12 Days of Ecosystem Services

Ring in the holidays with our ecological take on 12 Days of Ecosystem Services!  Here is the science behind the lyrics:

Heat protection from urban trees

Urban forests are valued at $4 billion dollars per year.  Their shade can reduce how hot we feel vs how hot the air temperature is by 44–60 degrees!  Modeling studies have shown that trees can reduce air conditioning costs by 20-80% for detached homes.  Plus, trees increase property values, contribute to active lifestyles, and provide oxygen.  

Pollinated food crops

Over one third (35%) of all food crops require pollination by insects, or “entomophily.”  Not to mention the countless flowering species that strengthen environmental resilience through their biodiversity and sustain pollinators throughout the year.  But, pollinators and their plants are under threat.  

Digestion microbes

It’s a familiar process: food goes in, gut microbiota break it down, our bodies take the nutrients, and waste comes out.  We are only now beginning to identify and understand the ~4 pounds of diverse microbe species that live inside us (that are unique to our bodies).  Learn more about Dr. Erin McKenney’s work on guts.

Mussel-cleaned rivers

The livers of the rivers, freshwater mussels take in water, filter through it to take in nutrients, and push out purified water.  During that process, they also collect contaminants and do not release them back into the water (see Jennifer Archambault’s PhD research).  Each mussel can process a half-gallon jug of water per day, and one mussel bed in southeast Pennsylvania removed 26 metric tons of solids from the water in a single summer – that’s 11 city buses worth of stuff!

Oxygen from algaeeee!

Take a breath – 70-80% of the oxygen you just inhaled came from algae.  These overlooked oxygen-producing powerhouses are critical to nearly all ecosystems, which is why the Center of Applied Aquatic Ecology is constantly at work teasing out the mysteries of these single-celled superstars.  

Pest control from wasps

Common, native wasps feast on pests that plague food crops.  This new research supports field observation by Jonathan, Becky, and Elsa – who have found that bee hotel rooms occupied by wasps are sometimes crammed with caterpillars.

Mosquito control from fishes

The 25,000 fish species worldwide provide us many ecosystem services, including mosquito control.  Fishes also make some pretty nutrient-rich waste, which we’re putting to use in the greenhouses at the Fish Barn.

Marsh shore protection 

Mangroves, marshes, oyster reefs, and dunes all naturally stabilize and protect shorelines.  Without them, coastal communities face steep infrastructure costs to maintain beaches and protect buildings, like the $1.3 billion spent on beach renourishments in Florida.

Shredders clearing streams

Shredder insects, like larval crane flies and caddisflies, break down organic materials that fall into streams.  Urban streams that lack the biodiversity to support shredders end up with unprocessed leaf litter and other detritus that can clog waterways and damage structures further downstream.  Check out Dr. Alonso Ramirez’s research on the urban streams in Puerto Rico.

Corridors for critters

Conserving mobile animals like birds, butterflies, and bees can be a costly process, but wildlife corridors provide natural linkages that benefit these species (that then go on to benefit us, hello pollinators!).   

Sourdoughs from yeasts

Our breads and fermented foods rely on microbial yeasts that occur naturally in our surrounding environment.  You can help us understand how these microbes make our daily bread by checking out the Dunn Lab’s projects and joining #TeamSourdough.

Woodrat composting

Woodrat nests are highly maintained compost areas that store seeds, nutrients, and endangered woodratsWoodrat areas have some of the best soils in the environment since they make their nests by hoarding sticks and other debris and help revive forests after storms.  

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