Complexity of Natural and Managed Freshwater Ecosystems

Determining the total economic value of freshwater ecosystems is very difficult because some of their ecological functions have competing commercial values and others have primarily aesthetic or existence values. Studies that illustrate the importance of freshwater benthic ecosystems in providing essential services for sustainable human populations require a comprehensive perspective on evaluation of freshwater services that include both use and non-use values (National Research Council in press). The values of drinking water, freshwater fish, and shellfish, as well as recreational uses of rivers, lakes, and wetlands are very important to humans regardless of the methods used to estimate their market values. Indeed, "use values" derived from market pricing and the intrinsic "existence values" (estimated from surveys and nondirect methods) can be complementary and combined to document the need to maintain the biodiversity of fresh waters. Once species are lost, their economic values become abundantly clear to the general public but their natural services often cannot be fully restored or artificially replaced. Lessons from these failures can be extended to avoid similar future losses in other freshwater ecosystems.

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