What is an Ecosystem?
An ecosystem is a collection of organisms that, considered together, form a distinct system. The interdependent interactions of these organisms with each other and with their environment, is known as an ecosystem.
The word eco means an environment, and it comes from ancient Greek. The word system comes from the Greek sustema which means a group of things working together.
Thus, it is clear that an ecosystem is a group of things working together to create a specific environment. To be more precise, an ecosystem is a community of plants, animals and other organisms living together within a certain setting. These organisms interact with each other, affect each other’s lives, and exist in a balance that can be very delicate indeed. This delicate balance can be seen from the fact that if you remove even a single type of organism from an ecosystem, then that ecosystem will collapse or become unrecognizable.
Another aspect of an ecosystem that is essential to its definition is the fact that an ecosystem is a distinct community. We can see where one ecosystem ends and another begins. So, an ecosystem will have borders or edges: these may change over time, but they will usually always be there.
That being said, however, it i s definitely possible for an ecosystem to be permeable to the outside world. An ecosystem does not need to be a hermetically sealed off community – just a distinct one.
Let us summarize everything that we know about ecosystems so far:
- An ecosystem is a group of organisms living together in sync.
- Ecosystems are distinct communities.
- Ecosystems exist in a delicate balance that must be preserved.
- An ecosystem can be permeable to influences from the outside world.
- Intervening in an ecosystem (for instance by removing one type of organism from it) can be disastrous.
Also read: Short Paragraph on Ecosystem
Though we can think of the whole planet as one giant ecosystem, it is also worth while to consider all the many and various types of ecosystem that exist within the world. These can be divided up into various different categories, for ease of definition including marine and terrestrial ecosystems, salt water and fresh water ecosystems, and natural and artificial ecosystems.
Types of ecosystem
There are so many ecosystems in existence throughout the world. In order to make it easier to identify them, they are usually divided into certain categories. Below, you will find a discussion of the main types of ecosystem.
- Natural ecosystem
- Aquatic ecosystem
- Marine ecosystem
- Lotic ecosystem – Running water ecosystem
- Lentic ecosystem – Stagnant water ecosystem
- Fresh water ecosystem
- Marine ecosystem
- Terrestrial ecosystem
- Aquatic ecosystem
- Artificial ecosystem
1. Natural ecosystems
These are ecosystems that exist naturally in the world without being created by humans.
1.1 Aquatic ecosystems
Aquatic comes from the Latin word for water. So, aquatic ecosystems are ecosystems that exist in or under water.
1.1.2 Marine ecosystems: Marine ecosystems are ecosystems that exist in the sea. The word marine means pertaining to the sea. Thus, marine ecosystems are salt water ecosystems that consist of the plants, animals and environments of the sea. Seaweeds, fish and turtles can all be part of a particular marine ecosystem, for example. Marine ecosystems can take many forms, including lagoons, coral reefs, deep sea ecosystems and salt marshes and estuaries. They can be tidal or non tidal, depending on the location.
1.2.3 Fresh water ecosystems: A fresh water ecosystem is an ecosystem that consists of fresh water as opposed to the salty water of the sea. There are various types of fresh water ecosystems, including:
- Lotic ecosystems – Running water ecosystems. In these ecosystems, the water is on the move all the time.
- River ecosystems is an example of lotic ecosystem. Unlike lakes and ponds, rivers are made up of flowing water, which can make them very distinctive ecosystems that are often home to migratory organisms (such as migrating salmon).
- Lentic ecosystems – Stagnant water ecosystems. Here, the water is still and does not move, as in:
- Pond ecosystems: the animals, plants and so on that live in a closed off community in a pond.
- Lake ecosystems: these can be tidal or not, they can exist high up on a mountain or deep in a valley floor.
- Swamp and bog ecosystems: these ecosystems are made of earth saturated in water and they can be teeming with life.
1.2 Terrestrial ecosystems
Terrestrial ecosystems are ecosystems that exist on the land. The word terrestrial comes from the Latin word terrus, which means land.
There are four main types of terrestrial ecosystem: desert, forest, tundra and grassland. Let us take them each in turn.
1.2.1 Forest ecosystems: A forest is a sizeable body of trees and undergrowth. A forest ecosystem consists of a forest and the organisms that live in it. Thus, a forest is any body of trees, and a forest ecosystem can contain all kinds of plants, animals, insects and birds alongside these trees.
Forest ecosystems can be divided up into several different types, including:
- Rain-forests: easily the largest and most bio-diverse forest ecosystems that we have, rain-forests are essential for life on this planet. Rain-forests are typically warm and humid.
- Taiga forests and mountain forests: the sparse, hardy forests at the top of mountains (or, in the case of the taiga, towards the cold polar regions of the world) are home to some very hardy organisms.
- Mainland forests: these are the forests that we can come across all over the world, that are home to owls, foxes and other organisms.
- Mangrove swamps: mangrove roots in combination with tidal waters make for a very diverse and exciting forest ecosystem. During a single day, these swamps can change a lot: at times, these ecosystems are dry and at others they are totally water logged. As a result, they attract a variety of different animals and other organisms at different times of the day.
In addition, it is important to remember that forest ecosystems can be deciduous (i.e. they shed their leaves with the seasons and replenish them later in the year) or evergreen (i.e. their leaves are always green and flourishing no matter what the season. Forests and woods can also be a mix of deciduous and evergreen trees.
1.2.2 Desert ecosystems: The idea of a desert ecosystem may seem to be something of a contradiction, as the very notion of a desert is of somewhere that is uninhabitable – or uninhabited. Look closer at desert ecosystems, however, and you will see that they are full of life. There are three key types of desert ecosystem, which are described below.
- Sand deserts: made up of sand and usually existing in hot climates, these deserts are usually characterized by a shortage of water. Thus, the plants and animals that live in sand deserts are usually well adapted to these harsh conditions. One example is the cactus, which can store water in its body to use when needed. Though humans find it very difficult to live in deserts, there are plenty of animals that thrive there, including scorpions and other insects and crustaceans. Occasionally, water will be found in a desert in the form of an oasis – and it is up for debate whether an oasis is part of a desert ecosystem or whether it is an ecosystem in its own right.
- Ice deserts: though they are the opposite extreme and are very cold, many of the icy regions of the world can be classed as deserts thanks to their deserted and seemingly uninhabitable nature. Nevertheless, plenty of birds, fish, animals and hardy plants manage to live in ice deserts – even in the very extreme conditions of the arctic you will find diverse and plentiful communities or organisms.
- Deep sea deserts: the cold and dark regions of the ocean floor is often classed by scientists as a desert. In some very deep regions of the sea, the sunlight does not even penetrate and animals live off the heat and minerals released by sulfurous geysers bursting from deep inside the earth. These deserts remain very mysterious even to professional biologists, who are still mapping the ocean floor and who are still discovering whole new species every month.
Also read: Short Paragraph on Desert Ecosystem
1.2.3 Grassland: Grassland are other important ecosystems in the world that are usuually situated in the more temperate regions of the earth. They are wide open grassy spaces that are home to many kinds of animals. Here, migratory animals, low lying shrubs and many different species of birds and insects may live.
1.2.4 Tundra: Tundra is the name for the iciest parts of the earth in which the topsoil is always frozen. This is known as permafrost. A tundra based ecosystem is another one that features harsh conditions where many organisms have had to adapt to extreme cold and food shortages in order to survive.
2. Artificial ecosystems
Some ecosystems can also be human made, such as.
2.1 Gardens: From ornamental rockeries to lawns with ponds and trees, these human made ecosystems can attract a large amount of wildlife.
2.2. Agriculture: Growing crops can lead to changes in the landscape and the mineral composition of the soil, creating a distinct human made ecosystem.
2.3 Afforestation: Forests planted by humans can look much the same as natural forests. However, these are a distinct type of human made ecosystem.
There are so many ecosystems all throughout the world, each with their own distinctive character and attributes. How many of the above ecosystems did you recognize and how many were new to you? The important point to take away from this all is that the health of the earth’s ecosystems is vitally important for the health of the planet as a whole, and that we should preserve and protect our ecosystems wherever possible. So, why not get involved in an environmental initiative that will help you to preserve our wonderful ecosystems for future generations to enjoy?