Ecosystem services of Earth's largest freshwater lakes

Robert W. Sterner, Bonnie Keeler, Stephen Polasky, Rajendra Poudel, Kirsten Rhude, Maggie Rogers

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

118 Scopus citations


Fresh water is distributed unevenly across the globe. Earth's 21 largest lakes hold ~2/3 of all global, liquid, surface, fresh water and occupy diverse ecological and social settings. We identified seven ecosystem services for which there were quantitative data across most or all of these large lakes. Approximately 1.35 million tonnes of fish are harvested per year from these lakes by commercial or artisanal means, with approximately 95% of this harvest coming from the African large lakes. The 21 lakes support the generation of at least 62.2 GW of power and the transportation of 195 million tonnes/year of cargo, with the Laurentian Great Lakes especially important in those. More than five billion m3 of potable drinking water is treated annually from large lakes, and an additional 812 million m3 water per year is extracted for irrigation purposes. The pattern of services provided to humans by large lakes differs based on social and environmental settings. While we assembled systematic data on some important ecosystem services from large lakes, many other important, especially non-commercial services could not similarly be examined due to lack of data. More work is needed to show the value of the full set of ecosystem services provided by large lakes.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number101046
JournalEcosystem Services
StatePublished - Feb 2020

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This work was supported by the Institute on the Environment ( IonE ), University of Minnesota . Appendix A

Publisher Copyright:
© 2019 The Authors


  • Energy
  • Fisheries
  • Freshwater
  • Lake
  • Recreation
  • Transportation


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