Different Types of Ecosystems: Natural And Artificial Ecosystems
Environmental degradation is a major issue of our time. A basic environmental building block is the ecosystem. I am going to talk about the different types of ecosystems, in part because when I was working on a project on this subject, I could find no resources.
Definition of "Ecosystem": An ecosystem is a combination of two words: "ecological" and "system." Together they describe the collection of biotic and abiotic components and processes that comprise and govern the behavior of some defined subset of the biosphere.
These are the primary types of ecosystems:
- natural ecosystems: Natural ecosystems may be terrestrial (meaning desert, forest, or meadow) or aquatic, (pond, river, or lake). A natural ecosystem is a biological environment that is found in nature (e.g. a forest) rather than created or altered by man (a farm).
- artificial ecosystems: Humans have modified some ecosystems for their own benefit. These are artificial ecosystems. They can be terrestrial (crop fields and gardens) or aquatic (aquariums, dams, and manmade ponds).
This article focuses on types of natural ecosystems, how they are interdependent, and what we can do to protect them.
Types of Natural Ecosystems
There are two main types of natural ecosystems:
- Aquatic natural ecosystem
- Terrestrial natural ecosystem
In aquatic ecosystems, organisms interact with water (the word "aqua" means water). In terrestrial ecosystems, organisms interact with land (the word "terra" means land).
Aquatic ecosystems in general cover 71% of the earth's surface. As a type, aquatic ecosystems can be classified again into three varieties, defined by the kind of water with which organisms interact.
- Freshwater This type includes lakes, rivers, ponds, streams, and wetlands and makes up the smallest percent of the earth's aquatic ecosystems.
- Transitional communities These are places where freshwater and saltwater come together, including estuaries and wetlands.
- Marine More than 70% of the earth is covered by marine, or saltwater, ecosystems. These include shorelines, coral reefs, and open ocean.
Terrestrial ecosystems are classified by the type of land or terrestrial area.
- Forest These ecosystems feature dense tree populations and include tropical rain forests.
- Desert Deserts receive less than 25 cm of rainfall per year.
- Grassland These ecosystems include tropical savannas, temperate prairies, and arctic tundra.
- Mountain Mountain ecosystems include steep elevation changes between meadows, ravines, and peaks.
Energy, Ecosystems, and the Food Chain
Life is based on energy. For earth, the sun is the primary source of energy. Plants turn sunlight into chemical energy through a process called photosynthesis.
Plants and trees are the energy producers. Herbivores (plant eaters) and carnivores (meat eaters) are energy consumers. They take in the chemical energy from sunlight through the food they eat. With that energy they carry out all the processes of life.
The food chain illustrates this energy relationship.
When an insect eats a plant, the insect takes in some of the sun's energy. If a bird eats the insect, the energy is transferred again. When a mammal, like a wild cat, eats the bird, then the energy is transferred one more time. This is how energy flows through an ecosystem.
Global Interdependency of Ecosystems
Ecologists are very concerned with man's impact on the environment. All organisms and ecosystems on earth are linked to one another. They are said to be "interdependent."
The principles of ecological interdependency are
- all species are dependent upon one another
- when one is removed, through extinction or for human use, other species are effected, however indirectly
- the impact of one species' extinction can slowly cause extinction of other species
An example of these principles is the relationship between sea otters, kelp, and sea urchins. Each species depends upon the others. Sea urchins eat kelp and sea otters eat sea urchins. All three species may be harvested by humans, upsetting the balance among the three. Industrial harvest of kelp removes sea otter habitat. Human hunting of sea otters also removes otters from the area. When sea otter populations move or die, sea urchins increase and devour entire stands of kelp. Harvesting too many sea urchins can lead to a decline in sea sea otter populations, which in turn leads to rebound in sea urchin population, denuding the kelp forest and discouraging sea otters from returning.
Without efforts to conserve natural resources, as well as recycling and reusing, some resources will be gone forever. If we do not take care of our planet's delicate balance of ecosystems, then that will be the end of us and our world.
Ecosystems require balance to thrive. When one element increases or decreases, the ecosystem must adapt to the change. For example, if a meadow or forest ecosystem receives less moisture than is normal, the fruit-bearing plants may not produce as much food for native animals. In turn, those animals will reproduce at a lower rate.
Humans have had a huge impact on the earth's ecosystems. The fertilizers used in farming, for example, often run off into streams and lakes, causing more algae than usual to grow. The increased algae kills off plants and animals in the lake. Soon, the lake's ecosystem is out of balance.
Human behavior has introduced pollution into the earth's ecosystems through the air, water, and soil. Also, human use of natural resources, especially fossil fuel, is altering the environment in serious and alarming ways.
Scientists have developed many tools to analyze human impact on the environment. One such tool is the environmental Kuznets' curve. Proposed by economist Simon Kuznets in the 1960s, the curve suggests a relationship between environmental quality and economic development.
According to the theory, certain elements of the environment (air and water, specifically) tend to degrade at first as a society develops and becomes more prosperous, and then improve in quality. Nevertheless the generalization that environmental quality can be expected to improve with increasing income is hotly contested—especially in a world where income and its environmental effects are very unevenly distributed between regions. Biodiversity, especially, seems to be decreasing as world income increases.
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In this article, I provide you with information about different types of natural ecosystems. There are many environmental issues to understand, including global warming, acid rain, and depletion of ozone.
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