Stewardship of Ecosystems: Definition & Explanation

Instructor: David Wood

David has taught Honors Physics, AP Physics, IB Physics and general science courses. He has a Masters in Education, and a Bachelors in Physics.

Learn about stewardship of ecosystems: what is, how we use it to provide resilience to ecosystems, and how you can be an environmental steward. Complete the quiz to see what you've learned.

What Is Stewardship of Ecosystems?

Stewardship of ecosystems, otherwise known as environmental stewardship, is the use and protection of natural environments in responsible ways. This includes conservation and sustainable practices. The ultimate goal is to enhance ecosystem resilience, while simultaneously enhancing human well-being. Many charities do this by planning and managing natural areas.

What is resilience? Well, resilience is the ability of an ecosystem to respond to a disturbance or change and recover, ideally back to its original state or function. That disturbance could be the introduction of an exotic species, natural disasters, or human impacts like deforestation or mining.

Deforestation of the jungle
Deforestation of the jungle

There are many rationales behind stewardship of ecosystems. Some see it as simply a moral imperative. Perhaps a religious person might say that it is a matter of being respectful to their creator. Many others just see the natural world as beautiful and want to protect it. And then there are economic reasons. Ecosystems can often provide services that have financial value, and are able to provide those services more cheaply than we could artificially. Ecosystems provide drainage, a wealth of chemicals and chemical reactions, new plants to cultivate, and cures to many diseases that could become salable medicines. So there are many reasons to take care of ecosystems, and keep them healthy.

Bees provide a service to humans: they pollinate crops.
Bees provide a service to humans: they pollinate crops.

Types of Stewardship

There are three main types of ecological stewardship. A person can take action, donate money, and practice good stewardship on a daily basis. There are lots of active, short-term options for taking action, like helping clean up after an oil spill, volunteering for a tree planting organization, or many similar tasks. A person who donates money is providing funds for stewardship organizations so they can achieve more. And the practitioners are people who work long-term, daily and often as part of their job to advance stewardship. This could include pressuring government agencies, organizing events, or managing volunteers for stewardship activities.

But stewardship can also be something as simple as making sure your individual impact on the natural world is as close as possible to zero. You can recycle or compost the majority of your waste, use as little water as possible, live in a small space that requires little energy to heat and cool, make conscious travel choices including walking, cycling, and public transportation, and choose energy-efficient appliances and bulbs. Since energy use has such an impact on the environment, albeit indirectly, all these things count as stewardship of ecosystems.

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