Introduction to Provisioning Services; Agriculture.
Authors: Christa Gowen & Claire Laudis
Webmaster: Christa Gowen
According to the Millenium Ecosystem Assessment’s Global Assessment Report, provisioning services are defined as “the products people obtain from ecosystems, such as food, fuel, fiber, fresh water, and genetic resources.” These provisioning services are made possible by the underlying supporting services like nutrient cycling and soil formation. They strongly affect human well-being in a variety of ways, but most especially by providing basic materials for life and contributing to humankind’s health. Agriculture and food production specifically are some of the most important provisioning services of the ecosystem because they are critical for survival, essential for health and well-being, and provide a source of jobs and income for individuals.
The provisioning services provided by agriculture are also interrelated to the regulating services provided by the environment, such as soil fertility and pollination. They help determine the quantity and quality of agricultural output. However, certain farming practices can disturb the environment and negatively affect the functioning of ecosystems, inhibiting the services they provide. Agriculture often requires the clearing of land and loss of other types of ecosystems along with the vital services they provide. Services lost include stabilizing water flows as well as reducing surface runoff and soil salinization. In turn ecosystem services can often be harmful to agricultural production in regards to pests and weeds that inhibit production.
Agriculture can also contribute to ecosystem services by maintaining genetic diversity with crops. Genetic diversity can increase biodiversity and improve productivity as well as prevent catastrophic crop loss. Ecosystem services do not only benefit humans and all living creatures they can also benefit agriculture. Benefits include providing such services as climate regulation, which regulates temperature and precipitation, and maintaining stable climates. Overall, ecosystem services and the provisioning services provided by agriculture are interconnected and can both negatively and positively affect each other (Zhang, 2007).
Agriculture plays a crucial role in Vermont’s economy with 6,700 farms including dairy farms. 1.34 million acres in Vermont are devoted to agriculture and although there is great variation the average size of a farm is 200 acres. Vermont produces 495,000 gallons of maple syrup annually as well as 1 million Christmas trees, and a large amount of beef, milk, and cheese. Vermont also has an active greenhouse, nursery, and landscape industry contributing to land use and the Vermont economy (New England Reports and Statistics). All of these forms of agriculture provide provisioning services as well as affect and are affected by ecosystem services.
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II. Context of lake ecosystems within this broad service category
Lake ecosystems specifically provide a number of valuable provisioning services including acting as a source of food and water. Lakes also provide water for irrigation of food and fiber crops. They are also important for energy production. They work to create an environment for many different types of species, including flora and fauna (Ecosystems and Human Well-Being: Wetlands and Water, Synthesis, MEA). Unfortunately the health of lake basins around the world are suffering and as this trend continues, the services provided by agriculture are threatened (ILEC, 2007).
There have been ecosystem assessments done of lakes around the world, and from their data useful approaches to dealing with the problems that Lake Champlain faces. For instance, in the Philippines an ecosystem assessment of the Laguna Lake Basin was conducted, that focused especially on the impact of agriculture towards the ecosystem services provided by the lake (Abasolo, 2005). In coastal Sweden, efforts are being made to reduce the eutrophication that reaches the watershed by introducing landscape planning scenarios. These efforts have been completed successfully and give a model to follow for agricultural land use planning (Arheimer, 2004). Additionally, the watersheds in the Upper Midwest of the US have been studied by University of Wisconsin ecologists. In particular they have focused on how agriculture impacts the ecosystem services and their subsequent longevity (Zedler, 2003). Finally, in Spain, land degradation, caused by agriculture has led to disruptions in the ecosystem services through run-off and erosion and these effects have been studied and documented (Hein, 2007).
Abasolo, W.P. (2005). Ecosystems and people. Manuscript submitted for publication, College of Forestry and Natural Resources , University of the Philippines Los Baños , Laguna, Laguna, Philippines. Retrieved from http://www.millenniumassessment.org/documents_sga/Philippine%20SGA%20Report.pdf
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III. Context of Lake Champlain within the broad service category
The provisioning services provided by agriculture in Vermont, New York and Quebec are dependent on the health and viability of Lake Champlain. Likewise, Lake Champlain is affected by the agriculture that occurs within the watershed. Agriculture has many positive externalities; it produces food, creates jobs, keeps land out of development, provides for agro-tourism, etc., many of which we depend on for survival. However, there are also lots of negative externalities associated with agriculture.
For instance there is a problem of eutrophication especially in the upper stretches of Lake Champlain in the St. Albans Bay where a large majority of the surrounding land use is for agricultural purposes. This eutrophication is also associated with yearly algal blooms (www.saintalbanswatershed.org). As a result of eutrophication (especially caused by phosphorus), a loss of biodiversity within the lake itself occurs (Vitousek, 1997).
There is also the problem of pollution cost created by excess nutrients and the disruption that they create. For example, excess synthetic nitrogen, applied as a fertilizer to fields leads to great disruptions in the global nitrogen cycle, which results in a lack of biodiversity, lowered oxygen availability and eutrophication in lakes and rivers (Vitousek, 1997). Additionally there is the cost of including best management practices, like buffers designed to control both toxin and nutrient levels as well as reduce erosion (Meals, 1996).
Finally there is damage from pesticides and herbicides used by farmers. However, research shows that farmers are aware, and even willing to spend more money when possible to make choices that are healthier for the environment and result in less toxins reaching the lake (Beach, 1993).
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