“Most floods are caused by man, not weather; deforestation, levee construction, erosion, and overgrazing all result in the loss of ecosystem services.”
Paul Hawken, Environmentalist
What Are Ecosystems?
An ecosystem can be defined as an interacting group of living organisms in conjunction with non-living environmental components. Living and non-living organisms are closely through energy flows and the nutrient cycle.
There are many different types of ecosystems on our planet. Intact ecosystems are crucial for our environmental system since they provide suitable living conditions for all kinds of living organisms.
In this article, many ecosystem-related questions are answered. Moreover, the importance of ecosystems, potential dangers as well as solutions to these dangers are examined.
Ecosystem Definition in Biology
Ecosystems are systems that include biotic factors (organisms) as well as abiotic factors (physical environment) working together as a unit.
Are Ecosystem and Environment the same thing?
The difference between an ecosystem and the environment is that the environment refers to a dwelling place for all living things which does not include a relationship between organisms and their surroundings while ecosystems are communities working together as a unit.
Thus, an environment can be regarded as habitat while an ecosystem requires an ecological relationship between living organisms and the environment.
What are Ecosystems’ functions?
An ecosystem’s main functions are to exchange nutrients and energy in the food chain. All animals and plants rely on those ecosystem functions.
Moreover, also humans depend on those functions through the food chain. Without ecosystems, there would be no advanced life forms on our planet.
Can Ecosystems be restored?
There are some measures which can be taken in order to restore ecology systems. However, there is no guarantee that ecosystems can be fully restored since they are usually quite complex.
If only some small pieces are missing, the ecosystem may collapse. Therefore, saving our ecosystem should be prioritized over restoring ecosystems whenever possible.
Can Ecological Systems Change over Time?
Ecosystems can change significantly over time, especially through human intervention. Humans can impose many adverse effects on ecosystems.
For example, through illegal dumping, many harmful substances are released into rivers or lakes which in turn hurt local ecosystems in a dramatic manner.
Ecosystems can change or may even get out of balance through human intervention. It is therefore crucial to save our ecosystems from all kinds of adverse human influence.
How many Ecosystems are there?
Depending on the source and the categorization method, the number of types of ecosystems usually varies from 8 to 15. The main ecosystem-types are analyzed in the following.
Types of Ecosystems
- Grassland ecosystems
- Forests ecosystems
- Rainforest ecosystems
- Desert ecosystems
- Savanna ecosystems
- Taiga ecosystems
- Tundra ecosystems
- Lake ecosystems
- River ecosystems
- Marine ecosystems
Grasslands, also referred to as plains or prairie, are areas where the vegetation is dominated by grasses. Grasslands can be found on almost all continents, except for Antarctica.
Grasslands can mainly be found in areas with annual temperatures ranging from -5 to 20 degrees Celsius and annual precipitation between 600 and 1500 mm.
Grassland ecosystems can only be recognized as partial natural since there is often human intervention for farming and other purposes.
Forest ecosystems contain several kinds of trees, including conifers and leaf trees. Forest ecosystems provide a habitat for many animals and plant species, although, compared to rainforests, the variety of animals and plants is quite limited.
Although forest ecosystems can be found on many continents, they are especially prevalent in Europe and America.
Rainforest ecosystems can be characterized by high and steady rainfall. Rainforest ecosystems, especially tropical rainforests, can be mainly found in South-America and Asia.
The most prominent example for rainforest ecosystem is the Amazon Rainforest. Rainforests usually provide habitats for a huge variety of animal and plant species, many of them estimated to be unexplored by humans yet.
Desert ecosystems are usually characterized by low amounts of rainfall and hot climatic conditions. Since water is crucial for all life on earth, deserts often only have a low variety of animals and plants since living conditions for organisms are quite bad in these areas.
The savanna ecosystems are mixed grassland-woodland ecosystems which are usually characterized by trees being widely spaced.
Through the widespread of the canopy of trees, enough sun can reach the ground and therefore lead to the growth of several sorts of grasses.
Savanna ecosystems provide a habitat for many animals, including lions, elephants and giraffes.
Taiga ecosystems, also referred to as snow forest, describes an area which is mainly characterized by coniferous forests. It also often includes many lakes, rivers and untouched nature.
Taiga ecosystems are located in the northern hemisphere in North-America as well as in Europe and Asia. Since average temperatures are usually quite low, the amount of species living in Taiga ecosystems is rather limited.
Tundra ecosystems can be divided into Alpine tundra, Arctic tundra and Antarctic tundra. Tundra is even more extreme in terms of low temperatures compared to Taiga ecosystems and therefore only contains a very limited number of animals and plants.
Lake ecosystems are quite common on all continents and provide a habitat for a variety of animals and plants.
Depending on the eutrophication and the acidity level of lake environments, the number of species living in these environments can vary significantly.
For instance, a lake ecosystem will low eutrophication and therefore high levels of oxygen will be populated by more and also different kinds of fishes than one with low oxygen levels.
River ecosystems are characterized by flowing water. River ecosystems can reach thousands of miles and provide a habitat for a huge variety of animals, plants and other microorganisms.
Since river ecosystems differ in average temperature and also in oxygen levels, the number of living organisms can vary significantly over the different river ecosystems.
Marine ecosystems are the largest aquatic ecosystems on our planet. They provide a home for many sea animals, plants, corals and microorganisms.
Some parts of our oceans are still untouched by humans, which leads many scientists to believe that there exist many sea animals that are yet unexplored by humans.
Why are Ecosystems important?
- Natural habitat for animals and plants
- Ecological balance
- Food chain
- Air purification
- Natural carbon dioxide storage
- Pollination of crops
- Economic benefits
Natural habitat for animals and plants
Our ecosystems are a natural habitat for a huge variety of animal and plant species. Without the natural surroundings, plants would not be able to grow since they need nutrients from the soil and other components in order to keep existing.
Animals also need certain living conditions, including the right climate and also sufficient water supply.
They also rely on plants since for many animals, plants and their crops are their single source of food. Therefore, for sustaining biodiversity, it is crucial to protect our natural ecosystems.
Our planet is a big environmental system that is characterized by many different ecosystems. However, these ecosystems interact with each other. Moreover, also within an ecosystem, there are many complex processes that build on each other.
Even small changes in an ecosystem can lead to big effects through chain reactions. For example, if a predator animal becomes extinct, the respective prey animals are likely to increase in numbers. In turn, these prey animals will consume more plant material, which in turn leads to a decrease in plant populations.
This cycle continues and it is hardly possible to estimate the end state. Therefore, to ensure ecological balance, we have to make sure that we do not intervene too much in our ecological systems so that nature can develop in an original manner.
The food chain is a complex process that often involves many different species. For example, a cow consumes grass, the cow or products like milk are consumed by humans and the fecal waste from cows is used as fertilizer to grow grass again.
Therefore, trough the food chain, it is crucial to keep ecological systems intact in order to ensure enough food for the human population and also for a variety of animals.
Many developing countries rely on tourism as their main source of income.
They realize that their most important resource is their nature. Many tourists travel each year to remote parts of the world in order to see ecosystems and their respective animals and plants.
Thus, an intact ecosystem is crucial for the livelihood of many people who rely on tourism.
Our ecosystems are a natural tool for air purification. This is especially true for areas that contain a big fraction of forests.
Since trees filter out harmful substances of all sorts, they contribute to better air quality.
Also, particle pollution is much lower in areas with a high number of trees.
Natural carbon dioxide storage
Trees are a natural storage space for harmful gases like carbon dioxide. Through photosynthesis, trees absorb carbon dioxide and produce oxygen. Therefore, on the one hand, animals and humans are supplied with oxygen.
On the other hand, through the absorption of carbon dioxide, global warming is slowed down. Thus, our ecosystems are crucial to mitigate the global warming problem and also provide essential amounts of oxygen.
Pollination of crops
Ecosystems and the related species are also crucial for the pollination of crops. This is especially important when it comes to agriculture.
Without insects pollinating the crops, farmers would suffer from substantial losses in yields.
Therefore, intact ecosystems with a variety of insects are crucial to support farming and thus to ensure the supply with basic food items.
Our ecosystems provide us with a vast number of precious resources every day. Without our ecosystems, we would not be able to produce large amounts of material goods and would also not be able to meet our daily demand for food and drinks. Our ecosystems also provide many resources that can be used in industrial processes.
Therefore, countries with intact ecosystems tend to also have an economic advantage since they can harvest more resources which in turn means an advantage in the production of material goods.
Dangers to our Ecosystems
- Soil pollution
- Illegal dumping
- Acid rain
- Global warming
- Water pollution
Mining can be quite harmful to our ecosystems since it often involves the destruction of large natural habitats. For mining purposes, large areas of land have to be processed. By doing so, the plant life in these areas is significantly damaged.
Moreover, also animals living in the surrounding areas are likely to leave those areas since they feel not comfortable in the presence of humans.
Deforestation is a big problem, especially in the Amazon Rainforest. Large areas of forest are cut or burned down every day. Fires are even often started intentionally since farmers want to get more land to grow crops since it is more profitable than selling wood.
Deforestation implies the destruction of habitats for many animals and plants. These animals either have to relocate or they will die since they lose their livelihood through the deforestation process.
Soil pollution is another significant danger to our ecosystems. In many industrial processes, harmful by-products and waste are not disposed of and separated in an appropriate manner, which can cause serious soil pollution.
Moreover, through the excessive use of fertilizers and pesticides, the soil is often polluted with harmful components that can hurt the soil in the long run and make it less fertile.
This in turn may lead to a decrease in plant species since their natural growing conditions have been altered in an adverse manner.
Littering can be a problem for our ecosystems if the litter contains harmful or even toxic substances. For example, if people dispose of their used cigarettes in forests or other natural ecological systems, animals may try to eat them and may die or suffer from severe illness because of that.
Moreover, through the incorrect disposal of used cigarettes, many wildfires are started each year and habitats for many animals and plants get destroyed.
Illegal dumping is a big ecological problem, especially in poor developing countries where regulatory standards regarding waste disposal are not strict enough.
Industries often just dump their trash in nearby rivers or lakes, which leads to significant water pollution and therefore hurts a big variety of animals, plants and other organisms.
Acid rain can also hurt ecosystems since it alters the acidity level of the soil. Plants are usually quite sensitive when it comes to altering their natural growing conditions. Thus, through acid rain, the growth and reproduction behavior of plants may be altered in an adverse manner.
Global warming is a big threat to ecological systems, especially for those who depend on steady air and water temperature. Through global warming, many parameters related to the living conditions of organisms are altered.
This is problematic since animals have been adapting to living conditions for millions of years. A rather quick change in average temperatures will likely lead to a decline in biodiversity since animals and plants will not be able to adapt in this short time frame.
Water pollution can significantly impact many animals, plants and other organisms which rely on high-quality water.
This is especially true for many fishes which require a stable level of oxygen and clean water.
If the water gets polluted, for example through illegal dumping or other industrial processes, many water animals will die because of that.
Overpopulation implies severe consequences for many ecological systems. If the number of people on our planet is growing, this implies that we need more areas for housing. These areas had been previously used by nature, which implies a destruction of habitats.
Moreover, we need more areas for farming in order to ensure our worldwide supply with food, which also leads to a destruction of habitats.
A higher number of people usually also implies more waste and higher pollution, which also hurts many ecosystems. Therefore, overpopulation can have serious adverse effects on our ecosystems.
Solutions for Dangers regarding our Ecosystems
- Government regulations
- Climate goals
- Higher fines for illegal dumping
- Subsidies for environmentally-friendly technologies
- Stop deforestation
- Restoration of ecosystems
- Reduce your consumption level
To prevent adverse impacts on our ecosystems, governments have to set strict regulations regarding several kinds of pollutions and also regarding the destruction of habitats.
We have to ensure that there is enough recreational space for nature to recover from human interventions. We also have to make sure that endangered species are protected by law and that there are high fines for killing or collecting those species.
One important factor for sustaining our ecosystems is to fight global warming. To accomplish this goal, we have to work together on a worldwide basis.
It is therefore crucial to set strict climate goals and to punish countries that do not care or are not able to reach these goals. By doing so, we can limit the adverse effects of global warming on our ecosystems.
Higher fines for illegal dumping
Illegal dumping is a serious problem, especially in developing countries with a low level of control instances and low fines for illegal dumping.
We have to make sure that illegal dumping is punished more rigorously so that companies have a big incentive to refrain from dumping their waste in rivers and lakes.
Through higher fines, we can mitigate the extent of illegal dumping and also the implied adverse effects for our ecosystems.
Subsidies for environmentally-friendly technologies
Governments should also make sure that there is enough incentive for companies to develop sophisticated environmentally-friendly technologies. This may come in the form of financial subsidies for companies that make substantial efforts in this direction.
By giving companies a financial incentive to research for eco-friendly technologies, we can improve our worldwide ecological footprint and can improve the natural conditions for our ecological systems.
In order to ensure suitable living conditions in our ecosystems, we have to stop deforestation. Governments in the affected countries have to act in a much stricter way to fight deforestation and illegal logging. For instance, the Amazon rainforest is an ecological system that is the home for a vast number of animals and plants.
However, it is threatened to vanish from our planet if the deforestation process continues. Thus, it is crucial to stop deforestation and therefore to protect the habitats of a variety of animals and plants.
Restoration of ecosystems
The restoration of ecosystems is another measure in order to improve the living conditions of several animals, plants and other organisms. However, restoring whole ecosystems can be quite difficult since it is not easy to restore natural living conditions.
Therefore, the focus should lie on the protection of ecosystems rather than on restoration of habitats which can only be seen as supplementary measure.
Reduce your consumption level
Our consumption behavior also contributes to the destruction of ecosystems since for the production of material goods, resources have to be extracted out of the ground which in turn destroys natural habitats.
Moreover, the production process implies several kinds of pollution, which can also hurt many ecosystems.
Our ecosystems provide habitats for a vast variety of animals, plants and other organisms. Without our ecosystems, we would not exist as a human species. We will also heavily rely on intact ecosystems in the future.
Only with intact ecosystems, we will be able to grow enough food to supply enough energy for a growing world population.
Moreover, the global warming process can only be mitigated if we save our forest ecosystems since they naturally store harmful greenhouse gases.
Governments all over the world have to work together to fight global warming in an efficient manner so that we can prevent the destruction of many ecological systems and therefore the destruction of the livelihood of many people.
You can contribute to the preservation of ecosystems on a daily basis through a reduction of your consumption level. Only if everyone contributes to the protection of our environmental system, we can ensure a livable future for the next generations.
About the author
My name is Andreas and my mission is to educate people of all ages about our environmental problems and how everyone can make a contribution to mitigate these issues.
As I went to university and got my Master’s degree in Economics, I did plenty of research in the field of Development Economics.
After finishing university, I traveled around the world. From this time on, I wanted to make a contribution to ensure a livable future for the next generations in every part of our beautiful planet.
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