The category of supporting services is an important distinction to make when discussing the ecosystem services provided by a natural area.  The Millennium Ecosystem Assessment, which developed out of United Nations General Assemblies on ecosystem degradation and sustainable development in the early 2000s, has defined four broad categories of ecosystem services.  These are: supporting, regulating, provisioning and cultural services.  The following chapters will discuss these last three service categories at length, but first it is useful to become familiar with the supporting services of ecosystems.

Creating a distinct category for supporting services is useful and almost required because these services help create and sustain all other ecosystem services.  Supporting services are fundamentally different from the other three service categories in that they exist without relation to humans – their function is strictly ecological.  Though the other ecosystem services categories have direct correlation to increased human welfare and environmental quality, the supporting services themselves are strictly grounded in the earth sciences, sustaining the myriad of benefits arising from natural systems.  Examples of supporting services are soil formation, primary production and nutrient cycling, as well as many others that may be specific to a certain ecosystem type.

Supporting services provide the basic physical structure for the function of all other ecosystem services. Without these services life as we know it could not exist. Lake ecosystems have become a major target for conservation and remediation projects over the past several decades because of the essentially invaluable role they play in human survival. Lakes provide several of the most fundamental  services upon which all forms of life depend. These services include, but are not limited to, nutrient cycling, water cycling, heat regulation, habitat provision and primary production.

Lakes play an important role in absorbing heat energy. The absorption and retention of heat energy by lakes has a huge influence on local climates. Lake-effect, as it relates to Lake Champlain will be discussed in further detail below. Nutrient cycling is critical to maintaining soil fertility. It is essential to providing the appropriate balance of nutrients within am ecosystem (Lavelle, Dugdale & Scholes,). Water cycling, the hydrologic cycle, is perhaps the most important supporting service for humans since we simply cannot survive without access to freshwater. Lake ecosystems also serve as sinks, the only natural means of absorbing and recycling wastes. In addition to these ecosystem services, lakes support a large portion of the earth’s biodiversity. Genetic diversity is essential for adaptability and sustainability in the future (ILEC, 2005). An assessment of the Northern Highlands Lake District in Wisconsin found that biodiversity was one of the most under-valued ecosystem services (Carpenter, 2005). Lakes are vital to maintaining human well-being. Their benefits are not only felt at the local or basin level. The services that lakes provide benefit the global population as whole.

There are a number of reasons why Lake Champlain is an important area to protect and conserve. Lake Champlain has a variety of characteristics of specific importance.  First, its size; Lake Champlain covers 435 square miles of land, has 587 miles of shoreline, and contains approximately 6.8 quadrillion gallons of water. Much of Lake Champlain’s importance stems from the diversity of life forms it supports.  There are five distinct sections of Lake Champlain, each with their own biophysical characteristics.  These sections are: South Lake, Main Lake, Malletts Bay, The Inland Sea, and Missisquoi Bay (LCBP #1).  These different regions of the Lake support a diverse array of flora and fauna.  These include 20 species of reptiles, 318 species of birds, 81 species of fish, 14 species of mussels, and 56 different kinds of mammals.

Additionally, Lake Champlain supports a diverse array of people (LCBP #2).  The Lake Champlain Basin supports a population of some 571,000 people in two countries.  This number includes over 7,500 people living within the boundaries of Lake Champlain, in the County of Grand Isle Vermont (US Census Bureau).  Lake Champlain provides some essential functions for all of the basin’s inhabitants.  These services include economic/goods production, recreational and tourism opportunities as well as water quality improvement.  But it is important to remember that these ecosystem services arrive from a variety of supporting services, as identified by the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment.  Supporting services of Lake Champlain include nutrient cycling, the lake heating effect, sedimentation of floodplains, as well as habitat creation for the numerous species listed above.  As a result, the supporting services become very important aspects of the function of Lake Champlain, as well as all ecosystems in general, though they are often overlooked by policy makers and the public. The following links of this page are dedicated to further explaining some of the vital supporting services provided by Lake Champlain.

IV. Analysis of specific services

1. Nutrient Cycling – Samantha

2. Sedimentation, Fertility and Habitat Creation within Floodplains (Jeff)

3.  Primary Production (Casey)

4.  Lake-Effect (Ben)

V. References

Axler, Rich. “Lake Ecology Primer.” Water On The Web. University of Minnesota- Duluth, 03 Mar 2004. Web. 7 Apr 2010.   <>.

Bayley, P. (1999). Understanding Large River-Floodplain Ecosystems. BioScience, 45, 153-158.

Bolduc, V., & Kessel, H. (2008). Vermont in transition: a summary of social economic and environmental trends. Center for Social Science Research at Saint Michael’s College, Retrieved from

Carpenter, Steve. “The Northern Highlands Lake District, Wisconsin.” Millenium Ecosystem Assessment. 2005. Web. 28 Apr. 2010. <>.

Castelle, A.J., Johnson, A.W., & Conolly, C. (1994). Wetland and stream buffers. Environmental Quality, 23(1), 878-882.

Essington, T., & Carpenter, S. (2000). Nutrient Cycling in Lakes and Streams: Insights  from a Comparative Analysis. Ecosystems, 3, 131- 143.

ILEC. 2005. Managing Lakes and their Basins for Sustainable Use: A Report for Lake Basin managers and Stakeholders. International Lake Environment Committee Foundation. Kusatsu, Japan.

Johnson, C. W. (1998). Physiographic Regions of Vermont. The Nature of  Vermont: Introduction and Guide to a New England Environment (Green Mountain Power Books) (2 ed., pp. 25-35). Hanover, NH: University Press of New England.

LAKE CHAMPLAIN BASIN ATLAS: Climate. (n.d.). Lake Champlain Basin Program: Home. Retrieved April 19, 2010, from

Lavelle, P., Dugdale, R., & Scholes, R. (2005). Nutrient Cycling. Ecosystems  and Human Well-being: Current State and Trends (pp. 333-351). Washington: Island Press.

Millennium Ecosystem Assessment, 2005. ECOSYSTEMS AND HUMAN WELL-BEING: WETLANDS AND WATER Synthesis. World Resources Institute, Washington, DC.

McDowell, R.W. (2002). Land use and flow regime effects on phosphorus chemical dynamics in the fluvial sediment of the Winooski River, Vermont. Ecological Engineering. Vol. 18 Issue 4. p477.

Paul D. N. Hebert; Biodiversity Institute of Ontario; Mark McGinley;. 2007. “Physical environment of lakes.” In: Encyclopedia of Earth. Eds. Cutler J. Cleveland         (Washington,   D.C.: Environmental Information Coalition, National Council for    Science and the Environment). [First published in the Encyclopedia of Earth          November 1, 2007; Last revised November 1, 2007; Retrieved April 6,             2010]<>

Ripl, W. (1995). Management of Water Cycle and Energy Flow for Ecosystem Control: the Energy-   Transport-Reaction (ETR) Model. Ecosystem Modelling78, 61-76.

Spahr, Lana. “Ecological Mechanisms.” Growing Pains. 12 Mar 2010. Web. 18 Apr 2010. <>

Taguchi, K., & Nakata, K. (2009). Evaluation of biological water purification functions of inland lakes using an aquatic ecosystem model. Ecological Modelling, 220(18), 2255-2271. doi:10.1016/j.ecolmodel.2009.05.007.

Vanni, M. J., Bowling, A. M., Dickman, E. M., Hale, R. S., & Higgins, K. A. (206). “Nutrient Cycling by Fish Supports Relatively More Primary Production as Lake  Productivity Increases. Ecology, 87,   1696-1709.

Vereschi, E. (1982). Understanding Large River-Floodplain Ecosystems. Oecologia, 55, 81-101.

Winslow, M. (2008). Forces. Lake Champlain: A Natural History (First ed., pp. 59-76). Bennington: Images from the Past.