Ecosystems Overview

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Levels of Organization in Ecology - Mr Pauller

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Key Questions

  • Answer:

    An ecosystem is a community plus the abiotic environment interacting.


    An ecosystem is a community of living organisms and all of the abiotic components or factors those organisms interact with, such as rocks, water, sunlight, and temperature.

    Ecosystems are larger than a habitat, or a community or a forest type.

    They also change. They change over time and they change in response to disturbances such as fires, the removal or addition of a species, or climate change. As an ecosystem forms, it will undergo what is called ecological succession. Eventually, if enough time passes, the ecosystem will reach what is called a climax community, when no new species are added and no species leave the community. This is when the ecosystem is considered stable.

    There are many ways to define or classify an ecosystem. Using the dominant vegetation type is one method. The geology, climate, temperature and precipitation of the area are usually considered too. The geography is also often important.

    There are multiple examples of ecosystems. You could consider the entire Arctic an ecosystem. Or you could be more specific and consider the boreal forests of North America. Even more specifically, one could consider the everglades a unique ecosystem.

    There is no size requirement or limit to an ecosystem, although scientists typically refer to ecosystems on a rather large scale. Humans dictate the geographical constraints of an ecosystem.

  • Answer:

    Ecosystems can be damaged in many ways, both natural and unnatural (manmade) factors damage ecosystems.


    There are multiple ways ecosystems are damaged.

    Natural causes include fires, geological processes such as a volcanic explosion or an earthquake, and extreme weather events such as floods or droughts. These will all affect and likely damage an ecosystem. For example, a volcanic explosion can entirely wipe out life in the surrounding area.

    Many ways ecosystems are damaged today are due to human causes. Deforestation, desertification, fragmentation of ecosystems, removal of certain species for human purposes (hunting, agricultural uses, medicinal uses), ocean acidification, over fishing, resource extraction such as mining all destroy and damage ecosystems.

    Deforestation for agricultural purposes in Amazon rainforest:

    Mining in Siberia:

    If glaciers melt this affects the living species that live on or rely on glaciers. Melting glaciers will change the temperature in surrounding streams, affecting temperature-sensitive species. Glaciers also act as a store of water during droughts, and will no longer act as a bank during dry times.

    The oceans are becoming more acidic due to climate change and this leads to coral bleaching (coral death), harming and sometimes entirely eliminating the coral reef ecosystem.

    Coral bleaching:

  • An ecosystem is a community of living organisms such as microbes, plants, and animals and non-living abiotic components such as sunlight, water, air, minerals.

    There are aquatic ecosystems such as wetlands, lakes, coral reefs, hydrothermal vents, and others.

    There are also terrestrial ecosystems such as deserts, savannas, tundras, mountains and the forested ecosystems such as tropical evergreen, tropical deciduous, boreal, and others.

    Humans have even created their own, new ecosystem, the urban ecosystem.

    Check out this resource for a more complete listing of ecosystem types.