Ecosystem: Its Meaning, Characteristics and Importance
Meaning of Ecosystem
An ecosystem is a group of organisms living together in a specific environment. Ecosystems are usually seen to be definite, discrete systems but they may be permeable to outside influences.
An ecosystem is a community of plants, animals, birds and other organisms as well as the vitamins and minerals and energy sources that keep them alive.
In an ecosystem, all of the organisms and their environment can be highly dependent on each other, and can affect each other profoundly.
Understanding ecosystems enables us to understand the organisms that live within them. The whole of planet earth may itself be thought of as one giant ecosystem, where all organisms live together and interact as part of a huge global system.
There are various different types of ecosystems. Usually these are divided into two categories:
- Ecosystems under water. These are called aquatic ecosystems.
- Ecosystems on land. These are called terrestrial ecosystems.
But, marine and aquatic ecosystems can also be divided up into various different kinds, such as:
- Freshwater ecosystems: the fish, plants and birds that live in rivers and lakes.
- Marine ecosystems: ecosystems under the sea.
One example of terrestrial ecosystem is a desert ecosystem, where desert creatures have evolved to live with each other and with their desert environment.
Do you want to learn more about ecosystems? Below, you will find out some of the characteristics of ecosystems.
A closed system: though it may be permeable to outside influences, an ecosystem can be thought of as a relatively self contained system.
Interdependence: the organisms that live in an ecosystem are dependent on each other, and their actions and lives impact on each other’s lives.
Dynamic: ecosystems are able to change and evolve – indeed evolution is one reason why we have distinct ecosystems in the first place.
Adapted: the organisms in an ecosystem have adapted to their environments. They live in such a way as to draw the most benefit from the environment.
Fragile: many ecosystems are considerably fragile when faced with global warming, pollution and other human made problems in the world. One example is the marine ecosystem of the great barrier reef: the precious and ancient coral in this reef is now visibly dying out due to human pollution.
Beautiful: the organisms in various ecosystems have a beauty of their own – not just taken as individuals but also in their interactions with other organisms in the ecosystem. Many scientists and biologists find the delicate balance of organisms in an ecosystem to be something very beautiful in its own right, and indeed this can be a key reason why girls and boys decide to study science at school and university – and to become biologists as adults.
Importance of Ecosystem
Ecosystems are all responsible for keeping the planet as a whole in balance. Animals and other life forms can only thrive if their ecosystems are thriving as a whole. And, the lives of humans are very much dependent on the life of all of the ecosystems in the planet. Though ecosystems can be thought of as distinct systems, they are also all connected with each other and if one ecosystem starts to fail this can have repercussions on other ecosystems all across the world. Ecosystems are very important for many reasons. Below, you will find seven reasons why ecosystems are so important.
1. Biodiversity: All the millions of species that exist on planet earth are sustained by their particular ecosystems. Ecosystems are thus important places for ensuring that biodiversity continues on this planet.
2. Evolution: Organisms within an ecosystem have evolved to subsist within that ecosystem. For example, marine animals have evolved to live in the sea.
3. Interconnectedness: The organisms in any given ecosystem are usually highly interconnected. For example, their relationship may be one of predator and prey, or it may be a bird whose droppings adds nutrients to the soil, enabling different plants and trees to flourish there. As such, it is important to understand that no species exists in total isolation. Rather, their habits and biology are shaped by the ecosystem in which they live. This interconnectedness is actually the reason for some of the flamboyant colors and behavior that we see in many of the world’s species. The need to stand out competitively within an ecosystem has led to the elaborate mating dances of spiders, for instance, and the gorgeous plumage of birds.
4. Self sustaining: The delicate balance of organisms within an ecosystem helps to keep that ecosystem going. For example, you might think that removing one species of insect from a forest ecosystem would do no harm, but the presence of those insects could have been sustaining vast numbers of birds and pollinating vast numbers of flowers, trees and shrubs in the ecosystem. Without the insects, the ecosystem would not survive.
5. A reminder of the wild world: Watching how ecosystems work in a perfect balance can remind humans of the fact that nature has its own rules and that we interfere with the workings of nature at great risk. This is why it is worthwhile to listen to the opinions of biologists on how humans ought best to behave in order to preserve the planet for future generations. Observing an ecosystem, and understanding that as humans we are also organisms living within an ecosystem, can give us some useful perspective about our place within the world. Rather than purely autonomous beings, we are deeply connected to the other organisms around us.
6. Regulating the climate: The ‘respiration’ of forest ecosystems, and the ability of insects to pollinate wide swathes of flower meadows means that many ecosystems help to regulate the amounts of carbon in our climate. In addition, many types of ecosystem protect the earth against extreme weather: forests provide barriers to floods and storms and also prevent the soil from being eroded by the rain. Without the ecosystems that we have now, the world would be made up of very different landscapes, many of them barren.
7. Sources of food and fuel: Plants and fruits are key energy sources (rice is a staple food throughout much of the world, for example) whilst many crops can be used for biomass fuel. Used responsibly, the food and fuel that we get from nearby ecosystems can provide us with sustainable solutions to all of our energy needs.
It is crucial to nourish all the ecosystems on the planet and not to interfere in them in an ignorant or destructive manner. Whatever kinds of ecosystems that we live by, they should be treated with care and respect. This is because they are crucial for maintaining biodiversity, for providing us with food and fuel, and also for regulating the landscape and the climate.
What kinds of ecosystems are in existence near to where you live? Are they thriving, or are they experience problems? What could you do to help promote healthy ecosystems in your area – and around the world in general?
The world’s ecosystems are complex, beautiful and vitally important phenomena. Safeguarding them is a responsibility that belongs to us all.