Ecosystems

Aug 10, 2018

Environmental Enlightenment #090

Acknowledgement: The essence of the material in this issue is taken from Wikipedia at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ecosystem and reformatted, abbreviated and paraphrased to facilitate quick assimilation.

A system is a set of connected things or parts forming a complex whole.

For example, a system of transport would be a set of connected trucks, trains, roads, railroads, loading and offloading docks, and depots forming a complex whole.

The word Eco- concerns living things in relation to their environment. It derives from Greek oikos, household, house, or family.

An ecosystem is a community of living organisms (plants, animals and microbes) in conjunction with nonliving components (things like air, water and mineral soil), interacting as a system.

A coral reef is one example.

Copyright (c) 2004 Richard Ling; Licensed under Gnu Free Documentation License

The tadpole pond is another example

Black Toad Tadpoles in Freshwater Pond – Photo by Donna L. Long. donnallong.com (used with permission)

Ecosystems can be of any size but usually encompass specific, limited spaces (although some scientists say that the entire planet is an ecosystem).

Abiotic is a thing that is physical rather than biological: it contains no life.
All matter is abiotic. Rocks, sand, volcanos, waterfalls and ponds are examples of abiotic environments.

Source: Wikimedia Commons (Public Domain)

Energy, water, nitrogen and soil minerals are essential abiotic components of an ecosystem.

The energy that flows through ecosystems is obtained primarily from the sun.

Copyright: globalphoto / 123RF Stock Photo

By feeding on plants and on one another, animals play an important role in the movement of matter and energy through the system.

Source: Wikimedia Commons (Public Domain)

Decomposers are organisms that break down dead or decaying organisms, and in doing so carry out the natural process of decomposition.

Decomposers use dead organisms and non-living organic compounds as their food source.

Examples of decomposers are bacteria, fungi and worms.

Within the ecosystem, decomposers break down dead organic matter and release carbon back to the atmosphere. 

Decomposers facilitate nutrient cycling by converting nutrients stored in dead organic matter back to a form that can be readily used by plants and other microbes.

Photo by Jean-Pol Grandmont; Licensed under Gnu Free Documentation License

Ecosystems are controlled both by external and internal factors.

External factors, such as climate and the material which forms the soil and topography, control the overall structure of an ecosystem and the way things work within it, but are not themselves influenced by the ecosystem.

Ecosystems are dynamic entities—invariably, they are subject to periodic disturbances and are in the process of recovering from some past disturbance.

These pictures were taken one and two years after a wildfire in a pine forest.

Source: Wikimedia Commons (Public Domain)

Ecosystems in similar environments that are located in different parts of the world can have very different characteristics simply because they contain different species.

The introduction of non-native species can cause substantial shifts in ecosystem function.

Invasive bamboo is one example:

Photo by Balaram Mahalder; Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution

Although humans exist and operate within ecosystems, their cumulative effects are large enough to influence external factors like climate.

The need to consider long-term ecosystem health and its role in enabling human habitation and economic activity is urgent. 

And the elephant and oak are in our thoughts too.

Copyright: aiisha5 / 123RF Stock Photo 

Copyright: daveallenphoto / 123RF Stock Photo

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