Without biodiversity, we don’t have ecosystems—each a community of living things (plants, animals, and more) and their interactions with the environment (e.g. water, air, soil, minerals). These ecosystems are critical to our health and well-being. They provide us a number of benefits—also known as ecosystem services—that we often take for granted, such as clean drinking water, protection from floods, and the raw materials for food, shelter, clothing, and medicine. These benefits are often supplied by healthy, functioning ecosystems at no cost to us!
Alberta’s economic prosperity is strongly linked to nature’s bounty and the ongoing supply of a range of ecosystem services, for example:
Soil Nutrient Cycling
Productive, fertile soils are essential for the success of Alberta’s farmers and ranchers. All life above ground, including planted crops, depends on the activity of below ground biodiversity—such as bacteria, fungi, mites, worms, and ants—to break down organic matter and cycle nutrients back into the soil.
Ranchers in Alberta have been grazing their cattle on native grassland for over a century. The forage provided by native grassland is a critically important food source relied upon by ranchers to feed their livestock during the growing season. The value of forage produced by native prairie in Alberta is approximately $200 million.
Pollination Wild pollinators like bumblebees are incredibly efficient and effective at pollinating native plants and commercial crops. Wild pollinators nesting in natural areas within agricultural landscapes can promote the yield of nearby crops like canola and alfalfa, increasing revenue to farmers. And while domesticated honeybees are used for many commercial agricultural practices, they are not effective pollinators for all plants. Blueberries and tomatoes, for instance, need native bumblebee species for successful pollination.
"When did the bees last send you an invoice for pollination?"
-- Pavan Sukhdev
Trees from Alberta’s forest ecosystems generate timber that not only supply our sawmills and pulp mills, but also act as an important storehouse of carbon, which helps to mitigate the impacts of climate change.
Riparian and wetland habitats act as natural water filters by removing pollutants and sediments from water. Maintaining healthy aquatic habitat in our environment is easily the most cost-effective way of providing a clean and reliable source of drinking water (Stanton et al. 2010).
Camping, hiking, hunting, fishing, bird watching or berry picking–Albertans love to spend time in the great outdoors. Alberta’s natural areas provide any number of recreational opportunities, enhancing our quality of life.
Mapping our Resources
The ABMI Application Centre’s Ecosystem Services Assessment project is developing a system to map and assess ecosystem services across Alberta. This information will help us understand the supply of these services and how land use change might affect it, as well determine a value for ecosystem services, which could promote their inclusion in land-use planning processes.
Alberta’s biodiversity is all around us every day. It plays an enormous role in supporting our way of life. The ABMI provides the tools necessary to ensure that biodiversity is sustainably managed and remains a proud inheritance for future generations of Albertans.