What are the potential ecosystem benefits of turfgrass?
This is the third article in a three-part series on turfgrass emissions, reduction strategies, and ecosystem services based on this article published in Crop, Forage & Turfgrass Management. Check out the first article, “6 Ways to Cut Back on Greenhouse Gas while Cutting Your Grass,” or the second, “How can I reduce turfgrass fertilization, mowing, irrigation, and pesticide use?” to learn more.
The short answer: In addition to economic benefits like employment, increased property values, and reduced heating and cooling costs, turfgrass ecosystem services include environmental and societal benefits.
Back it up: Turfgrass systems include home lawns, commercial properties, golf courses, athletic fields, roadsides, sod farms, parks, and other green spaces. And what are ecosystem services?
- The term “ecosystem services” captures all the “tangible and intangible ways in which human beings depend on, use, and benefit from the natural environment.”
- Ecosystem services are essential to environmental and human health and well-being; vegetation systems produce these benefits.
Break it down: Here is a list of the economic, environmental, and societal ecosystem services that well-managed turfgrass can supply.
- Creates jobs for over 820,000 individuals, with an economic impact of more than $60 billion in the U.S.
- Increases home/property values by 5 to 15%.
- Reduces heating and cooling costs.
- Controls soil and dust erosion.
- Sequesters atmospheric carbon (i.e., removes this greenhouse gas from the atmosphere).
- Minimizes soil sediment and nutrient runoff and loss.
- Recharges/filters rain and groundwater and protects surface water quality.
- Reduces urban heating through evaporative cooling.
- Reduces noise and sunlight glare by absorption instead of reflection that occurs with hard surfaces.
- Decreases noxious pests (e.g., poison ivy, ticks), allergens, and human disease agents.
- Produces habitat/food for wildlife.
- Grass along roadsides offers a safe zone to stabilize a vehicle in case of an emergency stop.
- Provides oxygen for use to breathe.
- Functions as a firebreak.
- Increases property and community aesthetics and neighborhood relationships.
- Provides a green space for meetings, relaxation, and recreation.
- Provides a space for sports and exercise.
- Acts as a crime deterrent.
- Improves human mental and physical
Except for goods and food products for human consumption, turfgrass systems provide nearly all the ecosystem services of the other vegetation types. However, disservices can also result from turfgrass systems and associated management practices.
- For example, similar to agricultural cropping systems, associated disservices with turfgrass systems include nutrient and pesticide losses, greenhouse gas and particulate matter emissions.
- Low plant diversity, pesticide applications, and site-specific high water use rates are also (i.e., negative environmental impact) associated with turfgrass systems.
- Regardless, turfgrass systems provide many ecosystem services, such as those listed above.
The big picture: Recent turfgrass science research aim is to maximize the services and minimize the disservices by focusing on sustainability initiatives to develop best management practices such as reducing management inputs.
In short: Turfgrass systems offer many ecosystem benefits, many of which are hard to measure, such as mental and physical health, safety, spectator entertainment, quality of life, social and community harmony, and providing a complement to other plants in the landscape. While turfgrass maintenance practices (mowing, irrigation, fertilization, and pesticides) are often negatively viewed, making some small changes to these practices can help decrease their impact on the environment.
Taken together, little changes to turf management can have a large positive impact on the environment and enhance many of turf’s valuable ecosystem services.