Humans are more dependent upon ecosystem services and biodiversity than ever before, according to researchers. A new study has demonstrated that human well-being derived from three major ecosystem services has been increasing in 152 countries, particularly in countries considered to be biodiversity hotspots.
With economic development, humans have placed greater demands on resources through their dependency on ecosystem services (ES), such as timber, water provision and biomass production. This has degraded ecosystems and reduced biodiversity.
The study aimed to answer the question, 'are humans still so dependent on ecosystems?' The researchers analysed three indicators of human well-being provided by ecosystems in 152 countries. 92 of these countries were biodiversity hotspots (countries with a significant amount of biodiversity threatened by humans) and 60 were non-hotspot countries. The indicators of well-being derived from ES were: (i.) production of wood; (ii.) production of hydroelectricity, which depends on river flow; and (iii.) investment in tourism, which depends on the cultural and aesthetic value of an area.
Between 1980-2005 the annual growth rates of wood production, hydroelectricity generation and tourism investment were higher in hotspot countries (5.2, 9.1 and 7.5 per cent, respectively) than in non-hotspot countries (3.4, 5.9 and 5.6 per cent). This growth was related to annual Gross Domestic Product (GDP), particularly in hotspot countries where the GDP grew more rapidly alongside the growth in indicators of well-being derived from ES.
However, when growth rate was considered on a per capita basis, a slightly different picture emerged. Hydropower and tourism investment were still higher in hotspot countries (5.3 and 6.1 per cent) than in non-hotspot countries (3.5 and 4.3 per cent), but per capita wood production growth was lower in hotspot countries (1 per cent) than in non-hotspot countries (1.4 per cent). Growth in all three indicators was greater in developing countries with biodiversity hotspots, such as China and Ethiopia, than in industrialised countries with hotspots, such as Spain and New Zealand.
The findings indicate that dependence of humans on cultural ES (as represented by tourism investment) has increased and is likely to increase more rapidly than dependence on ES providing regulatory functions, such as water flow (as represented by hydroelectricity). Dependence on provisioning services, such as timber (as represented by wood production), has reduced and is likely to continue to reduce. The results also indicate that humans can benefit more from ecosystems and biodiversity that are well conserved, since the overall growth of the three indicators was greater in biodiversity hotspots.
Overall the study suggests that economic growth has made humans more dependent upon ecosystems and biodiversity and this trend is most prevalent in developing countries with biodiversity hotspots. As such, these countries need to build their conservation ability and the research recommended that economic and conservation policies should be developed with the increased dependency of humans on ES in mind and the relationship of ES to economic growth.
The study has provided a starting point for understanding the connections between ecosystems and human well-being, but more research is needed, especially as only three indicators were examined.