinds can affect ecosystem services and their protection will not influence significantly on the balance in it. The mass ration hypothesis claims that dominant species and their traits contribute the most to the ecosystem processes such as biomass accumulation and productivity as the energy goes through them (Dee et al. 2019). Rare species have also a lower possibility to be found and, for instance, included in the research. The impact species put into ecosystem services is calculated by several researchers by their number which also puts into the shade and less significance of rare species.

The influence of the latter might be significant, however, not always highlighted by the short-term studies. Still, some extinct species have unique functions that cannot be underestimated, and action should be taken especially under global changes. Studying the beneficiaries of rare species’ increase should show more profit comparing to other species becoming more vulnerable under new circumstances. Human resources should also be considered in the way of prioritizing ecosystem services in conservation. Time, effort, and the number of professionals working on the projects deserve to be taken care of and well-planned.

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Thus, the importance of prioritizing conservation planning has more advantages than disadvantages as it saved a variety of species that brings benefits to human well-being, economic growth, food, and water supply.

Ecosystem services are also an essential cultural and spiritual attribute of human life that provides them happiness, satisfaction, relaxation, and experience. Maintaining ecosystem services that provide the most profit to the society depending on the variety of their demands should be an inevitable part of current planning. The mutual goal of all the population is spending minimum effort and costs whilst receiving significant benefits. Spending time, effort, expenses on less profitable conservations will lead to losses and extra time spending. Interfering into the natural flow of mechanisms with no significant outcome might influence other species. Focusing on rare species oftentimes leads to zero profit as the impact on them in the ecosystem is very modest and small.

Literature cited

Burkhard B, Maes J (2017) Mapping ecosystem services. Pages 33-38. Pensoft Publishers, Sofia.

Dee LE, Cowles J, Isbell F, Pau S, Gaines SD, Reich PB (2019) When do ecosystem services depend on rare species? Trends in Ecology & Evolution, 34.

Do Y (2019) Valuating aesthetic benefits of cultural ecosystem services using conservation culturomics. Ecosystem Services 36.

Lacy PD, Shackleton C (2017) Aesthetic and spiritual ecosystem services provided by urban sacred sites. Sustainability 9.

Li Y, Zhang L, Yan J, Wang P, Hu N, Cheng W, Fu B (2017) Mapping the hotspots and coldspots of ecosystem services in conservation priority setting. Journal of Geographical Sciences 27.

Millennium Ecosystem Assessment (2005) Synthesis Reports. Web.

Pearson RG (2016) Reasons to conserve nature. Trends in Ecology & Evolution 31.

Salzman J, Bennett G, Carroll N, Goldstein A, Jenkins M (2018) The global status and trends of Payments for Ecosystem Services. Nature Sustainability 1.

Tan YM, Saunders JE, Yaakub SM (2018) A proposed decision support tool for prioritising conservation planning of Southeast Asian seagrass meadows: combined approaches based on ecosystem services and vulnerability analyses. Botanica Marina 61.

Watson K, Galford G, Sonter L, Koh I, Ricketts TH (2019) Effects of human demand on conservation planning for biodiversity and ecosystem services. Conservation Biology 33.

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