Ecosystem Services

Benefits that people and economies derive from ecosystems are sometimes called "environmental services" or "ecological services". Examples include freshwater, timber, fisheries, genetic resources, climate regulation, protection against natural hazards and pests, erosion control and recreation. Agricultural systems and the environment often have a deep connection that is both symbiotic and dynamic.

Observing the landscape as a whole (vineyards, cellars, biological area mosaics, agricultural land, rural land, urban, semi-urban and suburban areas) it becomes evident that ecological processes are happening at all levels. Many of these ecological processes operate at the level of a river basin (catchment) or at a regional level, on a scale that is larger than the size of the vineyard and the individual farm.

Ecosystem Services

To speak of the essential goods and services of ecosystems is to speak of the goods that are produced by farmers, oenologists, foresters and others:

  • Food, wine, olive oil, fibre, wood, biomass and industrial raw materials such as essential oils, etc.

On the other hand, examples of ecosystem services include:

  • Cleaning the water and air, storing and recycling nutrients, pollinating crops and natural vegetation, cultivating and maintaining soils, detoxifying and decomposing waste, as well as the aesthetic component, such as natural beauty itself.

The concept of ecosystem management recognises that people are an integral part of the ecosystem, as well as having a significant impact on the structure and processes of the ecosystem. It also recognises that people depend on and interact with the ecological, economic and social systems in which they live. The main objectives of ecosystem management are to:

  • Maintain the integrity of the ecosystem;
  • Sustain regional biodiversity;
  • Incorporate community values in the design and implementation of a sustainability strategy.

A case study on biodiversity loss and agricultural supply chains

Agricultural production depends on biodiversity and ecosystem services. Dependencies on ecosystem services include:

  • Local water holding capacity,
  • Recycling of soil nutrients by microorganisms,
  • Local and global climate stability,
  • Genetic variability in crops,
  • Pollination and pest control services provided by insects and other animals.

However, agriculture creates highly modified and usually more simplified ecosystems. Yet the relationship between biodiversity and natural ecosystems with agricultural production is constant and dynamic. These interactions are complex and subject to great instability.

The figure below illustrates some of the actual economic costs incurred as a result of this instability.

Ecosystem Services - economic cost

These economic costs affect the entire value chain, either:

  • Producers - through reduced income;
  • Processing companies - with interruptions in supply and increase in the price of raw materials;
  • Retailers – with increasing investment in biodiversity risk assessment related to suppliers, products and by dedicating more resources responding to campaigns (e.g. of NGOs that target specific product ranges).


And from the vineyard? What services can we get?

Ecosystem services in the vineyard:

“Bees can't pollinate, nor can trees store carbon, if they have all died ... Diverse systems are better at capturing carbon, storing water and preserving fisheries. Just how diverse an ecosystem has to be in order to supply the goods and services needed by man is a matter of debate—a debate made harder by the fact that many species may have uses that man has not yet found.” The Economist, 2008

Managing a vineyard means managing an ecosystem in which the vine is the dominant species. However, this system does not need to be a monoculture. With higher diversity, more Ecosystem Services will be provided and with better quality.

Ecosystem services in the vineyard

Examples of Vineyard Ecosystem Services are:

  • Control of pests and diseases;
  • Production of crops;
  • Habitat maintenance;
  • Hydrological cycle;
  • Filtration / sequestration of water, carbon, etc.;
  • Soil formation;
  • Tourism and recreation;
  • Culture, sense of belonging.

The management strategy of creating cover crops between rows is one way to transform the vineyard ecosystem into a diverse and multifunctional ecosystem, rich in Ecosystem Services. In the scheme below, the example of the cover crop and its beneficial effects in the vineyard is presented.

Cover crops

For more information about cover crops, see "Advantages of cover crops"

Some ecosystem services are more obvious than others. Those we consume directly, such as food and raw materials, are valued economically in the markets. On the other hand, services such as pollination and the nutrient cycle, are harder to quantify although they play essential roles in the support of life. This lack of, or difficulty in valuation, threatens the long-term provision of such services. Our ability to benefit from ecosystem services in the future clearly depends on their understanding, appreciation, valuation and correct management.