Ecosystems. I.1 Soil. I.2 Air. I.3 The sun. I.4 Water. I. What is an ecosystem?

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1 I. What is an ecosystem? Ecosystems An ecosystem is a community of living and non-living things that work together. Ecosystems have no particular size. An ecosystem can be as large as a desert or as small as a tree. The major parts of an ecosystem are: water, water temperature, plants, animals, air, light and soil. They all work together. If there isn't enough light or water or if the soil doesn't have the right nutrients, the plants will die. If the plants die, animals that depend on them will die. If the animals that depend on the plants die, any animals that depend on those animals will die. All the parts in ecosystem work together to achieve balance. A healthy ecosystem has lots of species and is less likely to be damaged by human interaction, natural disasters and climate changes. Every species has a niche in its ecosystem that helps keep the system healthy. I.1 Soil Soil is a critical part of an ecosystem. It provides important nutrients for the plants. It helps anchor the plants to keep them in place. Soil absorbs and holds water for plants and animals to use and provides a home for lots of living organisms. I.2 Air The atmosphere provides oxygen and carbon dioxide for the plants and animals in an ecosystem. The atmosphere is also part of the water cycle. Without the complex interactions and elements in the atmosphere, there would be no life at all! I.3 The sun The heat and light from the sun are critical parts of an ecosystem. The sun's heat helps water evaporate and return to the atmosphere where it is cycled back into water. The heat also keeps plants and animals warm. The light from the sun is necessary for photosynthesis, so that plants have the energy they need to make food. I.4 Water Without water there would be no life. Water is a large percentage of the cells that make up all living organisms. Without water all life would die. Water is also used by plants to carry and distribute the nutrients they need to survive. 1

2 II. Examples of ecosystems Examples of ecosystems are: agroecosystem, aquatic ecosystem, coral reef, desert, forest, human ecosystem, littoral zone, marine ecosystem, prairie, rainforest, savanna, steppe, taiga, tundra, urban ecosystem and others. Rainforests often show a lot of biodiversity with many plant and animal species. The picture above shows a rainforest together with an aquatic ecosystem: The Gambia River in a Senegal national park. A desert ecosystem in Mexico consists of abiotic (soil, water, air) and biotic parts (flora, fauna). A typical savanna ecosystem in Tanzania (Ngorongoro National Park) also combines abiotic and biotic elements. 2

3 Forest as an ecosystem can appear in very different forms with various kinds of vegetation. Three pictures of various examples of a forest were taken in Madagascar, in California and on San Juan Island. Coral reefs are special examples of a marine ecosystem. III. Biomes Biomes are globally similar areas, including ecosystems, as regards combinations of plants, animals, soil organisms and climatic conditions. They have certain common factors, e.g. plant structures (trees, shrubs, grasses), leaf types (broadleaf, needles), plant spacing (forest, woodland, savanna) and climate. The basic types of biomes are: land, freshwater and marine biomes. Map of land biomes Certain plants grow in certain climates and thus create the biomes vegetation types extending over a large geographic area. So climate affects the creation of biomes strongly. The following chart shows the relationship between the biome type and the climate. 3

4 An illustration of a freshwater biome is the ecosystem in Gran Canaria: IV. Habitats Within each ecosystem there are habitats of various sizes. A habitat is a place with a population (a group of living organisms of the same kind). All the populations living in the same place at the same time interact, forming a community. Such community also interacts with the non-living world around it, thus forming an ecosystem. The habitat must provide the organisms with food, water, temperature, oxygen and other goods they need. Among populations in the same habitat different processes may occur, such as cooperation, symbiosis, but also competition and predation. An aquarium or a terrarium are good examples of a shared habitat. V. Function of ecosystems Considering the benefit from ecosystems for the human race, ecosystems may be regarded as production units producing goods (forest ecosystems supply wood, grass enables cattle growing, wild animals are used for food) and services (enjoyment of nature, income and employment in tourism, water retention, soil protection etc.). 4

5 VI. Ecosystem dynamics When new biotic or abiotic elements enter into an ecosystem, they cause an interruption. This can also lead to death of certain species within the ecosystem. But often ecosystems can protect themselves from intruders, depending on the toxicity of the new element and the resiliency of the original ecosystem. Organisms have survived despite continuous changes, natural selection and intruders, but they had to adapt to new conditions. Changes are always gradual. Some species even disappear and new ones move in. Usually the population remains within limits of the food supply within an ecosystem. In general, ecosystems are more resilient to sudden or great changes than each species individually. Arctic tundra in Russia is an example of an ecosystem which has remained relatively unchanged for a long period of time. VII. The energy cycle All living things need energy. In an ecosystem, the sun is the source of energy. Different species in an ecosystem have different functions: producers, consumers or decomposers, all of them being important parts of an ecosystem. Producers are green plants which make their own food. Consumers are animals which get their energy from the producers or organisms that eat producers. There are three types of consumers: - herbivores: animals that eat plants; - carnivores: animals that eat herbivores and sometimes other carnivores; - omnivores: animals that eat plants and other animals. Decomposers are plants and animals that break down dead plants and animals into organic materials which go back into the soil. 5

6 Living beings also need water within their habitats. Their needs are met through the water cycle. foper.unu.edu/.../uploads/2007/02/figf01.gif Energy and water are vital to the survival of an ecosystem, thus a system of conservation is necessary. The exchange of carbon dioxide and oxygen is a process of conservation. What one species discards, means food for another. When food is limited, the conservation processes and the need for recycling become more urgent. If it is not successful, species are endangered and may even become extinct. VIII. Material flow Living organisms also need certain nutrients. Plants obtain elements such as carbon, nitrogen or phosphorus from the atmosphere, water or soil. Animals can also obtain them directly from the environment, but mostly from food (eating other organisms). The nutrients are transformed within the bodies of organisms and later on returned to an inorganic state. Often bacteria are involved in such processes, e.g. decomposition. The elements in the environment are then again used by new organisms. 6

7 IX. Ecosystem ecology Ecosystem ecology is an integrated study of biotic (plants and animals) and abiotic (chemicals, bedrock, soil) components of ecosystems and their interaction within an ecosystem. The aim of this science is to try to understand how the system operates as a whole, focusing on the functional aspects of the system, e.g. the amount of energy produced by photosynthesis, energy and material flow within the food chain, the rate of decomposition of materials or the rate of nutrients recycling within the system. X. Ecosystem legal rights The Rights of Nature or Ecosystem Rights were first enforced in Ecuador's constitution in Later on some local governments in Pennsylvania followed. These rights give individuals the right to file lawsuits on behalf of the ecosystem due to pollution, destruction and the like. Other countries are likely to pass similar laws in the future. QUESTIONS I. Answer the following questions: 1. What is an ecosystem? 2. What are the major parts of an ecosystem? How do they interact? 3. What does the soil provide for the plants? 4. What is the meaning of the air for the plants and the animals? 5. What role does the water play in the living organisms? 6. Ennumerate some kinds of ecosystems. 7. Define a biome. 8. What is a habitat? 9. What causes changes in ecosystems? 10. Describe the functions of certain species within an ecosystem (producers, consumers, decomposers). 11. Explain the material flow within an ecosystem. 12. Define ecosystem ecology and explain its aims. 7

8 Literature and sources: foper.unu.edu/.../uploads/2007/02/figf01.gif en.wikipedia.org/wiki/ecosystem geoscape.nrcan.gc.ca - 8

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