How to use QUICK INDEX Ecosystem Services

Ecosystem Services

You are here: Home > Ecosystem Services > Knowledge Systems

Knowledge Systems

The variety of ecosystems affects the variety of knowledge systems (e.g. education, social learning and understanding) and provide the resources necessary for their generation, transmission, maintenance, adaptation and use.


Millennium Ecosystem Assessment Service Category

Cultural Services


What are knowledge systems and how are they derived?

Indigenous dancers share their knowledge through dance with the community in King George Square.

The diversity of ecosystems provides a diversity of places for placed based learning that can enhance knowledge and strengthen connections between people and place.

Traditional people recognised their dependence on the ecosystem. Group behaviour and resource use were directed by Elders who were guided by traditional knowledge. This knowledge was often shared through art, song and dance. Long-term observation of their country and its many species gave traditional people detailed knowledge of numerous interrelationships. This added to their resource management decisions.

Many schools, TAFEs and universities use outdoor and environmental education to provide specific academic, cognitive, social and cultural outcomes which cannot be achieved in classrooms or by individual study. Direct personal experience of landscapes, seascapes, seasonal changes and nature is often the basis of positive relationships with nature, understanding of ecosystem functions (components and processes); and caring (including willingness to pay) for nature, wildlife, landscapes and/or sustainable ecosystem management. Research from Queensland University of Technology has demonstrated that student learning at environmental education centres transfers to school, home and across generations.

The kind of knowledge systems that we need in the age of sustainability are those that develop deep social and ecological understandings and emotional connections to different cultural and natural settings by allowing individuals to become attuned to the complexity that is all around them. Allowing individuals to create their own personal knowledge systems that are then informed by established and collected wisdom of society is critical if we are to create an engaged citizenry that is connected to and concerned about the ecosystems that we need to protect and manage for future generations.

Vygotsky claims there are only two ways of mentally constructing knowledge: one is idealist and rational, and the other is materialist and social. The first splits mind and world, while the other focuses on connections. Under this line of thinking,  mind is not separate from world and social context, but is embedded in it through human activity that use cultural tools in creative and innovative ways within different social and natural settings to create meaning.

Table 1 below presents the magnitude different ecosystem functions contibute to the variety of knowledge systems (relative to other ecosystem functions). Supporting habitats directly contribute to knowledge systems as they often provide high levels of biodiversity and therefore a diversity of resources for education, social learning and understanding. The range and diversity of species and ecosystems across SEQ (landscape opportunity) contributes to the diversity of places for placed based learning; the development of knowledge systems; and the range of learning tools that maybe applied.

Many (regulating) functions contribute to this service through maintaining efficiently functioning ecosystems and opportunities for experiential learning of processes, functions and system dynamics. Other (provisioning) functions also provide important resources for many agricultural and industrial knowledge systems (such as pollination, food, raw materials, genetic and pharmocological resources).


Table 1:The relative magnitude (to other ecosystem functions) each ecosystem function contributes to Knowledge Systems.

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



The Irwin Family educate all ages on wildlife.

Children's television programs such as 'Totally Wild' are a medium for knowledge creation (Moggill).

Ecosystems and their aspects openly and freely provide the opportunity for knowledge systems without any human inputs. There is a range of powerful teaching, communication and learning tools however we can enlist that will allow individuals to engage directly and imaginatively with the complexity of the natural and cultural world in ways that make meaning that leads to action. To support personal knowledge development we need a well thought out and proven human construct that can frame practical forms of environmental education and environmental interpretation. This construct or pedagogy must be able to inspire individuals to seek new kinds of ecological knowledge that can transform their lives. Place based environmental education is a good place to start.

Often there is no substitute for indoor education such as in the case of laboratory controlled experiments. However, place based education is a fairly recent educational trend that focuses on the idea of listening to the land, an experiential approach to learning based in the local environment. Some researchers argue that education should move beyond the school and offer opportunities for students to be part of the 'one earth and our common life lived upon it’. Some discuss 'place-conscious classrooms' as a focus for all schools and ‘ecological education’ which defines human beings and human culture in terms of their relationship to particular places.


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

The primary barriers to people receiving this ecosystem service is distance and access to the range of ecosystems across SEQ. For example children growing up in urban centres may not have access to marine ecosystems, rainforests or cultivated ecosystems; or children in rural areas may not have access to beaches, rainforests or urban ecosystems. Depending on the type of biological material and its intended use as an educational resource, permits may also be required to access certain areas, collect or manipulate the species. There are many socio-economic issues that also provide barriers to this ecosystem service for example low family incomes may put school excursions to different ecosystems or education centres lower on the priority list. For Indigenous Australians, many have lost traditional knowledge and knowledge systems through displacement from family and country.

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) Knowledge Systems 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            




Environmental education centres are important places for learning about species and their habitat.

Links to other publications and websites

List of Enviro. Education Centres
Outdoor Education Centres
Outdoor Educator's Association
World Bank Indigenous Knowledge
Folke - Traditional Knowledge

It is difficult to know if we are degrading, maintaining or improving this ecosystem service. One form of indicator could be the number of environmental education programs provided by schools. Another type of indicator may include monitoring the number of environmental education centres across SEQ and the number of visitors entering their doors. Maintaining ecosystem diversity and monitoring changes in landcover could also indicate loss of potential variety.


How is this ecosystem service currently managed in SEQ?

There are a wide range of organisations and institutions who can assist with more information on the environment in general, its management or this ecosystem service. These include, but are not limited to TAFEs, schools, universities, governments and their agencies (e.g. Department of Environment and Heritage Protection), natural resource management groups (e.g. SEQ Catchments) or environmental education centres.

The Department of Education, Training and Employment has 25 Outdoor and Environmental Education Centres (e.g. the Pullenvale Environmental Education Centre) that are spread across Queensland from Cairns to the Gold Coast and from North Keppell Island to Barcaldine in the west. Formal knowledge systems are managed by the Dpartment of Education, Training and Employment and the Department of Science, Information Technology, Innovation and Arts. There is no specific management institution for managing other forms of informal knowledge systems.