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06.03.22

Why Ecosystems Matter

Author: Apeel Team

Take a second and think of your favorite spot in nature. Maybe it’s in a forest, among grasslands, or on a beach...

Can you picture it? Can you hear it?

Maybe you hear waves crashing or wind blowing through some leaves, or see dappled sunlight filtering through tree branches or glinting off a placid lake surface. Perhaps a cacophony of different bird songs and insects’ buzzes echo in your ears. Or some small animal darts to and fro behind flowering bushes. And, think about all that you can’t see and hear: microorganisms tunneling through the soil under your feet; tree roots stretching every which direction, drinking up water from the soil; sleeping egrets nestled high up in a nest amongst tree branches. 

This harmonic landscape is a manifestation of the complex ecosystems that many of us interact with every day.

In the simplest (and broadest) sense, an ecosystem consists of all the organisms and the physical environment with which they interact. The biotic (living) and abiotic (non-living) components are linked together through chemical and nutrient processes. Plants photosynthesize, taking energy from the sun to build themselves up. Animals consume plants or other animals, and when they die, decomposition returns nutrients and carbon molecules to the soil and atmosphere. 

Should you care about ecosystems? If you don’t like the way a certain tree looks, a bug that bites you, or the sound of a particular bird call, should you worry if any of those species get removed from your favorite spot?

To put it simply: yes, you should. We all should.

Setting aside moral arguments over a plant or animal species’ right to exist, there are pragmatic reasons to preserve the diversity of ecosystems found across the globe.

One perspective is on the value that ecosystems provide for society. As noted by the National Wildlife Federation, the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment – a major UN-sponsored effort to analyze the impact of human actions on ecosystems and human well-being – identified four major categories of ecosystem services: provisioning, regulating, supporting, and cultural services.

Provisioning services cover anything that is extracted from the ecosystem that provides a benefit to people, such as food, fuel, textile materials, and medicinal plants. But beyond pure extraction, we benefit from many basic services provided by ecosystems that make life possible; these are called regulating services - processes that moderate natural phenomena such as pollination, water purification, erosion control, carbon sequestration, and decomposition.

Supporting services are those basic functions fundamental to sustaining life on earth that we often take for granted: photosynthesis, nutrient cycling, soil creation, and water cycling. These processes also form the backbone of our modern agricultural practices and are essential to global food production. Without these supporting services, provisioning and regulating services wouldn't exist. 

Lastly, ecosystems play a role in local, national, and global cultures, providing non-material benefits that contribute to the cultural, intellectual, and social development of people. Throughout human history, our species was not separate from, but rather an active participant in ecosystems, and derived countless cultural services from them. Even today, many of us choose to recreate and spend time in nature. The ecosystems shaped us as we shaped them.

Despite the incredible importance of ecosystems, we face challenges in preserving them. To feed a growing global population, we’ve converted more and more native ecosystems into farmland. While ecosystems are dynamic entities, meaning they are subject to periodic disturbances and are always in the process of recovering from some past disturbance, they can only remain resilient for so long before irreversible damage is done. 

What can be done?

One way to preserve ecosystems is to look at how we are producing food. Of the different agricultural production philosophies that exist, most generally fall within a range of land sparing” and “land sharing.” Land sparing more closely resembles much of what we’ve done in recent history, in which agricultural production is intensified to minimize the amount of land that needs to be used in production. Land sharing takes the opposite approach by expanding the amount of land in production but making the land more hospitable for other species.

However, regardless of sparing or sharing, food waste causes more land to be converted than what is necessary. With a world population on track to reach 10 billion by 2050, we cannot afford to waste more food or squander the ecosystem services that support food production. Less food waste means that less land needs to be used to generate the same amount of food. That’s where Apeel can help: by extending the shelf life of fresh produce, Apeel gives producers, retailers, and consumers more time to help prevent food waste. 

So the next time you are out in nature, pay close attention. You are witnessing nature’s wondrous machinations; an ecosystem teeming with life has benefits beyond what we might initially perceive. Join us in helping to preserve critical habitats by helping fight food waste with Apeel-Protected Produce. Find some in a store near you!

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