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Birds helping humans: birds roles in ecosystems and ecosystem services

Updated on February 13, 2018
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She loves to write about science, the natural world and peoples questions about life. She has degrees in Biology, botany and Ecology.

By Mirna Santana

What is ecosystem services? Ecosystem services are the benefits humans receive from the ecosystems. These includes water, air, wood products, beauty, food and more. These services were defined by the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment (MEA) a report released in 2005, which was the result of more than a 1000 scientist working together to evaluate the environment and the human component.

Ecosystem services provided by birds include: provisioning (for example food), regulating (for example, participating in the cycling of nutrients); cultural (people identify with birds, for example, in the U.S., the bald eagle represent the strength of the country); other types of services are calling supporting services (e.g., birds serve as pollinators for crops and also control pest).

Roles of birds in the ecosystem:

  • predators
  • pollinators
  • scavengers
  • seed eaters/seed dispersers
  • prey or food for other species (or humans/recreational activities such as hunting)
  • ecosystem engineers (some species have the ability to transform/or drive ecosystem change)
  • other services driven by bird behavior: participation on nutrient cycling, feeding nutrients to plants. In some urban areas, the presence of excess of birds such as geese in nearby lakes may cause pollution or health concerns. By contrast, the presence of birds in other areas, e.g., eagles or kingfish in a river attract tourists.
  • Other services: birds can benefit agriculture (by controlling pest or providing pollination services to crops such as grapes or coffee); birds may cause crop loses by predating in a cash crop.
  • Migratory birds participate in ecosystem process at broad scales. They may transfer products from an area to another. Birds have been linked to the spread of invasive species at regional levels and to the spread of zootic/animal transmitting diseases such as viruses.

I did not attach a value in dollars, because it is not readily available. Bird watching alone drive tourists all over the world and represent a source of income for many businesses and localities. Millions of dollars are added to the economy by bird watching alone (airlines, hotels, local tourist guide agencies, restaurants, national parks and private land owners are among those who benefit from birds.) Places that are highly valuable for birdwatchers include wetlands, coastal zones, and tropical forest. Many people however travel to places like Maine to watch birds such as puffins. Other people may choose to go to the Galapagos island to learn about the birds that inspiring Darwin's famous theory of natural selection.

Adding birdwatching to services like pollination of flowers that is required for the production of fruits and the control of pest, which prevents crops losses and as well as diseases would drive the ecosystem services given by birds probably to the order of billions. However, for services such as crop pollination and insect predation, it is difficult to calculate the overall, or even the regional role of birds for the economy.

Ecosystem Services by bats controlling pest are calculated to be around 3 billions/year. Yet perhaps this number has been underestimated said Paul Cryan, USGS. Bats pollination, seed dispersal, insect controlling services or just their own value as mammals within ecosystems is not known. Because birds outnumber bats, their overall contribution to ecosystem service probably double the contribution of bats.

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