Introduction to Natural Ecosystems

Updated on March 8, 2018
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Environmental degradation is a major issue of our time. A basic environmental building block is the ecosystem.

This article is intended to provide a resource for people who want to learn more about what ecosystems are and how they work. When I was working on a project on this same subject, I couldn't find any resources that offered a basic, thorough overview, so I decided to provide one myself!

Along the way, we'll look at:

  • Natural vs. artificial ecosystems
  • The different types of natural ecosystems
  • How an ecosystem functions
  • Human impacts

The Definition of "Ecosystem"

An ecosystem is a combination of two words: "ecological" and "system." Together, they describe the collection of biotic and abiotic (living and non-living) components and processes that comprise a defined subset of the biosphere. (The "biosphere" is the area of Earth that contains life, whether on the planet's surface or in the air.)

Natural vs. Artificial Ecosystems

  • Natural ecosystems may be terrestrial (such as a desert, forest, or meadow) or aquatic (a pond, river, or lake). A natural ecosystem is a biological environment that is found in nature (e.g. a forest) rather than created or altered by man (a farm).
  • Humans have modified some ecosystems for their own benefit. These are artificial ecosystems. They can be terrestrial (crop fields and gardens) or aquatic (aquariums, dams, and manmade ponds).

This article focuses on types of natural ecosystems, how they work, and what we can do to protect them.

Cultivated farms and gardens are types of artificial (human-made) ecosystems.
Cultivated farms and gardens are types of artificial (human-made) ecosystems. | Source

Types of Natural Ecosystems

There are two main types of natural ecosystems, aquatic and terrestrial.

  • In aquatic ecosystems, organisms interact with water. (The prefix "aqua" means water.)
  • In terrestrial ecosystems, organisms interact with land. (The prefix "terra" means land.)

Aquatic ecosystems include oceans, rivers, and lakes.
Aquatic ecosystems include oceans, rivers, and lakes. | Source

Aquatic Ecosystems

Aquatic ecosystems cover 71% of the earth's surface. There are three different varieties, defined by the kind of water in which the system's organisms interact.

  • Freshwater: This type includes lakes, rivers, ponds, streams, and some wetlands, and makes up the smallest percent of the earth's aquatic ecosystems.
  • Transitional communities: These are places where freshwater and saltwater come together, such as estuaries and some wetlands.
  • Marine: More than 70% of the earth is covered by marine (also called saltwater) ecosystems. These include shorelines, coral reefs, and open ocean.

Mountains, forests, deserts, and grasslands are types of terrestrial ecosystems. Text
Mountains, forests, deserts, and grasslands are types of terrestrial ecosystems. Text | Source

Terrestrial Ecosystems

The four terrestrial ecosystems are classified by the type of land or terrestrial area in which organisms interact.

  • Forest: These ecosystems feature dense tree populations, and include boreal and tropical rain forests.
  • Desert: Deserts receive less than 25 cm of rainfall per year.
  • Grassland: These ecosystems include tropical savannas, temperate prairies, and arctic tundra.
  • Mountain: Mountain ecosystems include steep elevation changes between meadows, ravines, and peaks.

Source

How Ecosystems Work

Energy and the Food Chain

Life is based on energy. On Earth, the sun is the primary source of energy. Plants turn sunlight into chemical energy through a process called photosynthesis.

Plants and trees are the energy producers. Herbivores (plant eaters) and carnivores (meat eaters) are energy consumers. They take in the chemical energy from sunlight through the food they eat. With that energy, they carry out all the processes of life.

The food chain illustrates this energy relationship.

When an insect eats a plant, the insect takes in some of the sun's energy. If a bird eats the insect, the energy is transferred again. When a mammal, like a wildcat, eats the bird, then the energy is transferred one more time. This is how energy flows through an ecosystem.

Global Interdependency

All organisms and ecosystems on Earth are linked to one another. They are said to be "interdependent."

The principles of ecological interdependency are:

  • All species are dependent upon one another, either directly or indirectly.
  • When one is removed, whether through extinction or for human use, other species are affected, however indirectly.
  • The impact of one species' extinction can slowly cause the extinction of other species.

An example of these principles is the relationship between sea otters, kelp, and sea urchins. Each species depends on the others. Sea urchins eat kelp and sea otters eat sea urchins. Each of these species are harvested by humans, which can upset the balance among the three. When humans hunt sea otters, their populations decline. When the sea otters are killed or adapt by moving away, then sea urchins increase, potentially devouring entire stands of kelp. If humans harvest too many sea urchins, they can cause a decline in the sea otter populations that rely on those urchins. In response, the sea urchins can rebound in extreme numbers, denuding the kelp forest and discouraging sea otters from returning.

Source

Human Impacts

Without human efforts to conserve natural resources, as well as recycling and reusing those we have already harvested, some of those resources will be gone forever. If we do not take care of our planet's delicate balance of ecosystems, then that will be the end of us and our world.

Ecosystems require balance to thrive. When one element increases or decreases, the ecosystem must adapt to the change. For example, if a meadow or forest ecosystem receives less moisture than is normal, the fruit-bearing plants may not produce as much food for native animals. In turn, those animals will reproduce at a lower rate.

Humans have had a disproportionate impact on the earth's ecosystems. The fertilizers used in farming, for example, often run off into streams and lakes, causing more algae than usual to grow. The increased algae kills off plants and animals in the lake, throwing the lake's ecosystem out of balance.

Human behavior has introduced pollution into the earth's ecosystems through the air, water, and soil. Also, our use of natural resources, especially fossil fuels, is altering the environment in serious and alarming ways.

Are you taking any steps to save the environment?

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Questions & Answers

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      • hmkrishna profile image

        Halemane Muralikrishna 

        8 weeks ago from South India

        Good ecology Hubpage. Very informative

      • profile image

        Khushi 

        3 months ago

        Nice

      • profile image

        Little Wolf 

        12 months ago

        This has been so helpful for school I can finally finish my extra credit presentation

      • profile image

        hima 

        15 months ago

        This article is very helpful.Thank you so much.

      • profile image

        anotida nyabadza 

        17 months ago

        Thanks you so much ,this information has helped me a lot in my studies

      • profile image

        khamala Diana 

        18 months ago

        good work indeed clearly explain thanks

      • profile image

        khan 

        23 months ago

        thanks uuu so much..this would be enough for my assighnment

      • profile image

        23 months ago

        iam so lost and late if any one happened to stumble opon this comment please be very kind and help me findout how much ecosystems are there and please suscribe to my channel if i get 20 i wil make my first video o and my channel name on youtube is Eshauna M cQuilkin love ypu guys and thanks anyway if you dont but i will really love for you to help me to find my information for skool and to suscribe

      • profile image

        maria lesiel 

        2 years ago

        this is a big help for me. it gives me additional knowledge on my studies especially on my exam... thanks a lot, more power and God bless...

      • profile image

        JUBLES 

        2 years ago

        GREAT STUF .....HELPED ME TO STUDY FOR MY EXAM AND PASS

      • profile image

        LOL 

        2 years ago

        thanks it works

      • profile image

        Ayush Sinha 

        3 years ago

        It's very helpful thanx I got the appropriate answer for my exam

      • profile image

        thaddaeus 

        3 years ago

        this is really helpful for my mid report

      • profile image

        ashi 

        3 years ago

        thanks.......

      • profile image

        fish 

        3 years ago

        this was h elp ful my essay thing said what are benefits of your ecosytem (desert) i put less than 25 cm of rain fall a year . :)

      • profile image

        Bharath 

        3 years ago

        Thankyou for my exam

      • profile image

        Jessy Villa 

        3 years ago

        Thank you very much ! It helps me to do my project !

      • profile image

        mallika 

        4 years ago

        I like my environment some people destroy the nature like cutting the trees that should be avoided

      • profile image

        4 years ago

        very nice note related environment. thanks lot.

      • profile image

        abing sumpi kago 

        4 years ago

        Thank you...it is really wonderful da way this article describe ecosystem. It help me a lot.....

      • profile image

        bakhtawar 

        4 years ago

        I like it

      • profile image

        Ronald sowan 

        4 years ago

        thank u 2 help me sir

      • profile image

        rasika 

        4 years ago

        was very helpful osome

      • profile image

        tanishka 

        4 years ago

        Its osum!

      • profile image

        sham 

        4 years ago

        supreb yaar ....lv u

      • profile image

        kumar 

        5 years ago

        not easy to understand

      • profile image

        Rjade!!.. 

        5 years ago

        Gosh!! Science so hard

      • profile image

        nisheet zehbi 

        5 years ago

        nyc effort. but can b even better and elaborated. thanx anyways :)

      • profile image

        rose 

        5 years ago

        i hate science bad

      • profile image

        subhash kushwaha 

        5 years ago

        Very very thank u sir

      • profile image

        sneha 

        5 years ago

        this helped me for my exams thanks........sir

      • profile image

        Divya Kushwaha 

        5 years ago

        Thanx....

      • profile image

        ELLAJOY 

        5 years ago

        THANK YOU TOO FOR INVITING ME AS ONE OF YOUR GROUP!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

      • profile image

        Banita sinha 

        5 years ago

        Thnx for the vital information.... it has helped me in making my bio project...

      • profile image

        zohaib farman 

        5 years ago

        plz add ecosystem its component and its types in one topic

      • profile image

        brealiana5901 

        5 years ago

        Tnx a lot for the info...

        its very helpful...

        save mother earth!..people

      • profile image

        JANANISELVARAJU 

        6 years ago

        REALLY ITS VERY HELPFUL FOR EVERYONE . YOU DONE A GREAT JOB. THANK YOU

      • profile image

        BAHO BOTO 

        6 years ago

        ANU YUN.......!!1

      • profile image

        abra 

        6 years ago

        tnx a lot

      • profile image

        angel roshani 

        6 years ago

        stop!!! stop !!! stop!!! pollution ........

      • profile image

        Sadaf 

        6 years ago

        You May Include the Types Of Artificial Ecosystem With Main Points Clearly.

      • Forthefuture profile imageAUTHOR

        Forthefuture 

        6 years ago from India

        thanks to all for commenting on my article..thank you.

      • profile image

        innocent nhimbe 

        7 years ago

        the natural ecosystem they have no cultivation occurs

      • profile image

        isagani taruc 

        7 years ago

        thamk...for the info...VERY helpful...for me!!!!!!!!

      • profile image

        pota 

        7 years ago

        d ko maintindihan men

      • profile image

        vladimere 

        7 years ago

        SAVE MOTHER EARTH

      • profile image

        joseph 

        7 years ago

        bobo

      • profile image

        soumya pandey 

        7 years ago

        thanx

      • profile image

        sne khoza 

        7 years ago

        I need help about,how the animals interect in forest ecosystem

      • profile image

        lana 

        7 years ago

        1-forest ecosystem

        2-narine ecosystem

        3-natural ecosystem

        4-tundra eosystem

        5-fresh water ecosytem

        6-marine ecosytem

      • profile image

        priyanka vyas 

        7 years ago

        It's good but you can include that how an aquarium made up

      • profile image

        Mellissa 

        7 years ago

        This was AWESOME!!!!!!

      • profile image

        Sharanya 

        7 years ago

        Hi ppl this info really helped me a lot in making my biology project. Thank You once again and keep giving people information about environment and ecosystem. Thanks guys!

      • profile image

        kathryn 

        7 years ago

        tnx..i realy appreciate this

      • profile image

        kahot ano 

        7 years ago

        ang hirap hnd ko maintindihan hay.................... naku bkt ganito

      • profile image

        aLekhYa 

        7 years ago

        .....?.......

      • profile image

        wednesday 

        7 years ago

        Hi guys this info really helped me a lot in making my bio project. Thank You once again and keep giving people information about environment and ecosystem. Thank You

      • Forthefuture profile imageAUTHOR

        Forthefuture 

        8 years ago from India

        thanks 2uesday and dramatis.....thank you very much...!!!!

      • dramatis personae profile image

        Kera 

        8 years ago from USA

        Hi this is a very nice hub. I'm new here too and just thought I'd drop by to say hi. I saw your comment posted in the forums. Hi.

      • 2uesday profile image

        2uesday 

        8 years ago

        Even though I try care about the environment it feels like a drop in the ocean when I look around at the waste and pollution that is considered acceptable. I hope you enjoy writing here on HubPages and I think you have made a good start with this page.

      • Forthefuture profile imageAUTHOR

        Forthefuture 

        8 years ago from India

        thanks..thank you very much..!!! sir..!! I would like to say you sir.! thanks again.! and about environment there are too many people ( I am also include) they just say to care of environment.! but don't do anything..! huh...

      • profile image

        amorea13 

        8 years ago

        Hi Forthefuture - I liked this hub and learned a lot - I am interested in this subject now though I spent a lot of years not bothering about it!Guess I'm like a lot of people!

        I am also interested, however, in how 'big business' and government are NOT (not really) interested in truly doing anything which will interrupt their income-streams. They TALK about it but don't want to really lose their profits. It's down to the 'ordinary' person - as it always has been. Thanks for this hub - great.

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