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Building and Fibre Resources

Renewable biotic resources for building and fibre materials (e.g. timber, wool, cotton).


Millennium Ecosystem Assessment Service Category

Provisioning Services


What are building and fibre resources and how are they derived?

Living resources are often cultivated, harvested and extracted directly by humans for building and fibre materials such as rope, fencing and shelter.

Building and fibre resources are important because they underpin the material wellbeing of the population, including shelter, clothing and other produced items, whether meeting basic needs or material wants at higher levels of affluence.

Biotic materials are often used directly by humans including fundamental inputs to production processes. They include forest products (e.g. timber for building and construction and woodchips for paper and wallboard production); crop residues for building products (e.g. fibreboards from bagasse); plant fibres for fabric production (e.g. cotton, flax, hemp); and animal fibre (e.g. wool, fur, skins) for cloth production and other animal based products. Various primary industries (e.g. forestry, agriculture, grazing, cropping) and textile industries (e.g. manufacturing, fashion) depend directly on this provisioning service, hence the magnitudes and values of many building and fibre resources are represented in commercial markets. 

Table 1 below presents the magnitude different ecosystem functions contribute to the provision of building and fibre resources (relative to other ecosystem functions). Building and fibre materials are direct products of the provisioning function raw (renewable biotic) materials. The productivity of the provisioning function depends on available solar inputs, photosynthetic activity and energy transfers that take place at different trophic levels within the relevant ecosystems.

The climate regulation function is important as it determines the conditions relating to temperature and precipitation that in turn influence growth rates of biological systems. Closely related to this is the water supply function, that determines water availability for plants and animals. Nutrient regulation governs the supplies of nutrients that support biological productivity, while biological control limits the potential impacts of disease and predatory behaviour.


Table 1:The relative magnitude (to other ecosystem functions) each ecosystem function contributes to Building and Fibre Resources.

Ecosystem Function Category Ecosystem Function 0
Regulating Functions
Gas Regulation

Climate Regulation

Disturbance Regulation

Water Regulation

Soil Retention

Nutrient Regulation

Waste Treatment and Assimilation


Biological Control

Barrier Effect of Vegetation

Supporting Functions
Supporting Habitats

Soil Formation

Provisioning Functions

Raw Materials

Water Supply

Genetic Resources

Provision of Shade and Shelter

Pharmacological Resources

Cultural Functions
Landscape Opportunity


ARE HUMAN INPUTS REQUIRED TO FACILITATE building and fibre resources?

Forests provide many potential building resources.

Some building and fibre products extracted are grown in ecosystems functioning largely in their natural state. Native forests designated for timber production, for example, are often managed with minimal human disturbance except for harvesting operations. Wetlands and heathlands can provide materials such as reeds, cane and ti-trees for the production of mats and fencing. Grasslands can deliver straw for fibreboard production. 

Many natural ecosystems have been significantly modified by humans to boost their productivity and yield products that have characteristics specially suited to meet human needs and desires. Such actions include establishing plantations for timber production, growing selected genetic strains of crops (flax, cotton, hemp, bamboo) to produce rope, yarns, fabrics, flooring and insulation products and breeding animals (sheep, goats, alpacas) specially for their fibres. These systems often require human inputs such as pesticides (plant and animal control), fertilisers, irrigation and high amounts of human labour and use of machinery.


Are there any barriers to people receiving this ecosystem service and its benefits?

Although renewable biotic resources are provide freely by natural ecosystems, a  diverse range of factors affect the ability of humans to access and/or use this service from both natural and man-made ecosystems. In physical terms, energy subsidies (fossil fuels, human labour) and controls over reproduction, harvesting or hunting (e.g. legislation, regulations or land use zoning) are often instrumental in affecting ecosystem functions providing this service and the productivity. Often the harvest of materials requires specialised machinery and access roads. Another barrier to receiving this service is plant and animal disease that may limit growth or damage biotic materials.

This ecosystem service provides many benefits that contribute both directly and indirectly to the well-being of the SEQ community. The Constituents of Well-being this ecosystem service contributes to are presented in Table 2 below. Further information on these constituents and how ecosystem services contribute to them can be obtained by clicking on the links in the table.


Table 2:The relative magnitude (to other ecosystem services) Building and Fibre contributes to each constituent of well-being.

Well-being Category Constituent of Well-being 0
Physical Health            
Mental Health            
Secure and Continuous Supply of Services            
Security of Person            
Security of Health            
Secure Access to Services            
Security of Property            
Good Social Relations
Family Cohesion            
Community and Social Cohesion            
Freedom of Choice and Action
Social and Economic Freedom            
Self Actualisation            




To grow and harvest wool, ecosystem services (e.g. grass) and human inputs (e.g. labour, breeding techniques, watering troughs and sheering equipment) are required.

Links to other publications and websites

Planning Plantations
Forestry Plantations Qld
National Farmers Federation
Top 10 Natural Building Materials
Natural Fibres

Many industries relating to this service have Best Management Practice programs (e.g. the cotton industry) aimed at ensuring the sustainable management of this service. In some cases, the mechanisms for appropriating building and fibre products may not be regulated by clearly defined use or property rights, leading to unsustainable management practices, over-exploitation of biotic resources and even species extinction. In addition to impacts on yields, other adverse environmental impacts may occur, such as pollution resulting from land disturbance, the use of pesticides, herbicides and fertilisers and transfers of pests and diseases.

Detailed monitoring of ecosystem functions and yields can assist in determining whether over-exploitation may be occurring. Stock assessments are important for forest resources to determine whether they are being managed sustainably and regulate harvesting effort.


How is this ecosystem service currently managed in SEQ?

For details of production in agriculture, fisheries and forestry statistics are available from the Australian Bureau of Statistics and the Australian Government's Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry. There are a number of other reports and websites such as the State of Environment Reports (national, state and regional) and the Bureau of Rural Sciences' State of the Forests Report and Plantations Report. The Queensland Government's Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry as well as private plantations and farms specialising in fibre production provide an important source of information on this service. SEQ Catchments also has a Farm Forestry Program and is able to assist with information on the provision of the timber component of this service on a property scale.