NBS and Ecosystem Services & Biodiversity

Biodiversity

Biodiversity (biological diversity) is the variety, abundance and genetic variation of all life on Earth, including plants, animals, fungi and various types of microorganisms (e.g., bacteria, protists). Biodiversity can be considered on different levels, from the genetic, to species, to ecological communities.

Planning for biodiversity  involves detailed population and habitat assessments, studies of the species and its reproductive habits, and developing a plan that protects the habitat (food, shelter, water) needed by the species to ensure its survival. 

The two largest threats to biodiversity are habitat loss and habitat fragmentation. By their nature, nature-based solutions (NBS) contribute directly to biodiversity, both in the plants they entail and the wildlife they can attract and support. In urban settings, green spaces, including both community or municipal NBS and private yards, contribute to biodiversity conservation and help to reconnect urban citizens to nature.

The 2016 Census of Canada showed that 83% of Albertans live in urban settings. Implementing NBS in urban settings not only supports the restoration of biodiversity in built environments but also delivers human health and climate mitigation benefits. 

Nature-based solutions (NBS) protect, restore or introduce nature into urban and periurban areas, which provides opportunities for biodiversity to increase and ecosystems to support species at risk.

Ecosystem Services

An ecosystem is a geographic area wherein all life (including plants, animals, fungi, and microorganisms) and non-living factors (such as weather and landscape) interact and are interconnected. The term “ecosystem services” refers to the ecological processes that delivery a variety of benefits to humans. While the idea of nature often conjures images of wilderness, nature also exists in our cities and ecosystems associated with urban nature contribute to biodiversity as well as human health and wellbeing, recreation and social cohesion. 

Examples of ecosystem services provided by urban nature include food production, clean water, clean air, regulation of floods and climate, reduction of the ill effects of urban heat islands, recreational and social opportunities, and the natural cycles which support soil formation, nutrient cycling and overall biodiversity. Ecosystem services also include cultural services: recreational, spiritual, religious and other intangible benefits. 

By protecting existing natural spaces and elements (such as native urban forests, existing trees, greenspaces, wetlands, and waterways) or through the establishment of natural elements in urban and periurban areas, NBS support ecosystems and the provision of ecosystem services. They provide resources, regulate temperature and precipitation, create habitats, benefit human health, and can generate opportunities for social and cultural activities. 

This table outlines the benefits to society that ecosystem services supported by the implementation of NBS can provide:

Ecosystem Service

Benefits to Society

Climate moderation & greenhouse gas sequestration

Moderation of the impact of anthropogenic climate change and its resulting impacts (i.e., moderation of extreme weather events, extreme drought/flooding, increasing populations of invasive insects, heat island effect of cities)

Ecosystem succession

Establishment and development of different ecosystem types adapted to different geographic areas and conditions, establishment and restoration of naturalized landscapes; aesthetic, human health, recreational and real estate marketability benefits provided by such naturalized landscapes

Flood attenuation/mitigation

Protecting flood mitigation/attenuation processes reduces water runoff that can cause floods and damage to infrastructure and property

Groundwater infiltration and aquifer recharge

Decrease in flooding that can cause damage to infrastructure and property, recharge of groundwater supplies that are used by humans

Nutrient cycling and sequestration

Decomposition of dead plant and animal material; uptake and storage of nutrients (e.g., in soil, plants) that could otherwise cause water quality problems that could impact drinking water supplies and recreational opportunities

Pollination

Increased yield of agricultural crops

Predator-prey relationships

Overall maintenance of wildlife populations, prevention of population explosions of potentially damaging species (e.g., browsers, crop pests)

Soil building

Increased soil fertility to enhance productivity of agricultural crops and vegetation in natural areas; compensates for loss of topsoil and fertility due to erosion

Water cycling

Infiltration of water into the soil promotes subsurface irrigation of crops and plant communities; infiltration into groundwater recharges aquifers; evapotranspiration of water from plants provides atmospheric humidity and reduces excess runoff; provision of moisture in atmosphere maintains local hydrologic patterns and precipitation

Water purification

Natural water purification processes (e.g., via wetlands, soil infiltration) protect water quality of surface and groundwater reserves

Wildlife movement

Allowing wildlife movement supports healthy and genetically diverse wildlife populations

Ahern, J., E. Leduc & M. L. York. 2006. Biodiversity Planning and Design. Island Press, Washington, D.C.

Bolund, P. & Hunhammar, S. 1999. Ecosystem services in urban areas. Ecological Economics 29: 293–301

Cohen-Shacham, E., Walters, G., Janzen, C., Maginnis, S. (Eds.). 2016. Nature-Based Solutions to Address Global Societal Challenges. IUCN, Gland, Switzerland, pp. 97

Eggermont, H., Balian, E., Azevedo, J. M. N., Beumer, V., Brodin, T., Claudet, J., Fady, B.,  Grube, M., Keune, H., Lamarque, P., Reuter, K., Smith, M., van Ham, C., Weisser, W. W., and Le Roux, X. 2015. Nature-based Solutions: New Influence for Environmental Management and Research in Europe. GAIA 24(4): 243 - 248

Fisher, B., Costanza, R., Turner, R. K., Morling, P. 2007. Defining and classifying ecosystem services for decision making, CSERGE Working Paper EDM, No. 07-04. University of East Anglia, The Centre for Social and Economic Research on the Global Environment (CSERGE), Norwich

Kabisch, N., Frantzeskaki, N., Pauleit, S., Naumann, S., Davis, M., Artmann, M., Haase, D., Knapp, S., Korn, H., Stadler, J., Zaunberger, K., & Bonn, A. 2016. Nature-based solutions to climate change mitigation and adaptation in urban areas: perspectives on indicators, knowledge gaps, barriers, and opportunities for action. Ecology and Society 21(2):39

Keesstra, S., Nunes, J., Novara, A., Finger, D., Avelar, D., Kalantari, Z., & Cerdà, A. 2018. The superior effect of nature based solutions in land management for enhancing ecosystem services. Science of the Total Environment 610–611: 997–1009

Vajjhala S. and Roy, D. 2020. Mobilizing Capital for Natural Infrastructure in Canada: A guide for project champions. International Institute for Sustainable Development