Ecological services can be broadly defined as being the benefits that arise from ecosystems. These benefits may be felt by the human population, or may apply more generally to other life forms, populations, habitats, and so on (Moseley, 2014). In other words, it is not only human benefit that needs to be considered when discussing ecological services, but also the benefits experienced by all living things. It is also worth noting that even benefits which are not experiences directly by human beings are often indirectly important to human society.
Rivers perform a number of important ecological services, but two of the most important are the recharge of groundwater, and the retention of nutrients (Living Rivers, 2010, n.p.). These are important firstly because they support biodiversity in surrounding regions, secondly because they support the human food chain through crop and livestock resources in river and wetland areas, and finally because they support human communities which rely on ground water supplies for sustenance.
In discussing the impact of human interference on these services, one study cites ‘nutrient cycling’ and ‘groundwater recharge and discharge’ as two important ecological services performed by river flooding, likely to be impacted negatively by human influence in the form of projects such as flood protection works (Bandyopadhyay, 2009, p. 86). Experts suggest that the decline of services such as these might result in significant consequences for both humans and the rest of the natural world (Moseley, 2014, p. 6).
One example of such consequences would be a decline in the quality of crops and grazing land in the vicinity of rivers affected by flood protection works. A second example would be a decline in the overall biodiversity of river and wetland ecosystems. Both of these would be results of the decline in nutrient cycling services. A final example might be inconsistent ground-water supplies for communities affected by such projects, showing how these systems impact human societies as well.
- Bandyopadhyay, J. (2009). Water, Ecosystems and Society: A Confluence of Disciplines. New Delhi, India: Sage Publications Pvt. Ltd.
- Living Rivers (2010). ‘Ecosystem Services of Rivers: Our Focus in 2013
- Moseley, William G. 2014. An Introduction to Human-Environment Geography: Local Dynamics and Global Processes. Hoboken, N.J.: Wiley-Blackwell, 2014.