An ecosystem is a community of living organisms in conjunction with the nonliving components of their environment, interacting as a system. These biotic and abiotic components are linked together through nutrient cycles and energy flows. Energy enters the system through photosynthesis and is incorporated into plant tissue. By feeding on plants and on one-another, animals play an important role in the movement of matter and energy through the system. They also influence the quantity of plant and microbial biomass present. By breaking down dead organic matter, decomposers release carbon back to the atmosphere and facilitate nutrient cycling by converting nutrients stored in dead biomass back to a form that can be readily used by plants and other microbes.
Ecosystems are controlled by external and internal factors. External factors such as climate, the parent material which forms the soil and topography, control the overall structure an ecosystem, but are not themselves influenced by the ecosystem.
Ecosystems are dynamic entities—they are subject to periodic disturbances and are in the process of recovering from some past disturbance. Ecosystems in similar environments that are located in different parts of the world can end up doing things very differently simply because they have different pools of species present. Internal factors not only control ecosystem processes but are also controlled by them and are often subject to feedback loops.
Resource inputs are generally controlled by external processes like climate and parent material. Resource availability within the ecosystem is controlled by internal factors like decomposition, root competition or shading. Although humans operate within ecosystems, their cumulative effects are large enough to influence external factors like climate.
The term ecosystem was first used in 1935 in a publication by British ecologist Arthur Tansley.[fn 1] Tansley devised the concept to draw attention to the importance of transfers of materials between organisms and their environment. He later refined the term, describing it as "The whole system, ... including not only the organism-complex, but also the whole complex of physical factors forming what we call the environment". Tansley regarded ecosystems not simply as natural units, but as "mental isolates". Tansley later defined the spatial extent of ecosystems using the term ecotope.
G. Evelyn Hutchinson, a limnologist who was a contemporary of Tansley's, combined Charles Elton's ideas about trophic ecology with those of Russian geochemist Vladimir Vernadsky. As a result, he suggested that mineral nutrient availability in a lake limited algal production. This would, in turn, limit the abundance of animals that feed on algae. Raymond Lindeman took these ideas further to suggest that the flow of energy through a lake was the primary driver of the ecosystem. Hutchinson's students, brothers Howard T. Odum and Eugene P. Odum, further developed a "systems approach" to the study of ecosystems. This allowed them to study the flow of energy and material through ecological systems.
Ecosystems are controlled both by external and internal factors. External factors, also called state factors, control the overall structure of an ecosystem and the way things work within it, but are not themselves influenced by the ecosystem. The most important of these is climate. Climate determines the biome in which the ecosystem is embedded. Rainfall patterns and seasonal temperatures influence photosynthesis and thereby determine the amount of water and energy available to the ecosystem.
Parent material determines the nature of the soil in an ecosystem, and influences the supply of mineral nutrients. Topography also controls ecosystem processes by affecting things like microclimate, soil development and the movement of water through a system. For example, ecosystems can be quite different if situated in a small depression on the landscape, versus one present on an adjacent steep hillside.
Other external factors that play an important role in ecosystem functioning include time and potential biota. Similarly, the set of organisms that can potentially be present in an area can also significantly affect ecosystems. Ecosystems in similar environments that are located in different parts of the world can end up doing things very differently simply because they have different pools of species present. The introduction of non-native species can cause substantial shifts in ecosystem function.
Unlike external factors, internal factors in ecosystems not only control ecosystem processes but are also controlled by them. Consequently, they are often subject to feedback loops. While the resource inputs are generally controlled by external processes like climate and parent material, the availability of these resources within the ecosystem is controlled by internal factors like decomposition, root competition or shading. Other factors like disturbance, succession or the types of species present are also internal factors.
Primary production is the production of organic matter from inorganic carbon sources. This mainly occurs through photosynthesis. The energy incorporated through this process supports life on earth, while the carbon makes up much of the organic matter in living and dead biomass, soil carbon and fossil fuels. It also drives the carbon cycle, which influences global climate via the greenhouse effect.
Through the process of photosynthesis, plants capture energy from light and use it to combine carbon dioxide and water to produce carbohydrates and oxygen. The photosynthesis carried out by all the plants in an ecosystem is called the gross primary production (GPP). About half of the GPP is consumed in plant respiration. The remainder, that portion of GPP that is not used up by respiration, is known as the net primary production (NPP). Total photosynthesis is limited by a range of environmental factors. These include the amount of light available, the amount of leaf area a plant has to capture light (shading by other plants is a major limitation of photosynthesis), rate at which carbon dioxide can be supplied to the chloroplasts to support photosynthesis, the availability of water, and the availability of suitable temperatures for carrying out photosynthesis.
Energy and carbon enter ecosystems through photosynthesis, are incorporated into living tissue, transferred to other organisms that feed on the living and dead plant matter, and eventually released through respiration.
The carbon and energy incorporated into plant tissues (net primary production) is either consumed by animals while the plant is alive, or it remains uneaten when the plant tissue dies and becomes detritus. In terrestrial ecosystems, roughly 90% of the net primary production ends up being broken down by decomposers. The remainder is either consumed by animals while still alive and enters the plant-based trophic system, or it is consumed after it has died, and enters the detritus-based trophic system.
In aquatic systems, the proportion of plant biomass that gets consumed by herbivores is much higher. In trophic systems photosynthetic organisms are the primary producers. The organisms that consume their tissues are called primary consumers or secondary producers—herbivores. Organisms which feed on microbes (bacteria and fungi) are termed microbivores. Animals that feed on primary consumers—carnivores—are secondary consumers. Each of these constitutes a trophic level.
The sequence of consumption—from plant to herbivore, to carnivore—forms a food chain. Real systems are much more complex than this—organisms will generally feed on more than one form of food, and may feed at more than one trophic level. Carnivores may capture some prey which are part of a plant-based trophic system and others that are part of a detritus-based trophic system (a bird that feeds both on herbivorous grasshoppers and earthworms, which consume detritus). Real systems, with all these complexities, form food webs rather than food chains.
The carbon and nutrients in dead organic matter are broken down by a group of processes known as decomposition. This releases nutrients that can then be re-used for plant and microbial production and returns carbon dioxide to the atmosphere (or water) where it can be used for photosynthesis. In the absence of decomposition, the dead organic matter would accumulate in an ecosystem, and nutrients and atmospheric carbon dioxide would be depleted. Approximately 90% of terrestrial net primary production goes directly from plant to decomposer.
Decomposition processes can be separated into three categories—leaching, fragmentation and chemical alteration of dead material. As water moves through dead organic matter, it dissolves and carries with it the water-soluble components. These are then taken up by organisms in the soil, react with mineral soil, or are transported beyond the confines of the ecosystem (and are considered lost to it). Newly shed leaves and newly dead animals have high concentrations of water-soluble components and include sugars, amino acids and mineral nutrients. Leaching is more important in wet environments and much less important in dry ones.
Fragmentation processes break organic material into smaller pieces, exposing new surfaces for colonization by microbes. Freshly shed leaf litter may be inaccessible due to an outer layer of cuticle or bark, and cell contents are protected by a cell wall. Newly dead animals may be covered by an exoskeleton. Fragmentation processes, which break through these protective layers, accelerate the rate of microbial decomposition. Animals fragment detritus as they hunt for food, as does passage through the gut. Freeze-thaw cycles and cycles of wetting and drying also fragment dead material.
The chemical alteration of the dead organic matter is primarily achieved through bacterial and fungal action. Fungal hyphae produce enzymes which can break through the tough outer structures surrounding dead plant material. They also produce enzymes which break down lignin, which allows them access to both cell contents and to the nitrogen in the lignin. Fungi can transfer carbon and nitrogen through their hyphal networks and thus, unlike bacteria, are not dependent solely on locally available resources.
Decomposition rates vary among ecosystems. The rate of decomposition is governed by three sets of factors—the physical environment (temperature, moisture, and soil properties), the quantity and quality of the dead material available to decomposers, and the nature of the microbial community itself. Temperature controls the rate of microbial respiration; the higher the temperature, the faster microbial decomposition occurs. It also affects soil moisture, which slows microbial growth and reduces leaching. Freeze-thaw cycles also affect decomposition—freezing temperatures kill soil microorganisms, which allows leaching to play a more important role in moving nutrients around. This can be especially important as the soil thaws in the spring, creating a pulse of nutrients which become available.
Decomposition rates are low under very wet or very dry conditions. Decomposition rates are highest in wet, moist conditions with adequate levels of oxygen. Wet soils tend to become deficient in oxygen (this is especially true in wetlands), which slows microbial growth. In dry soils, decomposition slows as well, but bacteria continue to grow (albeit at a slower rate) even after soils become too dry to support plant growth.
Ecosystems continually exchange energy and carbon with the wider environment. Mineral nutrients, on the other hand, are mostly cycled back and forth between plants, animals, microbes and the soil. Most nitrogen enters ecosystems through biological nitrogen fixation, is deposited through precipitation, dust, gases or is applied as fertilizer.
Until modern times, nitrogen fixation was the major source of nitrogen for ecosystems. Nitrogen-fixing bacteria either live symbiotically with plants or live freely in the soil. The energetic cost is high for plants which support nitrogen-fixing symbionts—as much as 25% of gross primary production when measured in controlled conditions. Many members of the legume plant family support nitrogen-fixing symbionts. Some cyanobacteria are also capable of nitrogen fixation. These are phototrophs, which carry out photosynthesis. Like other nitrogen-fixing bacteria, they can either be free-living or have symbiotic relationships with plants. Other sources of nitrogen include acid deposition produced through the combustion of fossil fuels, ammonia gas which evaporates from agricultural fields which have had fertilizers applied to them, and dust. Anthropogenic nitrogen inputs account for about 80% of all nitrogen fluxes in ecosystems.
When plant tissues are shed or are eaten, the nitrogen in those tissues becomes available to animals and microbes. Microbial decomposition releases nitrogen compounds from dead organic matter in the soil, where plants, fungi, and bacteria compete for it. Some soil bacteria use organic nitrogen-containing compounds as a source of carbon, and release ammonium ions into the soil. This process is known as nitrogen mineralization. Others convert ammonium to nitrite and nitrate ions, a process known as nitrification. Nitric oxide and nitrous oxide are also produced during nitrification. Under nitrogen-rich and oxygen-poor conditions, nitrates and nitrites are converted to nitrogen gas, a process known as denitrification.
Other important nutrients include phosphorus, sulfur, calcium, potassium, magnesium and manganese. Phosphorus enters ecosystems through weathering. As ecosystems age this supply diminishes, making phosphorus-limitation more common in older landscapes (especially in the tropics). Calcium and sulfur are also produced by weathering, but acid deposition is an important source of sulfur in many ecosystems. Although magnesium and manganese are produced by weathering, exchanges between soil organic matter and living cells account for a significant portion of ecosystem fluxes. Potassium is primarily cycled between living cells and soil organic matter.
Biodiversity plays an important role in ecosystem functioning. The reason for this is that ecosystem processes are driven by the number of species in an ecosystem, the exact nature of each individual species, and the relative abundance organisms within these species. Ecosystem processes are broad generalizations that actually take place through the actions of individual organisms. The nature of the organisms—the species, functional groups and trophic levels to which they belong—dictates the sorts of actions these individuals are capable of carrying out and the relative efficiency with which they do so.
Ecological theory suggests that in order to coexist, species must have some level of limiting similarity—they must be different from one another in some fundamental way, otherwise one species would competitively exclude the other. Despite this, the cumulative effect of additional species in an ecosystem is not linear—additional species may enhance nitrogen retention, for example, but beyond some level of species richness, additional species may have little additive effect.
The addition (or loss) of species which are ecologically similar to those already present in an ecosystem tends to only have a small effect on ecosystem function. Ecologically distinct species, on the other hand, have a much larger effect. Similarly, dominant species have a large effect on ecosystem function, while rare species tend to have a small effect. Keystone species tend to have an effect on ecosystem function that is disproportionate to their abundance in an ecosystem. Similarly, an ecosystem engineer is any organism that creates, significantly modifies, maintains or destroys a habitat.
Ecosystems are dynamic entities. They are subject to periodic disturbances and are in the process of recovering from some past disturbance. When a perturbation occurs, an ecosystem responds by moving away from its initial state. The tendency of an ecosystem to remain close to its equilibrium state, despite that disturbance, is termed its resistance. On the other hand, the speed with which it returns to its initial state after disturbance is called its resilience. Time plays a role in the development of soil from bare rock and the recovery of a community from disturbance.
From one year to another, ecosystems experience variation in their biotic and abiotic environments. A drought, an especially cold winter and a pest outbreak all constitute short-term variability in environmental conditions. Animal populations vary from year to year, building up during resource-rich periods and crashing as they overshoot their food supply. These changes play out in changes in net primary production decomposition rates, and other ecosystem processes. Longer-term changes also shape ecosystem processes—the forests of eastern North America still show legacies of cultivation which ceased 200 years ago, while methane production in eastern Siberian lakes is controlled by organic matter which accumulated during the Pleistocene.
Disturbance also plays an important role in ecological processes. F. Stuart Chapin and coauthors define disturbance as "a relatively discrete event in time and space that alters the structure of populations, communities, and ecosystems and causes changes in resources availability or the physical environment". This can range from tree falls and insect outbreaks to hurricanes and wildfires to volcanic eruptions. Such disturbances can cause large changes in plant, animal and microbe populations, as well soil organic matter content. Disturbance is followed by succession, a "directional change in ecosystem structure and functioning resulting from biotically driven changes in resources supply."
The frequency and severity of disturbance determine the way it affects ecosystem function. A major disturbance like a volcanic eruption or glacial advance and retreat leave behind soils that lack plants, animals or organic matter. Ecosystems that experience such disturbances undergo primary succession. A less severe disturbance like forest fires, hurricanes or cultivation result in secondary succession and a faster recovery. More severe disturbance and more frequent disturbance result in longer recovery times.
Ecosystem ecology studies the processes and dynamics of ecosystems, and the way the flow of matter and energy through them structures natural systems. The study of ecosystems can cover 10 orders of magnitude, from the surface layers of rocks to the surface of the planet.
There is no single definition of what constitutes an ecosystem. German ecologist Ernst-Detlef Schulze and coauthors defined an ecosystem as an area which is "uniform regarding the biological turnover, and contains all the fluxes above and below the ground area under consideration." They explicitly reject Gene Likens' use of entire river catchments as "too wide a demarcation" to be a single ecosystem, given the level of heterogeneity within such an area. Other authors have suggested that an ecosystem can encompass a much larger area, even the whole planet. Schulze and coauthors also rejected the idea that a single rotting log could be studied as an ecosystem because the size of the flows between the log and its surroundings are too large, relative to the proportion cycles within the log. Philosopher of science Mark Sagoff considers the failure to define "the kind of object it studies" to be an obstacle to the development of theory in ecosystem ecology.
Ecosystems can be studied through a variety of approaches—theoretical studies, studies monitoring specific ecosystems over long periods of time, those that look at differences between ecosystems to elucidate how they work and direct manipulative experimentation. Studies can be carried out at a variety of scales, ranging from whole-ecosystem studies to studying microcosms or mesocosms (simplified representations of ecosystems). American ecologist Stephen R. Carpenter has argued that microcosm experiments can be "irrelevant and diversionary" if they are not carried out in conjunction with field studies done at the ecosystem scale. Microcosm experiments often fail to accurately predict ecosystem-level dynamics.
The Hubbard Brook Ecosystem Study started in 1963 to study the White Mountains in New Hampshire. It was the first successful attempt to study an entire watershed as an ecosystem. The study used stream chemistry as a means of monitoring ecosystem properties, and developed a detailed biogeochemical model of the ecosystem. Long-term research at the site led to the discovery of acid rain in North America in 1972. Researchers documented the depletion of soil cations (especially calcium) over the next several decades.
Human activities are important in almost all ecosystems. Although humans exist and operate within ecosystems, their cumulative effects are large enough to influence external factors like climate.
Ecosystems provide a variety of goods and services upon which people depend. Ecosystem goods include the "tangible, material products" of ecosystem processes such as food, construction material, medicinal plants. They also include less tangible items like tourism and recreation, and genes from wild plants and animals that can be used to improve domestic species.
Ecosystem services, on the other hand, are generally "improvements in the condition or location of things of value". These include things like the maintenance of hydrological cycles, cleaning air and water, the maintenance of oxygen in the atmosphere, crop pollination and even things like beauty, inspiration and opportunities for research. While ecosystem goods have traditionally been recognized as being the basis for things of economic value, ecosystem services tend to be taken for granted.
When natural resource management is applied to whole ecosystems, rather than single species, it is termed ecosystem management. Although definitions of ecosystem management abound, there is a common set of principles which underlie these definitions. A fundamental principle is the long-term sustainability of the production of goods and services by the ecosystem; "intergenerational sustainability [is] a precondition for management, not an afterthought".
While ecosystem management can be used as part of a plan for wilderness conservation, it can also be used in intensively managed ecosystems (see, for example, agroecosystem and close to nature forestry).
As human population and per capita consumption grow, so do the resource demands imposed on ecosystems and the effects of the human ecological footprint. Natural resources are vulnerable and limited. The environmental impacts of anthropogenic actions are becoming more apparent. Problems for all ecosystems include: environmental pollution, climate change and biodiversity loss. For terrestrial ecosystems further threats include air pollution, soil degradation, and deforestation. For aquatic ecosystems threats include also unsustainable exploitation of marine resources (for example overfishing of certain species), marine pollution, microplastics pollution, water pollution, and building on coastal areas.
Society is increasingly becoming aware that ecosystem services are not only limited but also that they are threatened by human activities. The need to better consider long-term ecosystem health and its role in enabling human habitation and economic activity is urgent. To help inform decision-makers, many ecosystem services are being assigned economic values, often based on the cost of replacement with anthropogenic alternatives. The ongoing challenge of prescribing economic value to nature, for example through biodiversity banking, is prompting transdisciplinary shifts in how we recognize and manage the environment, social responsibility, business opportunities, and our future as a species.
The Antarctical realm is one of eight terrestrial biogeographic realms. The ecosystem includes Antarctica and several island groups in the southern Atlantic and Indian Oceans. The continent of Antarctica is so cold and dry that it has supported only 2 vascular plants for millions of years, and its flora presently consists of around 250 lichens, 100 mosses, 25-30 liverworts, and around 700 terrestrial and aquatic algal species, which live on the areas of exposed rock and soil around the shore of the continent. Antarctica's two flowering plant species, the Antarctic hair grass (Deschampsia antarctica) and Antarctic pearlwort (Colobanthus quitensis), are found on the northern and western parts of the Antarctic Peninsula. Antarctica is also home to a diversity of animal life, including penguins, seals, and whales.
Several Antarctic island groups are considered part of the Antarctica realm, including South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands, South Orkney Islands, the South Shetland Islands, Bouvet Island, the Crozet Islands, Prince Edward Islands, Heard Island, the Kerguelen Islands, and the McDonald Islands. These islands have a somewhat milder climate than Antarctica proper, and support a greater diversity of tundra plants, although they are all too windy and cold to support trees.
Antarctic krill is the keystone species of the ecosystem of the Southern Ocean, and is an important food organism for whales, seals, leopard seals, fur seals, crabeater seals, squid, icefish, penguins, albatrosses and many other birds. The ocean there is so full of phytoplankton because around the ice continent water rises from the depths to the light flooded surface, bringing nutrients from all oceans back to the photic zone.
On August 20, 2014, scientists confirmed the existence of microorganisms living 800 metres (2,600 feet) below the ice of Antarctica.Aquatic ecosystem
An aquatic ecosystem is an ecosystem in a body of water. Communities of organisms that are dependent on each other and on their environment live in aquatic ecosystems. The two main types of aquatic ecosystems are marine ecosystems and freshwater ecosystems.Biotic component
Biotic components or biotic factors, can be described as any living component that affects another organism, or shapes the ecosystem. This includes both animals that consume other organisms within their ecosystem, and the organism that is being consumed. Biotic factors also include human influence, pathogens, and disease outbreaks. Each biotic factor needs the proper amount of energy and nutrition to function day to day.
Biotic components are typically sorted into three main categories:
Producers, otherwise known as autotrophs, convert energy (through the process of photosynthesis) into food.
Consumers, otherwise known as heterotrophs, depend upon producers (and occasionally other consumers) for food.
Decomposers, otherwise known as detritivores, break down chemicals from producers and consumers (usually antibiotic) into simpler form which can be reused.Coast
The coast, also known as the coastline or seashore, is the area where land meets the sea or ocean, or a line that forms the boundary between the land and the ocean or a lake. A precise line that can be called a coastline cannot be determined due to the Coastline paradox.
The term coastal zone is a region where interaction of the sea and land processes occurs. Both the terms coast and coastal are often used to describe a geographic location or region; for example, New Zealand's West Coast, or the East and West Coasts of the United States. Edinburgh for example is a city on the coast of Great Britain.
A pelagic coast refers to a coast which fronts the open ocean, as opposed to a more sheltered coast in a gulf or bay. A shore, on the other hand, can refer to parts of land adjoining any large body of water, including oceans (sea shore) and lakes (lake shore). Similarly, the somewhat related term "[stream bed/bank]" refers to the land alongside or sloping down to a river (riverbank) or body of water smaller than a lake. "Bank" is also used in some parts of the world to refer to an artificial ridge of earth intended to retain the water of a river or pond; in other places this may be called a levee.
While many scientific experts might agree on a common definition of the term "coast", the delineation of the extents of a coast differ according to jurisdiction, with many scientific and government authorities in various countries differing for economic and social policy reasons. According to the UN atlas, 44% of people live within 150 kilometres (93 miles) of the sea.Ecological pyramid
An ecological pyramid (also trophic pyramid, eltonian pyramid, energy pyramid, or sometimes food pyramid) is a graphical representation designed to show the biomass or bio productivity at each trophic level in a given ecosystem.
Biomass pyramids show how much biomass (the amount of living or organic matter present in an organism) is present in the organisms at each trophic level, while productivity pyramids show the procreation or turnover in biomass. There is also pyramid of numbers which represent the number of organisms in each trophic level. They may be upright (e.g. Grassland ecosystem), inverted (parasitic ecosystem) or dumbbell shaped (forest ecosystem).
Energy pyramids begin with producers on the bottom (such as plants) and proceed through the various trophic levels (such as herbivores that eat plants, then carnivores that eat flesh, then omnivores that eat both plants and flesh, and so on). The highest level is the top of the food chain.Ecology
Ecology (from Greek: οἶκος, "house", or "environment"; -λογία, "study of") is the branch of biology which studies the interactions among organisms and their environment. Objects of study include interactions of organisms with each other and with abiotic components of their environment. Topics of interest include the biodiversity, distribution, biomass, and populations of organisms, as well as cooperation and competition within and between species. Ecosystems are dynamically interacting systems of organisms, the communities they make up, and the non-living components of their environment. Ecosystem processes, such as primary production, pedogenesis, nutrient cycling, and niche construction, regulate the flux of energy and matter through an environment. These processes are sustained by organisms with specific life history traits. Biodiversity means the varieties of species, genes, and ecosystems, enhances certain ecosystem services.
Ecology is not synonymous with environmentalism, natural history, or environmental science. It overlaps with the closely related sciences of evolutionary biology, genetics, and ethology. An important focus for ecologists is to improve the understanding of how biodiversity affects ecological function. Ecologists seek to explain:
Life processes, interactions, and adaptations
The movement of materials and energy through living communities
The successional development of ecosystems
The abundance and distribution of organisms and biodiversity in the context of the environment.Ecology has practical applications in conservation biology, wetland management, natural resource management (agroecology, agriculture, forestry, agroforestry, fisheries), city planning (urban ecology), community health, economics, basic and applied science, and human social interaction (human ecology). For example, the Circles of Sustainability approach treats ecology as more than the environment 'out there'. It is not treated as separate from humans. Organisms (including humans) and resources compose ecosystems which, in turn, maintain biophysical feedback mechanisms that moderate processes acting on living (biotic) and non-living (abiotic) components of the planet. Ecosystems sustain life-supporting functions and produce natural capital like biomass production (food, fuel, fiber, and medicine), the regulation of climate, global biogeochemical cycles, water filtration, soil formation, erosion control, flood protection, and many other natural features of scientific, historical, economic, or intrinsic value.
The word "ecology" ("Ökologie") was coined in 1866 by the German scientist Ernst Haeckel. Ecological thought is derivative of established currents in philosophy, particularly from ethics and politics. Ancient Greek philosophers such as Hippocrates and Aristotle laid the foundations of ecology in their studies on natural history. Modern ecology became a much more rigorous science in the late 19th century. Evolutionary concepts relating to adaptation and natural selection became the cornerstones of modern ecological theory.Ecosystem diversity
Ecosystem diversity deals with the variations in ecosystems within a geographical location and its overall impact on human existence and the environment.
Ecosystem diversity is a type of biodiversity. It is the variation in the ecosystems found in a region or the variation in ecosystems over the whole planet. Biodiversity is important because it clears out our water, changes out climate, and provides us with food. Ecological diversity includes the variation in both terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems. Ecological diversity can also take into account the variation in the complexity of a biological community, including the number of different niches, the number of trophic levels and other ecological processes. An example of ecological diversity on a global scale would be the variation in ecosystems, such as deserts, forests, grasslands, wetlands and oceans. Ecological diversity is the largest scale of biodiversity, and within each ecosystem, there is a great deal of both species and genetic diversity.Ecosystem ecology
Ecosystem ecology is the integrated study of living (biotic) and non-living (abiotic) components of ecosystems and their interactions within an ecosystem framework. This science examines how ecosystems work and relates this to their components such as chemicals, bedrock, soil, plants, and animals.
Ecosystem ecology examines physical and biological structures and examines how these ecosystem characteristics interact with each other. Ultimately, this helps us understand how to maintain high quality water and economically viable commodity production. A major focus of ecosystem ecology is on functional processes, ecological mechanisms that maintain the structure and services produced by ecosystems. These include primary productivity (production of biomass), decomposition, and trophic interactions.
Studies of ecosystem function have greatly improved human understanding of sustainable production of forage, fiber, fuel, and provision of water. Functional processes are mediated by regional-to-local level climate, disturbance, and management. Thus ecosystem ecology provides a powerful framework for identifying ecological mechanisms that interact with global environmental problems, especially global warming and degradation of surface water.
This example demonstrates several important aspects of ecosystems:
Ecosystem boundaries are often nebulous and may fluctuate in time
Organisms within ecosystems are dependent on ecosystem level biological and physical processes
Adjacent ecosystems closely interact and often are interdependent for maintenance of community structure and functional processes that maintain productivity and biodiversityThese characteristics also introduce practical problems into natural resource management. Who will manage which ecosystem? Will timber cutting in the forest degrade recreational fishing in the stream? These questions are difficult for land managers to address while the boundary between ecosystems remains unclear; even though decisions in one ecosystem will affect the other. We need better understanding of the interactions and interdependencies of these ecosystems and the processes that maintain them before we can begin to address these questions.
Ecosystem ecology is an inherently interdisciplinary field of study. An individual ecosystem is composed of populations of organisms, interacting within communities, and contributing to the cycling of nutrients and the flow of energy. The ecosystem is the principal unit of study in ecosystem ecology.
Population, community, and physiological ecology provide many of the underlying biological mechanisms influencing ecosystems and the processes they maintain. Flowing of energy and cycling of matter at the ecosystem level are often examined in ecosystem ecology, but, as a whole, this science is defined more by subject matter than by scale. Ecosystem ecology approaches organisms and abiotic pools of energy and nutrients as an integrated system which distinguishes it from associated sciences such as biogeochemistry.Biogeochemistry and hydrology focus on several fundamental ecosystem processes such as biologically mediated chemical cycling of nutrients and physical-biological cycling of water. Ecosystem ecology forms the mechanistic basis for regional or global processes encompassed by landscape-to-regional hydrology, global biogeochemistry, and earth system science.Ecosystem services
Ecosystem services are the many and varied benefits that humans freely gain from the natural environment and from properly-functioning ecosystems. Such ecosystems include, for example, agroecosystems, forest ecosystems, grassland ecosystems and aquatic ecosystems. Collectively, these benefits are becoming known as 'ecosystem services', and are often integral to the provisioning of clean drinking water, the decomposition of wastes, and the natural pollination of crops and other plants.
While scientists and environmentalists have discussed ecosystem services implicitly for decades, the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment (MA) in the early 2000s popularized the concept. There, ecosystem services are grouped into four broad categories: provisioning, such as the production of food and water; regulating, such as the control of climate and disease; supporting, such as nutrient cycles and oxygen production; and cultural, such as spiritual and recreational benefits. To help inform decision-makers, many ecosystem services are being assigned economic values.Environmental degradation
Environmental degradation is the deterioration of the environment through depletion of resources such as air, water and soil; the destruction of ecosystems; habitat destruction; the extinction of wildlife; and pollution. It is defined as any change or disturbance to the environment perceived to be deleterious or undesirable. As indicated by the I=PAT equation, environmental impact (I) or degradation is caused by the combination of an already very large and increasing human population (P), continually increasing economic growth or per capita affluence (A), and the application of resource-depleting and polluting technology (T).Environmental degradation is one of the ten threats officially cautioned by the High-level Panel on Threats, Challenges and Change of the United Nations. The United Nations International Strategy for Disaster Reduction defines environmental degradation as "the reduction of the
capacity of the environment to meet social and ecological objectives, and needs". Environmental degradation is of many types. When natural habitats are destroyed or natural resources are depleted, the environment is degraded. Efforts to counteract this problem include environmental protection and environmental resources management.Fisheries management
Fisheries management is the activity of protecting fishery resources so sustainable exploitation is possible, drawing on fisheries science, and including the precautionary principle. Modern fisheries management is often referred to as a governmental system of appropriate management rules based on defined objectives and a mix of management means to implement the rules, which are put in place by a system of monitoring control and surveillance. A popular approach is the ecosystem approach to fisheries management. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), there are "no clear and generally accepted definitions of fisheries management". However, the working definition used by the FAO and much cited elsewhere is:
The integrated process of information gathering, analysis, planning, consultation, decision-making, allocation of resources and formulation and implementation, with enforcement as necessary, of regulations or rules which govern fisheries activities in order to ensure the continued productivity of the resources and the accomplishment of other fisheries objectives.Forest ecology
Forest ecology is the scientific study of the interrelated patterns, processes, flora, fauna and ecosystems in forests. The management of forests is known as forestry, silviculture, and forest management. A forest ecosystem is a natural woodland unit consisting of all plants, animals and micro-organisms (Biotic components) in that area functioning together with all of the non-living physical (abiotic) factors of the environment. The forest ecosystem is very important.Freshwater ecosystem
Freshwater ecosystems are a subset of Earth's aquatic ecosystems. They include lakes and ponds, rivers, streams, springs, bogs, and wetlands. They can be contrasted with marine ecosystems, which have a larger salt content. Freshwater habitats can be classified by different factors, including temperature, light penetration, nutrients, and vegetation.
Freshwater ecosystems can be divided into lentic ecosystems (still water) and lotic ecosystems (flowing water).
Limnology (and its branch freshwater biology) is a study about freshwater ecosystems. It is a part of hydrobiology.
Original attempts to understand and monitor freshwater ecosystems were spurred on by threats to human health (ex. Cholera outbreaks due to sewage contamination). Early monitoring focused on chemical indicators, then bacteria, and finally algae, fungi and protozoa. A new type of monitoring involves quantifying differing groups of organisms (macroinvertebrates, macrophytes and fish) and measuring the stream conditions associated with them.Grassland
Grasslands are areas where the vegetation is dominated by grasses (Poaceae); however, sedge (Cyperaceae) and rush (Juncaceae) families can also be found along with variable proportions of legumes, like clover, and other herbs. Grasslands occur naturally on all continents except Antarctica. Grasslands are found in most ecoregions of the Earth. For example, there are five terrestrial ecoregion classifications (subdivisions) of the temperate grasslands, savannas, and shrublands biome (ecosystem), which is one of eight terrestrial ecozones of the Earth's surface.Keystone species
A keystone species is a species that has a disproportionately large effect on its natural environment relative to its abundance. Such species are described as playing a critical role in maintaining the structure of an ecological community, affecting many other organisms in an ecosystem and helping to determine the types and numbers of various other species in the community. A keystone species is a plant or animal that plays a unique and crucial role in the way an ecosystem functions. Without keystone species, the ecosystem would be dramatically different or cease to exist altogether. Some keystone species, such as the wolf, are also apex predators.
The role that a keystone species plays in its ecosystem is analogous to the role of a keystone in an arch. While the keystone is under the least pressure of any of the stones in an arch, the arch still collapses without it. Similarly, an ecosystem may experience a dramatic shift if a keystone species is removed, even though that species was a small part of the ecosystem by measures of biomass or productivity.
It became a popular concept in conservation biology, alongside flagship and umbrella species. Although the concept is valued as a descriptor for particularly strong inter-species interactions, and it has allowed easier communication between ecologists and conservation policy-makers, it has been criticized for oversimplifying complex ecological systems.Marine ecosystem
Marine ecosystems are among the largest of Earth's aquatic ecosystems and are distinguished by waters that have a high salt content. These systems contrast with freshwater ecosystems, which have a lower salt content. Marine waters cover more than 70% of the surface of the Earth and account for more than 97% of Earth's water supply and 90% of habitable space on Earth. Marine ecosystems include nearshore systems, such as the salt marshes, mudflats, seagrass meadows, mangroves, rocky intertidal systems and coral reefs. They also extend outwards from the coast to include offshore systems, such as the surface ocean, pelagic ocean waters, the deep sea, oceanic hydrothermal vents, and the sea floor. Marine ecosystems are characterized by their associated biological community of interacting organisms and their physical environment.Mediterranean climate
A Mediterranean climate or dry summer climate is characterized by rainy winters and dry summers. While the climate receives its name from the Mediterranean Basin, these are generally located on the western coasts of continents, between roughly 30 and 43 degrees north and south of the equator, typically between oceanic climates towards the poles (where they tend to be wetter and cooler), and semi-arid and arid climates towards the equator (where they tend to be drier and hotter).
In essence, and due to the seasonal shift of the subtropical high-pressure belts with the apparent movement of the Sun, a Mediterranean climate is an intermediate type between these other climates, with winters warmer and drier (and sunnier) than oceanic climates and summers imitating sunny weather in semi-arid and arid climates.
The resulting vegetation of Mediterranean climates are the garrigue in the Mediterranean Basin, the chaparral in California, the fynbos in South Africa and the Chilean scrubland in Chile. Areas with this climate are where the so-called "Mediterranean trinity" has traditionally developed: wheat, vine and olive.
Most large, historic cities of the Mediterranean basin, including Athens, Algiers, Barcelona, Beirut, İzmir, Jerusalem, Marseille, Rome, Valencia and Tunis, lie within Mediterranean climatic zones, as do major cities outside the Mediterranean basin, such as Adelaide, Cape Town, Casablanca, Dushanbe, Los Angeles, Lisbon, Perth, San Francisco, Santiago and Tashkent. A few of the local wind patterns affecting the northern Mediterranean are the Bora winds, the Mistral, and the Sirocco wind which all occur at different times of the year. The Bora is a dry wind causing clear skies that begins in autumn from a cold wind source. It is cold and dry and can cause widespread crop damage.Montane ecosystems
Montane ecosystems refers to any ecosystem found in mountains. These ecosystems are strongly affected by climate, which gets colder as elevation increases. They are stratified according to elevation. Dense forests are common at moderate elevations. However, as the elevation increases, the climate becomes harsher, and the plant community transitions to grasslands or tundra.Restoration ecology
Restoration ecology is the scientific study supporting the practice of ecological restoration, which is the practice of renewing and restoring degraded, damaged, or destroyed ecosystems and habitats in the environment by active human intervention and action.
Natural ecosystems provide ecosystem services in the form of resources such as food, fuel, and timber; the purification of air and water; the detoxification and decomposition of wastes; the regulation of climate; the regeneration of soil fertility; and the pollination of crops. These ecosystem processes have been estimated to be worth trillions of dollars annually. There is consensus in the scientific community that the current environmental degradation and destruction of many of the Earth's biota is taking place on a "catastrophically short timescale". Scientists estimate that the current species extinction rate, or the rate of the Holocene extinction, is 1,000 to 10,000 times higher than the normal, background rate. Habitat loss is the leading cause of both species extinctions and ecosystem service decline. Two methods have been identified to slow the rate of species extinction and ecosystem service decline, they are the conservation of currently viable habitat, and the restoration of degraded habitat. The commercial applications of ecological restoration have increased exponentially in recent years.