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Ecosystem- Management, Threats, Major Processes


Ecosystem is a community of living organisms in conjunction with the non-living 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 id 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, parent material which forms the soil and topography, control the overall structure of an ecosystem but are not themselves influenced by the ecosystem, Unlike external factors, internal factors are controlled, for example, decomposition, root competition, shading, disturbance, succession, and the types of species present.

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.

Biodiversity affects ecosystem functioning, as do the processes of disturbance and succession. Ecosystems provide a variety of goods and services upon which people depend.

Ecosystem management

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, agro-ecosystem is close to nature forestry).

Threats caused by humans

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, micro-plastics pollution, water pollution, the warming of oceans, 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.

What is the relation between ecosystem and environment?

Ecology involves relations between organisms and their physical environment. Ecosystem is the system formed as a result of ecology (the interaction of a community of organisms with their physical environment). Environment is just the physical (land, water, soil, climate etc.) part of ecosystem major ecosystem processes

4 Major Ecosystem Processes

The four fundamental ecological processes of ecosystems are the water cycle, biogeochemical (or nutrient) cycling, and energy flow and community dynamics, i.e. how the composition and structure of an ecosystem changes following a disturbance (succession). Water (H2O) is the most abundant molecule on Earth.

  1. Water cycle-

    Water (H­­2O) is the most abundant molecule on Earth. It is the only one that can be found naturally in solid, liquid and gas and is essential to all life on Earth. From the ability to store energy through photosynthesis to the consumption of energy through respiration, the properties of water provide a perfect medium for biological reactions that occur within cells.

The water that evaporates from the ocean with the sun’s energy is transported by the circulation of winds around the planet. Upon rising over the contours of the mountains, it cools and becomes rain, providing moisture to rain forests, jungles, grasslands and scrub. It feeds streams, rivers, lakes, and groundwater before eventually returning to the sea. On this long journey, it is absorbed by plants and drunk by animals, which all require water as it constitutes between 55-80% of all living things.

  1. Nutrient cycles-

    Chemical elements that make up a living being, such as carbon, oxygen, nitrogen, hydrogen, potassium, calcium, phosphorus, sulphur and many others, are transported between living organisms and non-living components of the planet.

These elements are essential for the structure and function of living organisms. Some will accumulate in them while they are alive and return to the soil and the atmosphere when they die. Drastic changes in the dynamic of these cycles produce pollution, eutrophication (surplus nutrient levels in wetlands) and ultimately global climate change.

Carbon is found in the atmosphere, biosphere, oceans and sediments. Plants take carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and convert it into carbohydrates and, in this form, a large part of global carbon is stored in forests and soil. In the sea, many organisms use carbon to form their external skeletons and shells. Carbon returns to the atmosphere through respiration of organisms, organic decomposition, combustion, and volcanic eruptions. The other chemicals have similar cycles.

  1. Energy flow-

    Living organisms require energy to perform the basic functions of growth, reproduction and survival. Plants are primary producers that convert the sun’s energy into chemical energy through photosynthesis. First, the molecule of chlorophyll absorbs energy from light and splits water molecules into hydrogen and oxygen. Secondly, carbon dioxide is converted into carbohydrates (sugars), i.e. larger molecules composed of carbon, hydrogen and oxygen. Herbivores, as secondary consumers, feed on the plants and derive nutrients and energy from them. These are in turn passed on to carnivores and decomposers, The flow of energy through living things is called a trophic chain (from the Greek troph?, food), or food chain, and each level passed along the chain is called a trophic level.

At each transformation, part of the energy is converted into heat second law of thermodynamics), so there will always be more primary producers than herbivores and more herbivores than secondary consumers (carnivores), thus forming a trophic pyramid.

In order to use energy, the vast majority of living organisms need to split up the molecules where it is stored. Carbohydrates, on reaction with oxygen, are broken, releasing energy and reforming molecules of carbon dioxide and water. This process is known as respiration. Some organisms can obtain energy directly from inorganic molecules (chemosynthesis).

  1. Succession-

    Ecosystems are dynamic and their composition and structure changes over time. Periodic disturbances such as fires, hurricanes, droughts, floods, and pests occur and these can substantially alter the grasslands, forests, marshes, mangroves and other communities. Such events are known as disturbance regimes and change from region to region depending on climatic conditions.

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