Ecosystems at Risk

Biophysical interactions which lead to diverse ecosystems and their functioning
What is an ecosystem?  Are delicately balanced natural systems in which there are complex interactions between organisms and their living (biotic) and non-living (abiotic) environment.  Groups of organism’s and their biophysical environment interact and exchange matter and energy and collectively form an ecological system or ecosystem. Ecosystem Functioning  The ability of an ecosystem to capture, transfer and store energy, nutrients and water Biophysical interactions  Occur between the 4 spheres  Lead to new ecosystems Classifying ecosystems  Classified according to their dominant feature.  Ecosystems rarely have distinct boundaries – they blend into adjacent ecosystems via a zone of transition or eco-tone.  Two main variables in determining a terrestrial ecosystem = precipitation and temperature Biomes  Are broad areas of terrestrial ecosystems 5 factors affecting location of biomes  Latitude – eg pressure systems  Altitude – eg temperature  Ocean currents – eg temp and precipitation  Geology – eg soil  Continentally – eg coast = more rain 5 – Ecosphere, ecosystem, community, population, organism 4 – Atmosphere, lithosphere, hydrosphere, biosphere 3 – Biological, chemical, physical 2 – Terrestrial, aquatic Productivity of Ecosystems Two measures:  The amount of biomass produced in the area - the mass of new living matter produced per square metre of land per unit of time.  In terms of energy flow that is the amount of energy (in kilojoules) that is locked into all the organisms in an area per unit per time.

Energy Flows  One way, energy flows down the food chain – there is less and less  Producers, consumers and decomposers form a chain that facilitates the flow of energy from the sun, through the plants, to various kinds of animals within an ecosystem.  At each level of food chain, energy, in the form of heat is lost into the atmosphere.  Organisms in a natural ecosystem are usually part of a complex network of interacting food chains, called a food web. Nutrient Cycles  Plants and animals need at least 30-40 elements for their growth and development  Finite supply (limited) and are cycled by the driving force of the sun  Nutrients such as oxygen, carbon, nitrogen and phosphorus are constantly cycled through ecosystems, making them available for plant growth.  Water is also cycled through ecosystems and is important in allowing other cycles to take place. Example: Short track cycle  Carbon stored in atmos and hydro is CO2  This CO2 is then absorbed through photosynthesis into the biosphere  Travels along food chain as carbs then released back into atmos Long track cycle  99.9% trapped in lithosphere Humans impact on Carbon cycles  Humans disturbed and speed up the long term cycle of CO2 by mining and burning of fossil fuels.  Humans disturbed the short track cycle through large scale destruction of forests, again releasing large amounts of CO2 into the air. Factors affecting the functioning of Ecosystems Abiotic - The Atmosphere  Main source of the climatic factors that impact on ecosystem functioning.  Temperature and the amount of rainfall determine the nature of all the factors within the ecosystem and the speed at which they function.  The main source of nutrients-nitrogen, carbon, oxygen as well as water.  Circulation patterns in the atmosphere determine the spread of pollutants. Abiotic- The Hydrosphere  Determines the nature of the water cycles in an area.  Large bodies of water moderate the temperatures of adjoining land masses because water heats and cools more slowly than land. Abiotic - The Lithosphere

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Determines the nature of soils and provides habitats for many decomposer organisms the recycle the minerals essential to the plants forming the basis of the food web. The capacity of the soil to store nutrients and store water helps to determine the nature of the ecosystem. Climatic factors affect the role soils play in an ecosystem. Landforms affect ecosystems. Small differences in elevation result in marked differences in plant communities.

Biotic -The Biosphere  The domain on or near the earth’s surface where environmental conditions enable solar energy to produce the chemical changes necessary for all life to occur.  It comprises all living and dead organisms found near the earth’s surface.

Vulnerability and Resilience of Ecosystems
All elements of an ecosystem are interdependent. This interdependence makes an ecosystem vulnerable of places at risk. How the interdependence of the 4 spheres makes a difference  Ripple effect  Acts as a dynamic equilibrium, is in a continual state of change  Change beyond limits of equilibrium = collapse of ecosystem When an ecosystem is disturbed there are 3 possible outcomes 1. Recovery – stable at old level 2. Recovery – stable at new level 3. Continuing state of change – Collapse of original ecosystem, new ecosystem? Ecosystem Resilience  The ability of an ecosystem to adapt to a changing environment and to restore function following an episode of natural or human induced stress.  Rich biodiversity = greater resilience.  The more successful a species is at regeneration and adaptation, the less vulnerable it is to changes in its ecosystem.  The intensity and duration of stress is important in terms of the effect it has on an ecosystem. Signs of ecosystems at risk  Drop in primary activity (less plants)  Increased nutrient loss (soil – landslide)  Decline or extinction of indicator species  Larger population of insect pests  Decline of species diversity (imbalance in food chain) Factors that affect vulnerability of ecosystems  B.E.L.L. Biodiversity Three levels;

 Genetic Diversity Variety of genetic information contained in all the individual plants, animals and micro-organisms. Genetic diversity favours the survival of a species, as there is a high chance some members of a species will have the characteristics which aid their survival, if the population is subject to stress.  Species Diversity The greater the species diversity, the more robust the ecosystem. When ecosystems are diverse there is a range of pathways for ecological processes. If one pathway is damaged an alternative may be used and the ecosystem can continue to function.  Ecosystem Diversity Ecosystem diversity is the variety of habitats, communities and ecological processes present within ecosystems in terms of habitat differences and variety of ecological processes. Extent (size)  The extent of an ecosystem is the product of a variety of factors.  The most important is the microclimate variations created by the physical features of an area.  The boundaries of an ecosystem demonstrate a high degree of overlap.  Ecosystems that are restricted to relatively small areas of already extensive disturbance are especially vulnerable. Location  The greater the degree of specialisation an organism has to a particular set of environmental conditions the more vulnerable an ecosystem is to irreversible change within the ecosystem.  Proximity to large concentrations of people - as populations grow so does the demand for land. Urban, industrial and agricultural land uses, at times, destroy ecosystems while oceans and rivers become dumping grounds for pollutants. Linkages  The greater the level of interdependence and species diversity the greater the resilience.  Primary consumers with highly specific food shortages are vulnerable to disturbances.  Example: Few linkages in the food chains of Antarctica. Any reduction on the supply to Krill will directly affect whales – ripple effect

Naturally Induced Environmental Stress Ecosystems are constantly changing in response to slow paced stress from the environment. There are two types of natural disturbances that cause stress;  Catastrophic – Drought, flood, fire, earthquake  Gradual – Climate change, disease, immigration of new species These disturbances cause patchiness but also increased biodiversity with fugitive species invading Ecosystems recover in stages/ seres’ that succeed one another called invasion and succession.

Two types of succession;  Primary – occurs in areas where life does not already exist  Secondary – occurs where existing life has been disturbed Plant succession  The natural change in the structure and species composition of an ecosystem  Leads to complex communities


Pioneer species


Temporary condition


Climax community

Aptitude = does not recover Elasticity = flexibility of ecosystem in disturbances Malleable = trying to get back to steady state Human Induced Environmental Stress Today human activity destroys or seriously threatens species, and their habitat. Stresses include:  Environmental degradation - result of massive population growth  Developing world - poverty, non-sustainable consumption and environmentally damaging waste. Developed world - non-sustainable agriculture and exploitation of natural resources. Human threats to biodiversity include:  Species introduction either deliberate or accidental. Exotic species can disrupt energy flows.  Habitat destruction is a major threat. It can include outright loss of areas, degradation, and where native species are deprived of food.  Hunting can lead to exploitation of wildlife and decimation of species.  Pollution is a major threat to aquatic and terrestrial ecosystems. Human Induced Modification to Ecosystems Humans have the ability to simplify natural ecosystems in order to grow food or extract resources. The great environmental challenge now facing humans is how to maintain a sustainable balance between the simplified human ecosystems and the neighbouring, more complex, natural ecosystems on which simple ecosystems depend on. Nature of Human Induced Modifications

Human induced modification can either be intentional or unintentional. It may also be the result of negligence.  Some modifications are intentional but result in unintended consequences, over the longer term. - negligence  E.g. Intentionally Aboriginals burnt the bush to aid hunting. The consequence of this management practise was the long term effect on Australia’s pattern of regeneration, not what was planned by the initial indigenous counterparts.  Humans have the ability to transfer resources from one region to another and to modify ecosystems in order to sustain continued population growth. The issue is whether such modifications will continue to lead to inadvertent changes. The Rate of Change The rate of ecosystem change is largely related to 4 factors:  Rapid world population growth  Ever increasing demand for the world’s resources  Development  Carbon footprint – developing countries now want same lifestyle as the developed world = unsustainable

The importance of Ecosystem Management and Protection.
People must reassess the relationship they have with their bio-physical environment and will need to adopt new values, attitudes and practises that are compatible with sustainable development. The reasons for managing and protecting ecosystems include:  The maintenance of genetic diversity  Utility Value  Intrinsic Value  Heritage Value  The need to allow natural change to proceed Maintaining Genetic Diversity  Genetic diversity allows a species to adopt changes in its environment.  Every time a species becomes extinct, an irreplaceable library of genetic information is lost.  Genetic engineering is a new frontier of science and yet genetic diversity is being diminished at a frightening rate.  Hot Spots are being protected where genetic diversity can be protected and conserved. Utility Value  Diversity of life represents a vast store of genetic material that can be tapped as human needs change.  The loss of a species denies humanity a possible source of food, medicine and chemicals.  The protection is critical to the physical wellbeing of humanity.

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Plants, animals and micro-organisms supply us with the many of the medicines that are used to sure human disease. Medical scientists have only examined 5,000 of the estimated 250,000 plants which have pharmaceutical value. Ecosystems supply scores of wild products including meats, fruits, dyes and clothing. In India, at least 30% of the population have been called “ecosystem people,” with their survival very dependent on the productivity and diversity of local surroundings. Approximately one third of all plant species have edible parts. There are many species which have yet to be developed commercially. Tourism is also adapted to certain environments providing value.

Intrinsic Value  Ecosystems are endowed with their own intrinsic value and ethical value, that is, they have the right to exist irrespective of their utility value.  The biophysical environment provides for many of the inspirational, aesthetic and spiritual needs of some people.  The aesthetic qualities of ecosystems are also valued to the recreational potential.  Traditional Aboriginal people have an eco-centric world view, which are people who live with acute appreciation of the natural world in which they live. Each individual has an obligation to protect and preserve the spirit of the land and the living things on it.  Intrinsic and amenity values are very difficult to attach monetary values to and as a result are often ignored. Heritage Value  Preserving important elements, via responsibility, of our natural heritage for the enjoyment of our future generations.  The World Heritage Conservation Council considers natural heritage to be, “natural features consisting of physical and biological formations which are of outstanding universal value from an aesthetic or scientific point of view.” The Need to Allow Natural Change to Proceed Life forms on earth are a product of ongoing evolutionary process; Humans have the ethical responsibility to allow this process to continue relatively unimpeded. Conditions necessary for unimpeded evolutionary change to occur  Need to be large enough  Have large boundaries – e.g. the edge of catchment not just lake.  Be well managed  Surrounded by a buffer zone

Evaluation of Traditional and Contemporary Management Strategies
 There is no one measure of successful ecosystems management.

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Any success must be measured over a period of time to ensure they are not part of normal fluctuations in ecosystems. Increasingly, the environmental impact of human activity is being judged in terms of its ecological sustainability.

Management Approaches Four broad approached can be identified: Preservation:  Refers to the protection of habitat in its existing form. It involves prevention of all human activities in the area being protected. Conservation:  On the other hand involves active resource management. It is planned use of natural resources in an effort to minimise environmental damage Utilisation:  Involves the replacement of an ecosystem with a human made environment that is capable of providing a sustainable yield Exploitation:  Occurs when an ecosystem’s resources are used irrespective of ecological consequences. Relationships people have with the environment: Environmental imperialism  This egocentric world view holds that everything in nature is subordinate to the needs and wants of humans. Utilitarianism  This view is based on the belief that things only have value if they contribute to the happiness and well being of people. Stewardship  This view contends that humans occupy a privileged position in relation to the rest of nature. People have a responsibility to protect and nurture the land for the benefit of future generations. Romanticisms  A view that values the beauty of nature. Support for the protection of wilderness areas. Radical Environmentalism  This includes a wide range of views ranging from those who advocate the right of all species to survive to those against all development. Evaluation Criteria Contemporary approach  Focuses on the extent to which the strategies adopted promote ecologically sustainable development.  The ultimate measure of ecological sustainability will be higher living standards within the context, of ecologically sustainable development (ESD).  Sustainable development is achieved by maximising people’s economic and social wellbeing, while protecting and maintaining the biophysical environment.

ESD Incorporates Three Important Concepts:  Intergenerational Equity  Precautionary Approach  Biological Diversity Protection Implementation of strategies to address issues, these include:  Reduction in political tensions between countries  Provision of adequate resources for all people to reduce unsustainable exploitation, (lacking in Istanbul)  Initiatives to curb population growth and boom  Providing education and training  Strategies to curb our resilience on non-renewable resources Indicators of sustainability include:  Conservation of Scare resources  Species Diversity  Prevalence of Pests  Ability of the ecosystem to recover from disturbance Minimising Human Impacts on Ecosystems Exclusion  Ecosystems at risk are protected by excluding activities likely to have an adverse impact. Education  Provides opportunity to inform people about an ecosystem, its needs, problems and ways people can minimise their impact. Action  Can remove human-induced sources of stress, assist in rehabilitation populations of flora and fauna and prevent further degradation. Traditional Approaches to Ecosystem Management  Focuses on the collection of food and the provision of shelter within the context of a respect for the earth, its fragile nature and the interdependent relationship of people and the environment.  Their aim is self-sufficiency by taking only what they need.  Experience of human interaction with nature is then passed down generation to generation in laws, customs and rituals, ceremonies, stories and teachings.  Management units and boundaries are determined through the creation of territories, each with its own laws.

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