Regulating services

Regulating services consist of ecosystem processes that maintain environmental conditions favourable to life. The most important of these are the cycling of substances and ensuring of the reproduction of organisms. Some regulating services are less vital, but still beneficial to humans such as the abatement of noise and pollution by trees and plants in cities.

Regulating services are often silent and rather invisible processes, which significance becomes apparent only there is something wrong with them: When there is too much water somewhere or when the water is dirty; when the climate is getting too warm and unpredictable; when fruit and berry crops fail because there were not enough pollinators.

We know quite little of many regulating services. Even the understanding of basic processes may be defective let alone that we could monitor their scale and development in satisfactory ways.

There are no markets for most regulating services. In the economy they have been traditionally considered as externalities that do not enter equations. Thus they have been often subject to what has been famously described as the Tragedy of the Commons* – individuals depleting a shared resource out of rational self-interest in the absence of a mechanism to regulate its use.

The most important regulating services are mostly the same in Finland than in other countries. Possibly the most important is the cycling of carbon between the atmosphere and other parts of bio- and geospheres. Contrary to most other regulating services, a market mechanism is developing related to carbon in the form of emissions trading.

Several other regulating services are just about as important for life as carbon cycle. In Finland, the retention and filtration of water is crucial for many human activities. From the point of view agriculture the fixation of nitrogen by the root nodules of several plant species as well as the maintenance of favourable soil conditions by earthworms and other soil organisms are central regulating services.


* Hardin, G. 1968. The Tragedy of the Commons. Science162 (3859): 1243–1248.




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