What is an Ecosystem?
An ecosystem, which is short for ecological system, is a complex network of interactions between the living resources (sea, earth, atmosphere), habitats (the natural home or environment of an animal, plant, or other organism), and residents of an area (plants, animals and other organisms).
Ecological systems are composed of plants, animals, trees, water, soil, people and micro-organisms. Each ecosystem may differ in size (along with the elements that they consist of) but is a functioning unit of nature. Everything that lives in an ecosystem is dependent on the other species and elements within that ecological community.
The complicated interactions between these elements represent a delicate balance that sustains life. This fragile balance can be thrown out of alignment by environmental factors. When one part of the ecosystem is compromised, whether it is damaged, depleted, or driven to extinction it will negatively impact the other elements in the ecosystem. Something as benign as the introduction of a non-native species of algae can cause a chain reaction undermining a thriving ecosystem and result in the destruction of a species of fish or the entire marine habitat or ecosystem.
How many different types of ecosystems are there in the world?
4 Major Classes of Ecosystems: Aquatic, Terrestrial, Lentic, Lotic
Terrestrial Ecosystems consists of: Deciduous, Desert, Grasslands, Taiga, Tropical Rain Forest, Tundra.
Aquatic Ecosystems consists of: Freshwater, Transitional Communities, Marine.
Lentic Ecosystems consists of standing water: Lakes, Ponds and Swamps.
Lotic Ecosystems consists of moving water: Rivers, Streams and Springs.
Any other sub-ecosystem falls under one of these four headings.
Which Ecosystems are Endangered?
According to The International Union for Conservation of Nature (ICUN), Tropical Forests, Temperature Forests, Grasslands, Wetlands & Rivers, Coral Reefs, Oceans are considered endangered.
Why are Ecosystems Endangered?
A change in climate, weather patterns, or a natural disaster can have a dramatic impact on ecosystems. A severe drought can cause ecosystems to collapse, which is one reason why global warming is of particular concern. It can cause a chain reaction of rising temperatures which upset the fragile balance in an ecosystem. For example, melting of the sea ice can reduce a polar bear’s ability to hunt food and therefore are forced to move from their habitat to find another food source which could easily endanger other animal’s threatening their survival and the entire ecosystem.
Human impact is a major cause of endangered ecosystems. Clearing of grasslands for farming, cattle grazing or land development can cause a collapse of an entire ecosystem. While humans in suburban areas like to have a touch of nature, having a coyote scrounging through their their trash or hunting their pets is not a welcome outcome. Wetlands that are habitats for insects, birds, fish, animals and plants and are often eliminated by land development activities causing them to have to adapt and relocate.
Overfishing can cause entire fish species to dwindle to the point of extinction, such as the blue fin tuna. By depleting these large predators, the smaller species can surge out of control and threaten the food supply of all of the species in the ecosystem.
Pollution can negatively impact an ecosystem by destroying a habitat such as particular type of tree, plant or animal and thereby impacting the food chain that is dependent upon that species. Oil spills have had devastating consequences to marine life from endangering birds, fish, and marine life. While clean-up efforts are vital sometimes they come too late to save a marine habitat.
Biodiversity is the foundation of life on Earth. It is crucial for the functioning of ecosystems which provide us with products and services without which we couldn’t live.
Much of the responsibility for the collapse of ecosystems is due to the human element with activities such as overfishing, clear-cutting forests, and poaching animals. Changing weather patterns and global warming (caused by humans) also impact ecosystems.
Who decides that it is endangered?
The International Union for Conservation of Nature (ICUN) is a non-profit global organization that has for 60 years sought to protect endangered environments and species.
Are there things that can be done to reverse the impacts so that it is no longer endangered?
There are many organizations that are zealously working to reverse these impacts. You can help by becoming a member and donating time and money to help reverse these trends. Sometimes even the smallest action can have a positive ripple affect.
Shallow Coral Reefs