Ecological Engineering in the Tropics

Costa Rica – MSU / UCR – December 27, 2014 – January 10, 2015

Ecosystem Services – Erica

Ecosystem Services


The definition of ecosystem services has evolved over the past decade because of recent research. The term encompasses human modified as well as natural ecosystems, physical benefits, aesthetic assets, and services that ecosystems can provide society. [1] The Millennium Ecosystem Assessment helped define ecosystem services by breaking down the services into four unique groups with similar benefits. [5]

1. Provisioning Services –  includes tangible goods that benefit society such as, food, fresh water, fiber, and fuel

2. Regulating Services- biophysical processes that control climate, water (floods and storms),disease regulation,air/water quality,pollination, erosion

3. Cultural Services- areas that are aesthetic, cultural, recreational, religious or spiritual, or tourism

4. Supporting Services- soil formation, nutrient cycling, and photosynthesis



Scientists are still developing how society affects ecosystem services but research on sustainable practices has helped to stress the importance of the environment in social and economic goals. Humans are benefiting from ecosystem services but increased consumption of goods and over speculation of land can stress the biodiversity that make these services possible [3]. According to the World Wildlife Foundation Living Planet Report 2012, the greatest direct pressures on biodiversity in ecosystem services can be summarized into the five groups: the loss, alteration, and fragmentation of habitats; exploitation of wild species’ populations; pollution; climate change; invasive species. The figure below depicts the factors affecting biodiversity as well the benefits they provide.[4]

Figure 1. Biodiversity Factors and Ecosystem Services, WWF Living Planet Report 2012

Figure 1. Biodiversity Factors and Ecosystem Services, WWF Living Planet Report 2012 [3]

Steps for Change

Costa Rica was one of the first nations to have government policy support ecosystem services. In 1996, lawmakers created the Forestry Law No. 7575. This law allowed payments for landowners who provided ecosystem services by reforestation, sustainable management of forests, preservation, and regeneration activities. The law recognized the importance of ecosystem services and the four significant services forest provides: habitats for biodiversity, aesthetic services, hydrological services, and carbon sequestration. The Forestry Law also banned the removal of natural forests for other needs such as mining or agriculture. All working forests were required to be placed under a government approved management plan.[2]


Some Examples of Ecosystem Services in Costa Rica

InBio: Provisioning and Cultural Services

Costa Rica’s National Biodiversity Institute located in San Jose offers tours of their park for education of the public and is protected area designed for conservation of many organisms. InBio also conducts research that aids in the formation of new drugs. InBio supports regulating, cultural, and supporting types of ecosystem services. [7]

A glimpse of the biodiversity in the InBio Park in San Jose

A glimpse of the biodiversity in the InBio Park in San Jose

 Wetland Systems, Fabio Project: Provisioning and Regulating Services

University of Costa Rica’s Fabio project is an example of ecosystem service that is a sustainable way to create bioenergy and effectively treat waste water. The thermophilic biodigester is heated by solar panels. It uses chicken and food waste to create biogas. The biogas is used as biochemical storage for solar energy. It also uses wetland and sand filter cells to treat the liquid waste before releasing to the surrounding ecosystem. The engineered wetland system is advantageous because it is very effective in water reclamation, is low cost and low maintenance, and provides habitats for many plants and animals. At Fabio, we saw many birds, crawfish, and plants that thrived in the engineered wetland system.

Learning about Engineered Wetland Systems at Fabio

Learning about Engineered Wetland Systems at Fabio

Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve: Cultural and Supporting Services

A picture of the view from the continental divide.

A picture of the view from the continental divide.



The Monteverde Bioloigcal Cloud Forest reserve is an example of sustainable tourism. People all over the world come to see the beauty of the biodiversity in this forest. The land is a private investment and in conservation. The tourism helps to fund not only the Monteverde but other biological reserves. The investment helps to protect the area from deforestation and is a well managed forest. [7]


Successful Ecosystem Services

It is the responsibility of the ecological engineer to design sustainable ecosystem services that will benefit both the environment and society. Using the “laws of nature” ecological engineers design systems the mimic, replicate or restore the surrounding ecosystem. After reading Ecological Engineering Design, 4 main ideals help to create the most successful ecosystem services. [8]

1. The greater the biodiversity, the better the ecosystem, the strong the ecosystem service

2. Integrated design processes are most successful because people ideas and ecosystem are working together

3. Technology is not always the solution to the problem

4. The best designs exploit natures capability to self-design


Related Links and Sources

[1] Irwin, Frances H, and Janet Ranganathan. Restoring Nature’s Capital: An Action Agenda to Sustain Ecosystem Services. Washington, DC: World Resources Institute, 2007. Internet resource.  <>

[2] Valuing Ecosystem Services: Capturing the True Value of Nature’s Capital. Washington, D.C.: Forest Service, U.S. Dept. of Agriculture, 2007. Internet resource. <>

[3] Oerlemans, Natasja. Living Planet Report 2012. S.l.: Wereld Natuur Fonds, 2012. Web. 24 Dec. 2014. <>.

[4] “More About Ecosystem Services.” More About Ecosystem Services. N.p., n.d. Web. 15 Jan. 2015. <>

[5] “Millennium Ecosystem Assessment.” Millennium Ecosystem Assessment. N.p., n.d. Web. 15 Jan. 2015. <>

[6] “INBioparque.” INBioparque. N.p., n.d. Web. 15 Jan. 2015. <>

[7] “Tropical Science Center.” Monteverde Cloud Forest Biological Reserve :. N.p., n.d. Web. 15 Jan. 2015. <>

[8]Morgan, Robert. “Ecosystem Services.” Ecological Engineering Design : Restoring and Conserving Ecosystem Services. By Marty D. Matlock. Hoboken: John Wiley & Sons, 2011. N. pag. ProQuest Ebrary. Web











One thought on “Ecosystem Services – Erica

  1. Here is a link to an article published by NewYork Times.
    Restored Forests Breathe Life Into Efforts Against Climate Change.

    Costa Rica is considered a forest success. Much of the country’s old-growth forest was lost from the 1940s to the 1980s, but then new policies stemmed the loss, and forests have regrown to cover more than half the country. Serious threats persist, including a boom in pineapple farming that gives landowners an incentive to cut down recovering forest plots.

    Liked by 1 person

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