Ecosystem services related with Opuntia ficus-indica (prickly pear cactus): a review of challenges and opportunities.
The Opuntia ficus-indica offers a range of ecosystem services. Its provisioning services include food for humans, feed for livestock, and medicines, as well as fuelwood and feedstock for bioenergy. As for supporting ecosystem services, this cactus benefits biodiversity by providing wildlife with food, pollen, habitat, and shelter. Also, it can be used for phytoremediation of contaminated soil and water. In terms of regulating services, it can be used to control soil erosion, it provides raw material for mulching and composting, it has fire breaking properties, and it sequesters carbon. It also provides cultural services; it is used as an ornamental plant, acts as a live fence, and can be used to delineate boundaries between adjacent plots. Also, in certain occasions, the species' durability has made it a symbol of hope for refugees wishing to return to their expropriated lands. These ecosystem services can be fulfilled as long as the prickly pear is cultivated in home-gardens or in sustainable agroforestry and silvopasture systems. However, establishment of commercial monoculture plantations may accelerate environmental degradation. Further, the species invasiveness may lead to land infestation. The potential risks to natural ecosystems necessitate careful planting of prickly pears in the future, to ensure environmental sustainability.