Ecological services refer to the functions of healthy ecosystems that serve all living organisms through the proper purification of air, water, decomposition of wastes, soil, and regulation, regeneration, and renewal of natural resources. Ecological services therefore, include services such as environmental modification, soil and air purification, nutrient and chemical recycling, production of materials, pollination, detoxification of pollutants, pest control, prevention of soil erosion, and genetic diversity. Thus, ecological services therefore, involves the working of natural systems which purifies the atmosphere, provide material resources and food.
In discussing the concept of ecological services, aspects of the effect of human activities on the ecosystems cannot be ignored. Indeed, biodiversity loss and ecosystem degradation have been primarily caused by human activities, either directly or indirectly. Such activities include land conversion, climate change, pollution, natural resource extraction, increased human population, increased production of waste and pollutants, urbanization, and international conflict in the distribution of wealth and resources. Ecological services of rivers are a very important aspect in the daily life of living beings. A wide range of human activities are dependent on the rivers and the ecological importance they have. However, these ecological services have been affected by a number of human activities especially in areas with high population density, concentrated industrial activities, and intensive agricultural activities.
Rivers serve important ecological purposes such as supply of fresh water, which supports ecosystems with diverse life forms that together with water provide goods and services of critical importance to human societies. Rivers therefore, serve the ecological function of providing fresh, clean water that is essential for not only human consumption, but also every other living organism. Freshwater ecosystems are the source of water, which is subsequently treated and distributed to users for consumption. In less developed countries, such water is even taken without treatment due to lack of treatment facilities and proper treatment methods (Aldo, 1968).
Another important function that is provided by rivers is the habitat for other water animals and plants commonly referred to as marine life. Rivers therefore act as habitats by providing suitable living space for wild plants and animal species. It helps in the maintenance of biological diversity. These ecological functions are the most important ecological services provided by the rivers. Firstly, the provision of fresh, clean drinking water promotes good health in all living beings, thereby sustaining a healthy environment. Secondly, clean water promotes good agricultural production, thus, leading to food security and self-sustenance. Finally, the provision of a habitat for wild plants and animals allows the preservation of biodiversity and thereby promoting the proper working of the ecosystem.
As mentioned earlier, human activities have the most negative impact on ecological systems, and as such the ecological function of the ecosystem has been affected greatly by such activities. In the case of the ecological services provided by the rivers, a significant number will be most affected. The supply of fresh and clean water will be affected by human activities, especially in areas with high population densities. As a result of pollution and other human activities like poor agricultural activities on river banks, fresh water may not be available easily. This can also be as a result of industrial activities near rivers which pollute them. This will in turn affect the supply of water for consumption, which will in turn have an impact on global food production based on artisanal and commercial fisheries, aquaculture floodplain regression, and agriculture and pastoral animal husbandry. The supply of polluted water is already a reality in many parts of the world. Similarly, the impact of such activities will also destroy the habitats of wild plants and animals. This will lead to destruction of the biodiversity existence which is supported by rivers and thus, affecting the genetic existence of such plants and animals. Finally, human activities may lead to the disappearance of rivers altogether and thereby bringing an end to the ecological services provided by such rivers (William, 2008).
In conclusion, the importance of the ecological services to human beings cannot be overstated. The proper functioning of an ecosystem means a proper living of a human being in a well purified environment with clean air, clean water, decomposition of waste, and many other services.