You are on page 1of 53


Structure 1.1 1.2 1.3 Introduction


Why is Environment Important?

What is Environment?
Concept of Environment

Divisions of Biosphere Atmosphere Hydrosphere Lithosphere


Biomes and Aquatic Life Zones

Different Types of Biomes Terrestrial Biomes Aquatic Zones

1.5 1.6

Ecosystem Components of Ecosystem

Abiotic Components Biotic Components Trophic Levels Food Chain Food Web Bioaccumulation and Biomagnification Pyramids

1.7 1.8

Energy in Ecosystem
Flow of Energy in an Ecosystem Laws of Thermodynamics

Matter in Ecosystem or Geochemical Cycles

Types of Nutrient Cycles Gaseous Cycles Sedimentary Cycle

1.9 1.10

Biotic Relations
Intraspecific Relations Interspecific Relations

System Feedback Mechanism Ecosystem Homeostasis


Community and Ecological Succession

Succession in Terrestrial Community Succession in Aquatic Habitat General Characteristics of Succession Ecosystem and Human Intervention


Overview of Human Population

Population Characteristics Population Histograms Types of Histogram Populations of India Future of Human Populations: Where Are We Today?

1.13 1.14 1.15

Constitutional Obligations of a Citizen

Obligation to the Future Responsibilities and Duties of a Citizen

Let Us Sum Up Further Reading


Environmental Concerns

This Planet has been delivered wholly assembled and in perfect working condition, and is intended for fully automatic and trouble free operation in orbit around its star, the Sun. However, to ensure proper functioning, all passengers are requested to familiarize themselves fully with the following instructions. Loss or even temporary misplacement of these instructions may result in calamity. Passengers who must proceed without the benefit of these rule are likely to cause considerable damage before they can learn the proper operating procedure to themselves. David R. Brower



Earth is the only planet, among the nine around the sun which supports life. Despite the vastness of earth, life exists only in a very thin layer enveloping the earth called biosphere. Sun is the only source of energy which enables continuous interaction among various life forms. This unit being the first in the course brings out the holistic meaning of the word environment which in broad terms, includes everything external to an organism that affect it, including physical as well as living factors. Their action and interaction make a system of relationship called ecosystem. This unit also deals with structure and properties of ecosystem, basic concepts of ecosystem functioning and the factors controlling it. It also deals with the development of ecosystem. The unit will familiarise you with interactions like competition, parasitism and mutualism that exist between living beings. This unit will focus also on how we as living beings interact with other living and non living components of the ecosystem. You will also become aware that ecosystems are able to maintain homeostasis by active effort, resisting the tendencies toward disorder. For centuries (humans have considered the earth and environment as virtually unlimited but subtle and gradual changes have altered our environment in may different ways. Special mention has been made of human population within the changing scenario over the years, particularly since the industrial revolution. We hope that this unit will give you a better understanding of the environment and its various components. We wish that this unit enables you to use your intelligence and skills to the best of your advantage for managing our environment and keeping it healthy for future generations.

After reading this unit you will be able to: explain the term environment biosphere, species and population; define and explain the basic concept of ecosystem, its structure, properties, function, development, control and stability in order to act positively towards the environment; discuss that the flow of energy and cycling of material are central to the ecosystem functioning and indiscriminate intervention would lead to damage and disruption of the environment;

discuss the environmental consequences of the current growth pattern of human population; and be aware of your duties and obligations towards environment.

Why is Environment Important?



Each and every living organism has a specific surrounding or medium with which it continuously interacts, from which it derives its sustenance and to which it is fully adapted. This surrounding is the natural environment. The word natural environment brings to mind broad aspects of landscape, such as soil, water, desert or mountains which can be more exactly described in terms of physical influences such as differences in moisture, temperature, texture of soil, and biological influences. Thus, environment is defined as, the sum total of living and non-living components; influences and events surrounding an organism. Broadly the environment comprises of abiotic (non-living) and biotic (living) components. (Table 1.1) Table 1.1: Components of environment Abiotic components Light Precipitation Humidity & Water Temperature Substrate Atmospheric gases Altitude Latitude Seasonal changes Topography 1.2.1 Biotic components Plants Animals including humans, parasites and microorganisms Decomposers

Concept of Environment

No organism can live alone without interacting with other organisms so each organism has other organisms as a part of its environment. You must know that all animals are directly or indirectly dependent upon green plants. Plants also depend on animals for a few things such as pollination of flowers and dispersal of fruits and seeds. Each and everything with which you interact or which you need for your sustenance forms your environment. Let us try to understand the concept of environment with an example, Consider (Fig.1.1). Can you identify the environment of a single carp fish in the pond? Its environment consists of abiotic components such as light, temperature, including the water in which nutrients, oxygen, other gases and organic matter are dissolved. The biotic environment consists of microscopic organisms called plankton as well as aquatic plants and animals and decomposers. The plants are of different kinds such as phytoplanktons, partly submerged plants and trees growing around the edge of the pond. The animals consist of zooplanktons, insects, worms, molluscs, tadpoles, frogs, birds and various kinds of fishes. The decomposers are the saprotrophs like bacteria and fungi.

Environmental Concerns

Fig.1.1: Environment of a carp in a pond

The environment of the fish described above is its external environment; living organisms also possess an internal environment, enclosed by the outer body surface. The internal environment is relatively stable as compared to the external environment. However, it is not absolutely constant. Injury, illness or excessive stress upsets the internal environment. For example, if a marine fish is transferred to a fresh water environment, it will not be able to survive. You should realise that the environment is not static. The biotic and abiotic factors are in a flux and keep changing continuously. The organisms can tolerate changes in environment within a certain range called range of tolerance.



You now know the constituents of the environment. You and I live in a defined area of earth where plants and animals, including ourselves, develop kinship with one another for life, food, water, shelter, mates etc. This descrete unit has living and non-living components, which are interdependent and interrelated in terms of their structure, components and functioning. Such a unit is called ecosystem. Ecosystems may vary in size from the smallest puddle of water to large forest, to a biome, to a habitat or to the entire global biosphere or ecosphere. (Fig 1.2)

Fig.1.2: Biological systems represent a hierarchy of progressively increasing level of complexity. Ecosystem represents a highly complex level of organization


Before we explain the functioning of the components of the ecosystem let us first discuss the larger unit of natural landscape the biosphere. 1.3.1 Divisions of Biosphere

Why is Environment Important?

Biosphere is that part, of the earth, water and atmosphere in which many smaller ecosystems exist and operate. Three main subdivisions of the biosphere are: 1) lithosphere (land), 2) hydrosphere (water), and 3) atmosphere (air) or the gaseous envelope of the earth which extends up to a height of 22.5 km. Fig.1.3 shows the idealised scheme of biosphere in relation to hydrosphere, atmosphere and lithosphere. The area of contact and interaction between these three components is really important for life, as it is here that the entire life is confined and the basic processes of life, like photosynthesis and respiration occur.

Biosphere is that part of the earth where life can exist. It is a narrow layer around the surface of the earth. If you visualise the earth to be the size of an apple the biosphere would be as thick as its skin.

Fig.1.3: Idealised scheme of the biosphere

Living organisms are, mostly, confined to the parts of biosphere that receive solar radiation during the day. As you can see in (Fig. 1.4) the biosphere extends from the floor of the ocean some 11,000 metres below the surface of the earth to the top of the highest mountains, or about 9,000 metres above the sea level. Its most densely populated region is just above and below the sea level. Life in the biosphere is abundant between 200 metres (660 feet) below the surface of the ocean and about 6,000 metres (20,000 feet) above sea level as shown in (Fig. 1.4). The energy required for the life within the biosphere comes from the sun without which the biosphere will collapse. The nutrients necessary for living organisms come from air, water and soil and not from outside and the same nutrients are recycled over and over again for life to continue. Living organisms are not uniformly distributed throughout the biosphere. Only a few

Biosphere is absent at extremes of the North and South poles, the highest mountains and the deepest oceans, since existing conditions there do not support life. Occasionally spores of fungi and bacteria do occur at great height beyond 9,000 metres, but they are not metabolically active, and hence represent only dormant life.


Environmental Concerns

organisms live in the polar regions, while the tropical rain forests possess an exceedingly rich diversity of plants and animals.

Fig.1.4: Vertical dimensions of the biosphere. Life exists from the highest mountain peaks to the depths of the ocean. Life at the extremes is however, rare. Most organisms are limited to a narrow region depicted here between 6000 metres above sea level and 200 metres below sea level

1.3.2 Atmosphere Atmosphere is of vital significance to life as all components of air (except inert ones) serve as key metabolites for living organisms. Table 1.2 shows the composition of the atmosphere. In this section we will discuss about the metabolic role of a few important gases, namely carbon dioxide, oxygen and nitrogen, which highlight the importance of atmosphere. Table 1.2: The relative proportions of gases in the lower atmosphere (below 80 kilometres), excluding water vapour

Nitrogen Oxygen Argon Carbon dioxide Helium Neon Krypton Methane Hydrogen Nitrous oxide Xenon Ozone

Per cent by volume

78.08 20.95 0.93 0.03 0.00052 0.0018 0.00010 0.00015 0.00005 0.00005 0.000009 0.000007


Carbon Dioxide You must be aware that chlorophyll bearing organisms namely green plants, green and purple bacteria and blue green algae are the only biological or biotic members in nature which manufacture their own food. They do so by the process of photosynthesis. In this process they use atmospheric carbon dioxide along with water and some minerals such as calcium, potassium, magnesium etc. in the presence of sunlight to produce organic substances or food such as glucose (a vital molecule in living things) and oxygen, which is essential for respiration. The carbon and oxygen supplied by carbon dioxide remain in living matter until death and the CO2 returns to the atmosphere, only after decomposition of the living matter, to complete the cycle as you can see in Fig.1.5. (Refer further to carbon cycle in subsection 1.8.2 as well)

Why is Environment Important? Carbon dioxide enters the living world as the basic constituent of all organic compounds. Chemosynthetic bacteria are also producers. However, unlike plants these bacteria which occur in deep ocean trenches where sun energy is absent, derive energy by the process of chemosysthesis. They use hydrogen sulphide, instead of sun, as the energy source.

Fig.1.5: The linkage between carbon dioxide and oxygen cycle. Plants use carbon dioxide during photosynthesis and give off oxygen. This oxygen is available to animals for process of the cellular respiration. Animals breathe out carbon dioxide; some carbon dioxide is released from decomposition of dead organisms

Oxygen Oxygen, an important constituent of the atmosphere, enters the living world through respiration, which is a familiar process in both plants and animals including humans. Oxygen is used by living organisms to oxidize food material mainly glucose molecules in order to release energy which is needed for various activities by organism. Food or nutrient is not only a source of energy but is also used to build up the organisms bodies. Respiration and photosynthesis, together form a cycle called photosynthesis respiration cycle, as you can see in Fig.1.5. This cycle can be depicted as follows:

Energy is defined as the capacity to do work

6CO2 + 6H2O + minerals

photosynthesis (carbon dioxide) + (water) + minerals

C6H12O6 + 6O2
glucose (food) + oxygen


C6H12O6 + 6O2
heat energy

6 CO2 + 6H2O + energy to do work


Environmental Concerns

Thus nutrients and energy are combined into one entity i.e. biomass by plants. This food manufactured by green plants is consumed by other organisms. Nitrogen Nitrogen is also an essential component of living systems. It is required by organisms for the synthesis of proteins, nucleic acids, and other nitrogenous compounds. While looking at table 1.2 you may have noticed that nitrogen forms the main constituent of air and it appears that we seem to be living in an envelope of nitrogen. However, the paradox is that this large amount of nitrogen is unavailable to living organisms in the gaseous state (N2). Nitrogen has to be fixed into active nitrogen largely as nitrates and ammonia by certain bacteria in order to become available to living organisms. In subsection 1.7.2 you will see how nitrogen becomes available to the living organisms when you study the nitrogen cycle. 1.3.3 Hydrosphere

You may know that water is the most important component of protoplasm; hence it is essential for life in all living organisms. In metabolic processes, it is the only source of hydrogen and one of the several sources of oxygen. Earth is sometimes called the watery planet as this is the only planet in the solar system which has an abundant supply of water. Water is used by organism as raw material for various metabolic processes and they draw it mainly from the hydrosphere. During the process of metabolism, water consumed by organisms is partly excreted back into the environment and a portion used for building the organisms is returned to the environment after their death and decay. You will learn about the water movement in the biosphere when you study the hydrologic cycle in subsection 1.8.2. 1.3.4 Lithosphere

The lithosphere helps in the metabolic process of organisms in two ways: i) it is the only source of most of the minerals for organisms belonging to either terrestrial or aquatic conditions, and ii) it forms the soil, which is required mainly by terrestrial plants. Many other nutrients, in addition to carbon, oxygen, hydrogen and nitrogen occur in the lithosphere and the organism requires them as well. All organisms also need phosphorus, sulphur, sodium, potassium, calcium, magnesium, iron, manganese, cobalt, copper, zinc and probably chlorine. In addition some organisms may also require for special functions for their survival, nutrients like aluminium, boron, bromine, iodine, selenium, molybdenum, vanadium, silicon, strontium, barium and possibly nickel. Movement of these nutrients or materials through the living organisms occur as well. (Refer to table 1.5 in section 1.8 as well)




The terrestrial part of the biosphere is divisible into enormous regions called biomes, which are characterized, by climate, vegetation, animal life and general soil type. The dozen or more biomes of the earth are spread over millions of square kilometres and span entire continents. No two biomes are

alike. The climate determines the boundaries of a biome and abundance of plants and animals found in each one of them. The most important climatic factors are temperature and precipitation. Aquatic systems are also divided into distinct life zones, which however are not called biomes but are very similar, in that they are regions of relatively distinct plant and animal life. The major differences between the various aquatic zones is due to salinity, levels of dissolved nutrients, water temperature, depth of sunlight penetration. 1.4.1 Different Types of Biomes

Why is Environment Important?

We will learn about different types of vast ecosystems namely biomes and aquatic zones on our earth. We can get an idea about both of these ecosystems by looking at tables 1.3 and 1.4. 1.4.2 Terrestrial Biomes

Let us first study in brief the main features of the various types of terrestrial ecosystems with the help of Table 1.3 and Fig.1.6. Table 1.3: Terrestrial biomes
Name of Biome 1. Tundra Region Northern most region adjoining the ice bound poles Flora and Fauna Devoid of trees except stunted shrubs in the southern part, ground flora includes lichen, mosses and sedges. The typical animals are reindeer, arctic fox, polar bear, snowy owl, lemming, arctic hare, patarmigan. Reptiles and amphibians are almost absent. The dominating vegetation is coniferous evergreens mostly spruce, with some pine and firs. The fauna consist of small seed eating birds, hawks, fur bearing carnivores, little mink, elks, puma, Siberian tiger, wolverine, wolves etc. The flora includes trees like beech, oak, maple and cherry. Most animals are the familiar vertebrates and invertebrates.

2. Taiga

Northern Europe, Asia and North America but in areas of more moderate temperature than tundra. Also known as boreal forest.

3. Temperate Extends over Central and Deciduous Southern Europe, Eastern Forest North America, Western China, Japan, New Zealand etc. Temperature on an average is moderate and rainfall is abundant. These are generally the most productive agricultural areas of the earth


Environmental Concerns

Name of Biome 4. Tropical Rain Forest

Region Tropical areas of high rainfall in the equatorial regions, which abound with life. Temperature is high.

Flora and Fauna Tropical rainforest covers only about 7% of the earths surface and houses. 40% of the worlds plant and animal species. Multiple storey of broad-leafed evergreen tree species are in abundance. Most animals and epiphytic plants are concentrated in the canopy or tree top zones. Grasses with scattered trees and fire resisting thorny shrubs. The fauna include a great diversity of grazers and browsers such as antelopes, buffaloes, zebras, elephants and rhinoceros; the carnivores include lion, cheetah, hyena; and mongoose, and many rodents. Grasses dominate the vegetation. The fauna include large herbivores like bison, antelope, cattle, rodents, prairie dog, wolves, and a rich and diverse array of ground nesting bird. The flora is drought resistance vegetation such as cacti, euphorbias, sagebrush. Many species of reptiles mammals and birds occur.

5. Savannah

Tropical region: Savannah is most extensive in Africa.

6. Grasslands

North America Midwest and Ukraine: dominated by grasses. Temperate conditions with rather low rainfall.

7. Dessert

Continental interiors with very low and sporadic rainfall with low humidity. The days are very hot but nights are cold.


Fig.1.6: Simplified scheme of the major terrestrial biomes, arranged along ecoclines of increasing aridity at different latitudes, showing the predominant influence of moisture and temperature on the structure of plant communities


Aquatic Zones

Why is Environment Important?

Aquatic ecosystem covers more than 70% of the earths surface and are as diverse in species as the biomes. Aquatic ecosystems are distinguished into fresh water, marine and estuarine ecosystems on the basis of salt content. Their main characteristics are given in table 1.4. Table 1.4: Aquatic ecosystems Name of Biomes Fresh Water Ecosystem Characteristics Fresh water ecosystem are characterised as lotic (having flowing water) or lentic (still or stagnant water). Lotic water systems include freshwater streams, springs, rivulets, creeks, brooks, and rivers. Lentic water bodies include pools, ponds, some swamps, bogs and lakes. They vary considerably in physical, chemical and biological characteristics. Nearly three quarters of earths surface is covered by ocean with an average depth of 3,750 m and with salinity 35 ppt, (parts per thousand), about 90 per cent of which is sodium chloride. Coastal bays, rivers mouths and tidal marshes form the estuaries. In estuaries, fresh water from rivers meets ocean water, and the two are mixed by action of tides. Estuaries are highly productive as compared to the adjacent river or sea.

Marine Ecosystem




Each biome can be subdivided into smaller units. For example the desert biome of Rajasthan is characterised by arid conditions, sandy, terrain, cacti and succulent plants. Animals found there are lizards, snakes. A subdivision of biome such as a pond is called an ecological system or ecosystem. The various kinds of organisms that inhabit an ecosystem forms its populations. The term, population has many uses and meanings in other fields of study. In ecology, a population is a group of potentially interbreeding individuals that occur together in space and time. The individual comprising a population are members of the same species. Populations of plants and animals in the ecosystem do not function independently of each other. They are always influencing each other and organising themselves into communities and have functional relationship with their external environment. An ecosystem is defined as, any unit (a bio system) that includes all the organisms that function together (the biotic community) in a given area, interacting with the physical environment (abiotic component) so that flow
The word ecosystem; was coined by Prof. Arthur Tansley in 1935. The prefix eco means environment.


Environmental Concerns

of energy leads to clearly defined biotic structures and cycling of materials between living and nonliving parts and which is self regulatory based on feed-back information about the population, and the limiting factors which control the living and non-living components. The definition of ecosystem as you can see involves the interaction between living and non-living components of an ecosystem and input, transfer, storage and output of energy as well as cycling of essential materials through the system. Each of these processes is energy dependent. As a result of these complex interactions, the ecosystem has to adjust to these changes to attain a state of equilibrium. Fig. 1.7 illustrates this beautifully. Ecosystems differ greatly in composition, in the number and kinds of species, in the kinds and relative proportions of non-biological constituents and in the degree of variations in time and space.

Fig.1.7: Schematic representation of an ecosystem. The dotted lines represent the boundary of the system. The three major components are the producers, the consumers, and the abiotic elements: inactive or dead organic matter, the soil matrix, nutrients in solution in aquatic ecosystems, sediments, and so on. The arrows indicate interactions within the system and with the environment



Recall the definition of an ecosystem from Section 1.3.1. Any complete definition of an ecosystem includes the biotic as well as the abiotic components and the interaction between the two. 1.6.1 Abiotic Components One of the important components of the ecosystem are abiotic or nonliving components about which you have already read in section 1.2 (Refer to table 1.1 as well). The physical or abiotic components are the inorganic and nonliving parts of the world. The abiotic part consists of soil, water, air, and light energy etc. It also involves a large number of chemicals like oxygen, nitrogen etc. and chemical as well as physical processes including volcanoes, earthquakes, floods, forest fires, climates, and weather conditions. There are numerous chemical processes, but the most important include the carbon, nitrogen and phosphorous cycles. These physical and chemical processes are the result of the physical characteristics of the earth: air, moisture, light and


heat, and the various chemical reactions. While each of these abiotic factors may be studied by itself, however, each of these factor is influenced by and in turn influences all the other factors. Abiotic factors are usually the most important determinants of where and how well an organism exists in its environment. Although these factors interact with each other, usually there is one single factor which serves to limits the range of an organism. That single factor is called the limiting factor. Let us now discuss some of the important abiotic factors: i) Light: Light energy is necessary for green plants to carry on photosynthesis. All animals are directly or indirectly dependent on the food substance produced by green plants. The intensity, duration and wavelength (color) of light are important factors that regulate the life activities of many living things. Light from the sun (solar energy) is the ultimate source of energy for all living things. The availability of light energy differs greatly on different parts of the earth.

Why is Environment Important?

ii) Precipitation: Precipitation in the form of fog, rain, sleet, snow, and hail is one of the most important abiotic factors. Most organisms depend on some form of precipitation, either directly or indirectly, from underground. The amount of precipitation differs, depending where on earth you are. iii) Humidity & Water: Moisture in the air is very necessary for many plants and animals to function properly. Some animals are, active only at night when the humidity is higher. Aquatic habitats are subject to changes in chemical and gas content and to fluctuations of depth. Water holes in the Everglades of Florida and the Savannah of Africa are essential for the existence of native wildlife. iv) Temperature: Many living things carry on their life activities at temperatures between 301 F and 185 F. Some organisms are able to exist at much lower temperatures. The daily and seasonal temperature changes often act as limiting factors and determine the number and kind of organisms present in a region. Temperature patterns vary with latitudes and altitudes of the earth. v) Substrate: This is defined as the base of material on which an organism lives. The type of soil, for example, is a limiting factor for the vegetation, which in turn, may be a determinant for the animal life capable of living in the habitat. The type of soil will determine such factors as pH amount and type of minerals present.

vi) Atmospheric gases: Oxygen and carbon dioxide are generally not limiting factors for terrestrial organisms. These two gases are abundant in our atmosphere. The atmospheric gases can be limiting factors for aquatic organisms. vii) Altitude: Precipitation and temperature both vary with elevation. Usually precipitation increases with elevation although at extreme elevations it may decrease. Temperature usually decreases 2-3 degrees per thousand feet. viii) Latitude: As one moves north or south of the equator, the angle of the sun generally decreases, which results in a decrease in the average temperature.

Environmental Concerns

ix) Topography: Landforms like mountains, valleys, basins, cliffs, etc. may encourage, restrict or isolate organisms. x) Seasonal changes: Because of the tilt of the earth on its axis, the angle of solar radiation varies during the year as one travels from the equator. It produces pronounced changes in the weather during the year, giving rise to seasons like winter, spring, summer, and autumn.

xi) Weather: is the combination of temperature, humidity, precipitation, wind, cloudiness and other atmospheric conditions at a specific place and time and has profound affect on organism. xii) Climate: is the long-term average pattern of weather and influences the vegetation and organisms of a place. It is in this abiotic background that biotic organisms i.e. plants, animals and microbes interact. (See Fig.1.7 again) 1.6.2
Food refers to complex organic compounds such as carbohydrates, proteins and fats. Green plants first produce simple carbohydrates like glucose and later various complex carbohydrates, fats and proteins.

Biotic Components

The biological or biotic components (Fig. 1.8) of an ecosystem interact in an abiotic background and include: i) Organisms, basically green plants, certain bacteria and algae, that in the presence of sunlight can synthesise their own food from simple inorganic substances. Organisms that are able to manufacture their own food are called autotrophs or primary producers. ii) All other organisms that are unable to make their own food but depend on other organisms for food to meet their energy needs for survival are called heterotrophs or phagotrophs or consumers. Among consumers, animals such as goat, cow, deer, rabbit and insects which eat green plants are called primary consumers or herbivores. Organisms which eat a herbivore, like a bird that eats grasshoppers are called secondary consumers. Organisms which eat secondary consumers are called tertiary consumers. While the primary consumers are herbivores, the secondary and tertiary consumers are carnivores. Animals like lions and vultures which are not killed or eaten by other animals are top carnivores.

Fragments of decomposing organic matter is called detritus

Secondary and tertiary consumers may be i) predators which hunt, capture and kill their prey, ii) carrion feeders which feed on corpses, iii) parasites which are smaller than the host, and live on or inside the host on which they feed while the host is alive. The parasites depend on the metabolism of their host for their food supply, iv) there are some animals which have flexible food habits, as they eat both plants (therefore are herbivores) and animals (so are carnivores). They are called omnivores. We (humans) are good examples of an omnivore. Both the consumers and producers complete their life cycles and new generation of population develop while the old ones die. You must be wondering what happens to the dead. There is a continuous breaking up or decomposition of the dead organic matter everywhere in the ecosystem and there is a continuous cycling of materials. Certain fungi and bacteria, which are responsible for the decomposition are called decomposers or saprotrophs or reducers. Most of the saprotrophs are microscopic and they are all heterotrophic in nature. The role of decomposers is very special and important.


Certain decomposers are also called scavengers. Some animals such as earthworms, soil inhabiting nematodes and arthropods are also detritus feeders and are called detrivores. They also contribute to the breaking down of organic matter. Water, carbon dioxide, phosphates and a number of organic compounds are largely the by-products of organism activity on dead organisms.

Why is Environment Important?

Fig.1.8: Biotic members of the ecosystem and their position in the trophic level

1.6.3 Trophic Levels You are now aware that an ecosystem is considered as a basic unit, where complex natural community obtain their food from plants through one, two, three or four steps and accordingly these steps are known as the first, second, third and fourth trophic (Trophe = nourishment) levels or food levels. (Fig.1.8). Let us see the trophic levels to which autotrophs and different types of heterotrophs belong to: Green plants (producers); trophic level I Autotrophs Herbivores (primary consumers); trophic level II Heterotrophs Carnivores (secondary consumers); trophic level III Heterotrophs Carnivores (tertiary consumers); trophic level IV Heterotrophs Top carnivores (quarternary consumers); trophic level V Heterotrophs Thus energy also flows through the trophic levels: from producers to subsequent trophic levels (Fig. 1.9). This energy always flows from lower (producer) to higher (herbivore, carnivore etc.) trophic level. It never flows in the reverse direction that is from carnivores to herbivores to producers. Furthermore there is a loss of some energy in the form of unusable heat at each trophic level so that energy level decreases from the first trophic level

Humans, being omnivores, may belong to more than one trophic level.


Environmental Concerns

upwards. As a result there are usually four or five trophic levels and seldom more than six as beyond that very little energy is left to support any organism. The study of trophic level gives us an idea about the energy transformation in an ecosystem. Furthermore it provides a useful conceptual basis to include all organisms that share the same general mode of feeding into one group which together are said to belong to the same trophic level. This indicates that organisms belonging to the same trophic level obtain food through the same number of steps from the producer. Trophic levels are numbered according to the steps an organism is away from the source of food or energy, that is the producer. (see also Fig. 1.12)

Fig.1.9: Energy use by consumers Energy ingested in food is either digested and assimilated or passed through and eliminated in faeces. The assimilated energy is used for various functions of the body like respiration and movement, reproduction or stored and used for the growth of new tissues or excreted. When the organism dies the energy stored in tissues is used by the decomposers. Only the stored materials are available to organisms at the next trophic level

1.6.4 Food Chain

Each link in the food chain can also be called trophic level

You now know from the previous section that organisms in the ecosystem are related through feeding or trophic levels, that is one organism becomes food for the other. A sequence of organisms that feed on one another, form a food chain as depicted in Fig. 1.10. The arrows in the figure denote the direction and movement of nutrients and energy from producer to consumer. Similar to the trophic levels and for the same reasons the links or steps in a food chain are usually to four or five.


Fig.1.10: A pond food chain

Some animals eat only one kind of food and therefore, are members of a single food chain. Other animals eat different kinds of food, so they are not only members of different food chains but may also occupy different positions in different food chains and trophic levels, thus ensuring the survival of their species. An animal may be a primary consumer in one chain, eating plants but a secondary or tertiary consumer in other chains, eating herbivorous animals or other carnivores. (See also Fig. 1.8) Since man can do nothing about increasing the amount of light energy and very little about the efficiency of energy transfer, he can only shorten the food chain, to get energy i.e., by eating the primary producers plants, rather than animals. In highly populated countries, people tend to be vegetarians because then the food chain is the shortest and a given area of land can in this way support larger number of people. Suppose that a farmer has a crop of wheat and vegetables. He can eat it directly or feed it to his goats and then eat the goats. Figure 1.11 shows that a large number of people can be supported on a vegetarian diet as compared to a non vegetarian diet on a given piece of land. Thus the suns energy is used most efficiently if people are vegetarians.

Why is Environment Important? Humans are at the end of a number of food chain.

Fig.1.11: The relative efficiency of vegetarian and non-vegetarian diets. a) In a vegetarian diet 25,000 calories support 10 people. b) In the same time 25,000 calories of plant matter support only one person who eats meat

Types of Food Chains In nature, two main types of food chains have been distinguished: i) Grazing food chain: The consumers which start the food chain, utilising the plant or plant part as their food, constitute the grazing food chain. This food chain begins from green plants at the base and the primary consumer is herbivore, for example: grass grasshopper birds hawks or falcon

ii) Detritus food chain: The food chain starts from dead organic matter of decaying animals and plant bodies to the micro-organisms and then to detritus feeding organism called detrivores or decomposer then to herbivore and to other predators. Litter springtail (insect) small spiders (carnivore)

In a community of organisms in a shallow sea, about 30% of the total energy flows via detritus chains. In a forest with a large biomass of plants and a relatively small biomass of animals even larger portion of energy flow may be via detritus pathways. All food webs begin with autotrophs and end with decomposers

The distinction between these two food chains is the source of energy for the first level consumers. In the grazing food chain the primary source of energy is living plant biomass while in the detritus food chain the source


Environmental Concerns

of energy is dead organic matter or detritus. The two food chains are linked. The initial energy source for detritus food chain is the waste materials and dead organic matter from the grazing food chain. 1.6.5 Food Web A food chain represents only one part of the food or energy flow through an ecosystem and implies a simple, isolated relationship, which seldom occurs in ecosystems. An ecosystem may consist of several interrelated food chains. More typically, the same food resource is part of more than one chain, especially when that resource is at one of the lower trophic levels. For instance a plant may serve as food source for many herbivores at a time. For example, grasses can support rabbit or grasshopper or goat or cow. Similarly a herbivore may be food source for many different carnivorous species. Also food availability and preferences of herbivores as well as carnivores may shift seasonally e.g. we eat watermelon in summer and peaches in the winter. Thus there are interconnected networks of feeding relationships that take the form of food webs (Fig. 1.12). A food web illustrates, all possible transfers of energy and nutrients among the organisms in an ecosystem, whereas a food chain traces only one pathway of the food.


Fig.1.12: A complex network or web of primary producers, consumers and decomposers illustrated in a typical terrestrial food web in which trophic levels are depicted by Roman numerals


Bioaccumulation and Biomagnification

Why is Environment Important?

In this subsection, we will examine how pollutants specially nondegradable ones move through the various trophic levels in an ecosystem (Fig. 1.13). By nondegradabale pollutants we mean those materials, which cannot be metabolised by the living organisms. For example chlorinated hydrocarbons. Movement of these pollutants involve two main processes: i) bioaccumulation and ii) biomagnification. i) Bioaccumulation: refers to how pollutants enter a food chain. In bioaccumulation there is an increase in concentration of a pollutant from the environment to the first organism in a food chain. ii) Biomagnification: biomagnification refers to the tendency of pollutants to concentrate as they move from one trophic level to the next. Thus in biomagnification there is an increase in concentration of a pollutant from one link in a food chain to another. We are concerned about these phenomena because together they enable even small concentrations of chemicals in the environment to find their way into organisms in high enough dosages to cause problems. In order for biomagnification to occur, the pollutant must be: 1. 2. 3. 4. long-lived mobile soluble in fats biologically active

Fig.1.13: The figure shows how DDT becomes concentrated in the tissues of organisms through four successive trophic levels in a food chain. The DDT concentration occurs because it is metabolised and excreted much more slowly than the nutrients that are passed from one trophic level to the next. So DDT accumulates in the bodies (especially in fat). The numbers in the figure represent the concentration values of DDT and its derivatives (in parts per million or ppm) in the tissues

If a pollutant is short-lived, it will be broken down before it can become dangerous. If it is not mobile, it will stay in one place and is unlikely to be taken up by organisms. If the pollutant is soluble in water, it will be excreted by the organism. Pollutants that dissolve in fats, however, may be retained for


Environmental Concerns

a long time. It is traditional to measure the amount of pollutants in fatty tissues of organisms such as fish. In mammals, we often test the milk produced by females, since the milk has a lot of fat in it and because the very young are often more susceptible to damage from toxins (poisons). If a pollutant is not active biologically, it may biomagnify, but we really dont worry about it much, since it probably wont cause any problems. 1.6.7 Pyramids

You have studied trophic levels in subsection 1.6.3. These steps of trophic levels can be expressed in a diagrammatic way; and are referred to as ecological pyramids. The food producer forms the base of the pyramid and the top carnivore forms the tip. Other consumer trophic levels are in between. The ecological pyramids are of three categories. Pyramid of numbers, Pyramid of biomass, and Pyramid of energy or productivity. Pyramid of Numbers This deals with the relationship between the numbers of primary producers and consumers of different levels (Fig.1.14). It is a graphic representation of the total number of individuals of different species, belonging to each trophic level in an ecosystem. For example, we might have the following pyramid for a grass field as depicted in Fig.1.14(a) where the base of the pyramid represents the food production base for other higher trophic levels. The pyramid consists of a number of horizontal bars depicting specific trophic levels which are arranged sequentially from primary producer level through herbivore, carnivore onwards. The length of each bar represents the total number of individuals at each trophic level in an ecosystem. The number of individuals drastically decreases with each steps towards higher trophic levels and the diagrammatic representation assumes a pyramid shape and is called pyramid of numbers.


Fig.1.14: Pyramid of numbers shows the number of organisms at each trophic level in the ecosystem (a) An upright pyramid of numbers (b) an inverted pyramid of numbers

However, it is very difficult to count all the organisms, in a pyramid of numbers and so the pyramid of number does not completely define the trophic structure for an ecosystem. A pyramid of numbers does not take into account the fact that the size of organisms being counted in each trophic level can vary. A count in a forest would have a small number of large producers, the big trees, which support a large number of herbivores. As a result the pyramid will assume an inverted shape as you can see in Fig. 1.14 (b). This is because the tree is a primary producer and would represent the base of the pyramid and the dependent herbivores and carnivore will represent the second and third trophic level respectively. Thus, depending upon the size and biomass, the pyramid of numbers may not always be upright, and may even be completely inverted. Pyramid of Biomass In order to overcome the shortcomings of pyramid of numbers, the pyramid of biomass is used. (Fig.1.15). In this approach individuals in each trophic level are weighed instead of being counted. This would give us a pyramid of biomass, i.e., the total dry weight of all organisms at a each trophic level at a particular time. Pyramid of biomass is usually determined by collecting all organisms occupying each trophic level separately and measuring their dry weight. This overcomes the size difference problem because all kinds of organisms at a trophic level are weighed. Biomass is measured in g/m2. At the time of sampling, the amount of biomass is known as standing crop or standing biomass. For most ecosystems on land, the pyramid of biomass has a large base of primary producers with a smaller trophic level perched on top.

Why is Environment Important?

Fig.1.15: The pyramid of biomass depicts total weight of organisms supported at each level

In contrast, in many aquatic ecosystems, the pyramid of biomass may assume an inverted form. This is because the producers are tiny phytoplanktons that grow and reproduce rapidly. Here, the pyramid of biomass can have a small base, with the consumer biomass at any instant actually exceeding the producer biomass. The phytoplanktons are consumed about as fast as they reproduce, it is just that the survivors (they may be few) are reproducing at a phenomenal rate.


Environmental Concerns

Pyramid of Energy When we wish to compare the functional roles of the trophic levels in an ecosystem, an energy pyramid is probably the most informative, for the pyramid shape is not distorted by over emphasis on variations in the size and weight of the individuals. An energy pyramid more accurately, reflects the laws of thermodynamics, with conversion of solar energy to chemical energy and heat energy at each trophic level and with loss of energy being depicted at each transfer to another trophic level (See section 1.7). Hence the pyramid is always right side up (Fig.1.16), with a large energy base at the bottom. A pyramid of energy must be based on a determination of the actual amount of energy that individuals take in, how much they burn up during metabolism, how much remains in their waste products, and how much they store in body tissue.

Fig.1.16: The pyramid of energy depicts the amounts of energy available at each trophic level One calorie (cal) is the amount of heat needed to raise the temperature of one cubic centimetre of water through one degree centigrade. One kilo calorie (k cal = 1000 cal)

In energy pyramid, a given trophic level always has a smaller energy content than the trophic level immediately below it. This as you may recall from section 1.6.3 is due to the fact that some energy is always lost as heat while going up from one trophic level to the next. Let us explain this with an example. Suppose an ecosystem receives 1000 calories of light energy in a given day. Most of the energy is not absorbed; some is reflected back to space; of the energy absorbed only a small portion is utilised by green plants, out of which the plant uses up some for respiration and of the 1000 calories, therefore only 100 calories are stored as energy rich materials. Now suppose an animal, say a deer, eats the plant containing 100 cal of food energy. The deer uses some of it for its own metabolism and stores only 10 cal as food energy. A lion that eats the deer gets an even smaller amount of energy. Thus usable energy decreases from sunlight to producer to herbivore to carnivore. Therefore, the energy pyramid will always be upright (see Fig. 1.17). Each bar in the pyramid indicates the amount of energy utilised at each trophic level. The energy inputs and outputs are calculated so that energy flow can be expressed per unit area of land or volume of water per unit time. The unit of measurement is kcal/m2/y, where k cal represents energy, m2 represents unit area and y represents years.

Fig.1.17: Pyramid of energy showing energy loss at each higher level




Why is Environment Important? Sun is the ultimate source of all our energy, which caters to the need of our ecosystem. It has been observed that 30% of the total solar radiation entering our atmosphere is reflected by the earth atmosphere system. The remaining 70% of the radiation is absorbed by the earths atmosphere. Of this 19% is absorbed directly by the atmosphere and the rest by the earth surface.

As you know, by now energy used for all life processes is derived from solar energy. The flow of solar energy is unidirectional. Its immediate implication is that an ecosystem will collapse if the sun stops giving out energy. In the previous subsection you read that solar energy along with nutrients is converted by producers, into food materials and is stored within their bodies. All the food materials or nutrients that we or other animals consume are obtained directly or indirectly from such producers. As a result there is continuous flow of energy from the sun through various organisms and then to outer space: This process maintains the life on the earth. Trapping and flow of energy involves circulation of nutrients as well, which include the basic inorganic elements such as, carbon, hydrogen, oxygen and nitrogen as well as, sodium, calcium, and potassium, which occur in small amounts. In addition, compounds such as; water, carbonates, phosphates and a few others also form part of living organisms. For an ecosystem to function, it is essential that there is a continuous flow of energy and cycling of nutrients. 1.7.1 Flow of Energy in an Ecosystem

With the help of the following flow chart, we can interpret the functional aspect of an ecosystem or the interactions between various components,which involve the flow of energy and cycling of materials (Fig.1.18).

Fig.1.18: Natural balanced ecosystem

Implicit in the system, such as autotroph (producer) heterotroph, (consumer), or producer herbivore carnivore relationship, is the direction of energy movement through the ecosystem. In the process, the flow of solar energy is unidirectional and it is converted into chemical energy through photosynthesis by plants, which also incorporate in their protoplasm a number of inorganic elements and compounds. These green plants are grazed subsequently by heterotrophs. This means that chemical energy in the form of carbohydrates, fats, and proteins as well as a host of other nutrients are transferred into herbivores. This process continues up to the decomposer level through the carnivores. Another feature of the process is that the energy trapped by green plants when transferred from one food level or trophic level


Environmental Concerns

An ecological rule of thumb allows a magnitude of 10 reduction in energy as it passes from one trophic level to another. If herbivores eat 1000 k cal of plant energy, about 100 k cal will get converted into herbivore tissue, 10 k cal will get into first level carnivore production, and 1 k cal into second level carnivore production. However, data suggest that a 90 % loss of energy from one trophic level to another may be too high. Transfer of energy from one trophic level to another tells the real story, but such data are hard to collect.

to another also undergoes losses at each transfer along the chain. This is because in an ecosystem, energy is transformed in an orderly sequence (Refer again to Fig.1.8) and is governed by the two laws of thermodynamics. The first and second law of thermodynamics are given below: 1.7.2 Laws of Thermodynamics

1) The first law of thermodynamics deals with the conservation of matter and energy and states that energy cannot be created or destroyed but can only change from one form to another. For example the energy of visible light is absorbed by green plants through photosynthesis and is changed into chemical energy, which is stored in glucose molecules. (Refer subsection 1.5.6) So in biological context, this principle means that Energy may be transferred or transformed, but it is not lost. This chemical energy is transformed and used by the cells of the organisms through the process of the metabolism for their various activities. Most of the energy is used to for metabolic activities, movement, and other activities of living organisms. 2) The second law of thermodynamics states that part of some useful energy is degraded into unusable waste as heat energy during every energy transformation. The waste heat energy escapes into the surrounding environment. This law clearly operates in the trophic levels where at each succeeding level some chemical energy of food is transformed into unusable heat energy. This is because cells of organisms continuously need energy, which is provided to it mainly in form of ATP while some energy gets transformed into unusable heat (energy). Since heat energy cannot do useful works, more energy must be supplied to a biological system from outside to compensate the inevitable energy loss. In order to continue to function organisms and ecosystems must receive energy supply on a continuing basis which is provided by the sun. If the energy supply is interrupted, the cell will be unable to function and becomes disordered. Such disorganization can be either a cause or a consequence of cell death. The following diagram (Fig.1.19) depicts the energy transfers and energy losses and nutrient movement in an ecosystem.

Fig.1.19: A diagram illustrating the manner in which nutrients cycle through an ecosystem. Energy does not cycle because all that is derived from the sun eventually dissipates as heat


From the above figure, we can conclude the following: energy movement is unidirectional (unlike the nutrients which cycle) in an ecosystem, so the initial energy trapped by an autotroph does not revert back to solar input, energy that passes from herbivore to carnivore does not pass back to herbivore from carnivore. As a consequence of this unidirectional and continuous energy flow, the ecosystem maintains its entity and prevents collapse of the system. nutrients cycle in the ecosystem and transfer of nutrients does not involve loss of nutrients like that of energy. This is because the faecal matter, excretory products and dead bodies of all plants and animals are broken down into inorganic materials by decomposers and are eventually returned to the ecosystem for reuse by the autotrophs. (Refer Section1.5) Flow of energy through the ecosystem is a fundamental process which can be easily quantified if the energy input to the ecosystem and its subsequent transformation from one trophic level to another can be expressed in terms of calories. Activity What would happen if all people in the world become vegetarians? Hints: Humans cannot digest most parts of plants, many kind of alga (which are the producer base of most aquatic food chain). So if people were to become herbivores they would be excluded from many food chains.

Why is Environment Important? Human intervention in natural ecosystem is growing significantly. Human impact on the pattern and quantum of energy flow has changed significantly because of the considerable amount of fossil fuel used by urban, industrial and rural communities. The developing countries of the third world like India face perpetual energy shortage. In the present day world, energy and prosperity go hand in hand. The rich countries have a high rate of consumption. As compared to a citizen in India, a typical person in the U.S. uses: 50 - times more steel 56 - times more energy 170 - times more synthetic rubber and newsprint 250 - times more motor fuel 300 times more plastic as much grain as five Kenyans, and as much energy as 35 (a whole village!) or 500 Ethiopians.



By now you must be well aware that the living world depends upon the flow of energy and the circulation of nutrients through ecosystem. Both influence the abundance of organisms, the metabolic rate at which they live, and the complexity of the ecosystem. You have already read in previous sections that energy flows through ecosystems enabling the organisms to perform various kinds of work and this energy is ultimately lost as heat forever in terms of the usefulness of the system. On the other way hand, nutrients of food matter never get used up. They can be recycled again and again indefinitely. This becomes clearer when we say that, when we breathe we may be inhaling several million atoms of elements that may have been inhaled by the Emperor Akbar or any other person from history. Nutrients that are needed by organisms in large amounts are called macronutrients while those, which are needed in traces are called micronutrients (see Table 1.5). Among the more than 100 chemicals that occur in nature about 40 are present in living organisms. Table 1.5: Chemical elements or mineral nutrients that make up living things
Groups Group I Macronutrients which constitute more than 1 percent each of dry organic weight Element Carbon Hydrogen Oxygen Nitrogen Phosphorus Main Reservoir Atmosphere Hydrosphere Atmosphere Atmosphere and Soil Lithosphere (Cont.)

The reservoirs or pools of nutrients are the regions where the nutrients occur in bulk.


Environmental Concerns

Groups * Group II Macronutrients which constitute 0.2 to 1 percent of dry organic weight

Element Calcium Chlorine Copper Iron Magnesium Sulphur Sodium Potassium Aluminium Boron Bromine Zinc Cobalt Iodine Chromium

Micronutrients which occur in very miniscule amounts and constitute less than 0.2 percent of dry organic weight, although not present in all species

Main Reservoir Lithosphere Lithosphere Lithosphere Lithosphere Lithosphere Lithosphere and Atmosphere Lithosphere Lithosphere Lithosphere Lithosphere Lithosphere Lithosphere Lithosphere Lithosphere Lithosphere

* Some of the second group of macronutrients may be micronutrients for some species and some of the micronutrients may be macronutrients for other species.

A nutrient cycle may also be referred to as perfect or imperfect cycle. A perfect nutrient cycle is one in which nutrients are replaced as fast as they are utilised. Most gaseous cycles are generally considered as perfect cycles. In contrast sedimentary cycles are considered relatively imperfect, as some nutrients are lost from the cycle and get locked into sediments and so become unavailable for immediate cycling.

Types of Nutrient Cycles

Carbon, hydrogen, oxygen, nitrogen and phosphorus as elements and compounds make up 97% of the mass of our bodies and are more than 95% of the mass of all living organisms. In addition to these about 15 to 25 other elements are needed in some form for the survival and good health of plants and animals. These elements or mineral nutrients are always in circulation moving from non-living to living and then back to the non-living components of the ecosystem in a more or less circular fashion. This is known as biogeochemical cycling (bio for living; geo for atmosphere. There are of two basic types of cycles, depending on the nature of the reservoir: i) Gaseous Cycle where the reservoir is the atmosphere or the hydrosphere, and ii) Sedimentary Cycle where the reservoir is the earths crust. 1.8.2 Gaseous Cycles

Let us first study some of the most important gaseous cycles; namely water, carbon and nitrogen. Water Cycle (Hydrologic) water is one of the most important substances for life. On an average water constitutes 70% of the body weight of an organism. It is one of the important ecological factor, which determines the structure and function of the ecosystem. Cycling of all other elements is also dependent upon water as it provides their transportation during the various steps and it also is a solvent medium for their uptake by organisms. Water covers about 75% of the earths surface, occurring in lakes, rivers, seas and oceans. The oceans alone contain 97% of all the water on earth. Much of the remainder is frozen in the polar ice and glaciers. Less than 1% water is present in the form of ice-free fresh water in rivers, lakes, and aquifers. Yet this relatively negligible portion of the planets water is crucially important to all forms of terrestrial and aquatic life. There is also

Protoplasm, the physical basis of life, is made up of 90-95% of water. Human blood contains 90% of water.


underground supply of water. Soils near the surface also serve as reservoir for enormous quantities of water. (see Fig. 1.20).

Why is Environment Important?

Fig.1.20: Global distribution of water. Majority of the worlds supply of water is in the oceans. The readily available fresh water is found as ground water in porous rock beds. Although ice sheets and glaciers hold a large amount of fresh water, their turn over is too slow to be usable

The hydrologic cycle (Fig.1.21) is the movement of water from oceans to atmosphere by evaporation and from atmosphere to oceans and land by precipitation in the form of rain or snow, from land to oceans by run off, from streams and rivers and subsurface ground water flow, and from land to atmosphere by evaporation again. This cycle is driven by solar energy in which about one third of all solar energy is dissipated on cycling about 10 1020 g of water, which is nearly 0.004% of the total, and this is all the time moving in the cycle. The rest of the earths water as you know already is in cold storage (in the form of glaciers and ice).

Fig.1.21: The water or hydrological cycle depicting most of the major pathways of water movement through the ecosystem but it does not depict the more recent pathways that have been created due to human activities


Environmental Concerns

The Carbon Cycle Carbon is present in the atmosphere, mainly in the form of carbon dioxide (CO2). It is a minor constituent of the atmosphere as compared to oxygen and nitrogen (Refer again to table 1.5). However, as you are well aware without carbon dioxide life could not exist, for it is vital for the production of carbohydrates through photosynthesis by plants and is the building block of life. It is the element that anchors all organic substances from coal and oil to DNA (deoxyribonucleic acid: the compound that carries genetic information).

Fig.1.22: a) Generalized global carbon cycle. The carbon cycle The atmosphere contains about 740 1012 kilogram (kg) of carbon, while the oceans hold approximately 43,000 1012 kg. Deforestation and burning of fossil fuels contribute about 1 1012 and 5 1012 kg annually, respectively, of which about 3 1012 accumulates in the atmosphere. Some of the remaining 3 1012 kg is dissolved into the oceans, but the fate of much of this carbon dioxide is yet to be traced


Carbon is returned to the environment about as fast as it is removed. Fig. 1.22 illustrates the global carbon cycle. Carbon from the atmospheric pool moves to green plants, and then to animals. Finally, from them directly to the atmosphere by process of respiration at various trophic levels in the food chain or to bacteria, fungi and other micro-organisms that return it to atmosphere through decomposition of dead organic matter. Some carbon however enters a long term cycle. It may accumulate as undecomposed organic matter as in the peaty layers of bogs and moorlands or as insoluble carbonates (for example the insoluble calcium carbonate ((CaCO3) of various sea shells) which accumulate in bottom sediments in aquatic systems. This sedimentary carbon eventually turns into sedimentary rocks such as lime stone and dolomite and may take a long time to be released. In deep oceans such carbon can remained buried for millions of years till geological movement may lift these rocks above sea level. These rocks may be exposed to erosion, releasing their carbon dioxide,

carbonates and bicarbonates into steams and rivers: hard water has usually flowed through lime stone at some point, picking up carbonates which they accumulate as fur in kettles when the water is boiled. Fossil fuels such as coals, oil and natural gas etc. are also part of the carbon cycle which may release their carbon compounds after several of years. These fossil fuels are organic compounds that were buried before they could be decomposed and were subsequently transformed by time and geological processes into fossil fuels. When fossil fuels are burned the carbon stored in them is released back into the atmosphere as carbon-dioxide. Carbon cycle basically involves a continuous exchange of carbon dioxide between the atmosphere and organisms on one hand, and between the atmosphere and the sea, on the other. The immediate source of carbon dioxide for exchange in the oceans is restricted to surface layers of water. The carbon balance of the biosphere as a whole is moderated by exchange of CO2 between the atmosphere and oceans (which are the richest source of carbon today). The oceans contain about 50 times more CO2 than the atmosphere. This regulates atmosphere CO2 level to 0.032% despite photosynthetic uptake. Scientific concerns over the linked problems of increased atmospheric CO2 concentrations, massive deforestation and reduced productivity of the oceans due to pollution will be discussed in coming units. The Nitrogen Cycle Nitrogen is an essential constituent of protein which is a building block of all living tissue. It constitutes nearly 16% by weight of all the proteins. There is an inexhaustible supply of nitrogen in the atmosphere but the elemental form cannot be used directly by most of the living organisms. Nitrogen needs to be fixed, that is, converted to ammonia, nitrites or nitrates, before it can be taken up by plants. Nitrogen fixation on earth is accomplished in three different ways: (i) by certain free-living and as well as bluegreen algae (e.g. Anabaena, Spirulina) symbiotic bacteria and blue green algae, (ii) by man using industrial processes (fertilizer factories) and (iii) to a limited extent by atmospheric phenomenon such as thunder and lighting. At present, the amount fixed by man industrially, far exceeds the amount fixed by biological and atmospheric actions. As you can see from Fig. 1.23, nitrogen at any time is tied up in different compartments or pools the atmosphere, soil and water, and living organism. The periodic thunderstorms convert the gaseous nitrogen in the atmosphere to ammonia and nitrates which eventually reach the earths surface through precipitation and then into the soil to be utilized by plants. More importantly, however, are certain microorganisms capable of fixing atmospheric nitrogen into ammonium ions (NH4+). These include freeliving nitrifying bacteria (e.g. aerobic Azotobacter and anaerobic Clostridium) and symbiotic nitrifying bacteria living in association with leguminous plants and symbiotic bacteria living in nonleguminous root nodule plants (e.g. Rhizobium) as well as blue green algae (e.g. Anabaena, Spirulina). Ammonium ions can be directly taken up as a source of nitrogen by some plants, or are oxidized to nitrites or nitrates by two groups of specialised bacteria: Nitrosomonas bacteria

Why is Environment Important?

Volcanoes are also important sources of nitrogen. They have been emitting small quantities of nitrogen for centuries and contribute significantly to the nitrogen reservoir of the atmosphere.

The symbiotic bacteria capable of fixing atmospheric nitrogen live in the root nodules of leguminous plants like beans, peas, alfalfa etc. In agricultural ecosystem legumes of approximately 200 species are the preeminent nitrogen fixers. In non-agricultural systems some 12,000 species ranging from cyanobacteria to nodule-bearing plants, are responsible for nitrogen fixation.


Environmental Concerns

promote transformation of ammonia into nitrite. Nitrite is then further transformed into nitrate by the bacteria Nitrobacter. The nitrates synthesised by bacteria in the soil are taken up by plants and converted into amino acids, which are the building blocks of proteins. These then go through higher trophic levels of the ecosystem. During excretion and upon the death of all organisms nitrogen is returned to the soil in the form of ammonia. Certain quantity of soil nitrates, being highly soluble in water, are lost to the system by being transported away by surface run-off or ground water. In the soil as well as oceans there are special denitrifying bacteria (e.g. Pseudomonas), which convert the nitrates/nitrites to elemental nitrogen. This nitrogen escapes into the atmosphere, thus completing the cycle. Nitrogen has become a pollutant because of human intrusion into the natural cycle and this can disrupt the balance of nitrogen in the air.

Fig.1.23: Generalized nitrogen cycle


Sedimentary Cycle

Phosphorus, calcium and magnesium circulate by means of the sedimentary cycle. Sulphur is to some extent intermediate, since two of its compounds hydrogen sulphide (H2S) and sulphur dioxide (SO2), add a gaseous component to its normally sedimentary cycle. The element involved in the sedimentary cycle normally does not cycle through the atmosphere but follows a basic pattern of flow through erosion, sedimentation, mountain building, volcanic activity and biological transport through the excreta of marine birds. The sulphur cycle is a good example for illustrating the linkage between air, water and the earths crust, and hence, a brief account of this cycle is given. Sulphur Cycle The sulphur cycle is mostly sedimentary except for a short gaseous phase. (Fig.1.24) The large sulphur reservoir as mentioned before is in the soil and

sediments where it is locked in organic (coal, oil and peat) and inorganic deposits (pyrite rock and sulphur rock) in the form of sulphates, sulphides and organic sulphur. It is released by weathering of rocks, erosional runoff and decomposition by bacteria and fungi of organic matter and is carried to terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems in salt solution. Sulphur is found in gaseous forms like hydrogen sulphide and sulphur dioxide in small quantities in the atmosphere, which is thus a small reservoir. Sulphur enters the atmosphere from several sources like volcanic eruptions, combustion of fossil fuels, from surface of ocean and from gases released by decomposition. Atmospheric hydrogen sulphide also gets oxidised into sulphur dioxide (SO2). Atmospheric SO2 is carried back to the earth after being dissolved in rainwater as weak sulphuric acid (H2SO4). Whatever the source, sulphur in the form of sulphates. (SO4-2) is take up by plants and incorporated through a series of metabolic processes into sulphur bearing amino acid which is incorporated in the proteins of autotroph tissues. It then passes through the grazing food chain. Sulphur bound in living organism is carried back to the soil, to the bottom of ponds and lakes and seas through excretion and decomposition of dead organic material. Under aerobic conditions fungi like Aspergillus and Neurospora and under anaerobic conditions the bacteria like Escherichia and Proteus are largely responsible for the decomposition of proteins.

Why is Environment Important?

Fig.1.24: The sulphur cycle showing the two reservoirs namely, sedimentary and gaseous. Major sources from human activity are the burning of fossil fuels and acid drainage from coalmines

In anaerobic soils and sediments hydrogen sulphide is formed by sulphate reducing bacteria like Desulfavibrio. Species of Beggiatoa oxidise hydrogen sulphide to elemental sulphur and species of Thiobacillus oxidise it to sulphate. There are also green and purple sulphur photosynthetic bacteria that oxidise hydrogen sulphide to elemental sulphur. You should bear in mind that the nutrient cycles discussed here are only a few of the many cycles present in the ecosystem. You should also be aware that these cycles usually do not operate in independently but interact with each other at some point or the other. This can be been clearly in Fig. 1.25.

Environmental Concerns

Fig.1.25: Interaction of major cycles of the biosphere




Why is Environment Important?

The biological community is a complex network of interactions. These interactions take place not only among different individuals of the population of the same species intraspecific relation but also among individuals of different species in a community interspecific relations. 1.9.1 Intraspecific Relations

The interactions between members of the same species are known as intraspecific relations and these are frequently very strong varying from open conflict to gregariousness (social togetherness). Some species like moose are quite solitary while some animal populations exhibit varying degrees of social organisation. Many species exhibit territoriality i.e., individuals compete for the rights over some portions of their habitat. The winner uses the territory and the losers have to leave. Territoriality serves to diminish destructive competition for resources such as food or habitat etc. by limiting the number of organisms of a species in a given area. Intraspecific relations are also expressed in pattern of hierarchy of species or dominant and subordinate relationship in the population. The dominant subordinate relationships are more prominent when the choices for mates arises. Extreme social organisation is found in the structure of colonies of insects like termites, ants and bees. Let us see how intraspecific relationships affect the population. Population growth when resources are not limited Population growth can be determined by looking at factors that tend to increase the number of individuals in that population, like birth and immigration and those factors that tend to decrease the number like death and emigration. By looking at table 1.6 you can see the factor that increase or decrease the populations. For example by looking at the table you can note that higher reproductive potential of a species increases its population while low reproductive potential decreases it. Table 1.6: Population growth depends on the net effect of all the given factors. These factors in turn are the result of species characteristics and environmental conditions Factors 1. Reproductive potential 2. Number of individuals capable of reproduction 3. Food 4. Habitat 5. Climate 6. Immigration 7. Emigration 8. Disease 9. Predation Increase in population High Large plenty Space available favourable high low Low Low Decrease in population Low small Scarce Space not available Unfavourable Low high High high

Environmental Concerns

Let us imagine that we select a single bacterium and allow all its descendents to grow and reproduce without any restriction. In a month this bacterial colony would be larger than the visible universe and it would be expanding outwards at the speed of light. All populations have the potential for explosive growth under optimal growth conditions because nearly all mature individuals can produce offspring. Population with a positive rate of natural increase grow large each year. The expected increase (I) for a year can be calculated by multiplying the rate of natural increase (r) by the current population size (N) I=rN where r =

b d N

N = Number of individuals b = birth rate d = death rate

This formula indicates that population growth is exponential: which means that population size increases by an ever larger amount each year under favourable conditions. When a graph is plotted for the population size, the resulting growth curve is J shaped as shown in Fig. 1.26. This type of exponential growth occurs only under conditions of unlimited resources. However, Except under laboratory conditions, no population can expect to find resources unlimited for population growth. In unlimited resources and ideal environmental conditions, a species can produce offspring at the maximum rate. This is called biotic potential. We will discuss these concepts in greater details in section 1.13 dealing with human population. Population growth when resources are limited

Fig.1.26: The J-shaped curve of population growth of a species Species like bacteria and mice which can produce a large number of offspring in a short time have high biotic potential while larger species like elephants and humans that produce only a few offspring have a low biotic potential.

If the chief resources such as food and space are limited, a habitat cannot support any population beyond a certain size. If the population goes beyond a limit, resources limitation shows its adverse effects on population by increasing death rates and decreasing birth rates and population density declines to a limit set by available resources in the habitat. The maximum number of individuals of a population that its environment can support and sustain is called the carrying capacity (K). The carrying capacity is a concept related to sustainability. It is usually defined as the maximum number of individuals of a species that can be sustained and supported by the environment in a given area. Population size is believed to level off at the carrying capacity (K) of the environment (Fig. 1.27). When carrying capacity is reached then N = K and r value will be zero. In other words, birth rate equal death rates and population should maintain a steady state equilibrium. However, as the population increases in size, there will be more competition for the available space and food, which in turn will affect population growth.
All the limiting factors that reduce the growth rate of a population constitute environmental resistance. These factors include predation, competition for resources, food shortage, disease, adverse climatic conditions and unsuitable habitats. So what happens to the J-shaped curve that you have


studied earlier due to limiting factors? You will see that it changes to S shaped or to a sigmoid curve. (Fig. 1.27)

Why is Environment Important?

Fig.1.27: The J-shaped curve is converted to an S-shaped curve when a population encounters environmental resistance and threshold of any one of the limiting factors is exceeded

When we are talking about carrying capacity it is also important to talk about the carrying capacity of the earth. For the human population, the carrying capacity depends in part on our value for the environment. So we have to question ourselves as to whether we want our future generation to live short lives in crowded surroundings without a chance to enjoy the Earths scenery and diversity of life? Or do we hope that our descendants will have a life of high quality and good health? Once we choose a goal for the quality of life, we can use scientific information to understand what the carrying capacity might be and how we might achieve it.
1.9.2 Interspecific Relations

Interspecific relations involve more complex interaction since the set of environmental factors influencing each of the interacting species are often so different. The relation may be direct and close as between a tiger and deer, or indirect and remote as between an elephant and a beetle. There are several interspecific relationships between different species. We will be dealing with three main types of relationships namely symbiotic relations, competition and predation
I. Symbiotic Relations

Some time two types of organisms have a permanent relationship in which at least one depends upon the other for survival. This is called a symbiotic relationship or symbiosis. There are several types of symbiosis, out of which we will deal only a few namely Parasitism, Mutualism and Commensalism.
i) Parasitism is an interaction in which one species, namely the parasite benefits and the other, the host, is harmed. For the parasite (which is much smaller in size) the host is a source of both food and shelter. A well adapted parasite does not kill its host, otherwise its source of nourishment would be lost. Parasites generally have higher reproductive rate and exhibits a greater host specificity. They are often highly specialized in structure, physiology and life history patterns. Because of host specificity many parasites can live in only one or a
Tapeworm and malarial parasite have become adapted to a totally parasitic life.


Environmental Concerns

few related host species, and such intimate host parasite interaction could be potentially limiting to both the population.
ii) Mutualism is a symbiotic relationship that is beneficial to both organisms. Lichens are a well known example of mutualism. Lichen consists of fungi and algae growing in close association with one another. The fungi can hold water but cannot produce their own food due to lack of chlorophyll while the algae cannot hold water but can produce their food when supplied with water. Thus these two organisms combine their functions by living together and both get enough food and water. There are several examples of mutualism of plants and animals in nature. iii) Commensalism is a symbiotic relation in which one organism benefits and the other is unaffected. An example of commensalism is that of the remora fish and shark. Remora, a small fish attaches itself to the under side of the shark from where it feeds on leftovers from the sharks meals and gets free transport. The presence of the remora does not benefit the shark but neither does it harm the shark. II) Competition

Competition occurs in nature usually, but not necessarily, when resources like food, space, mates etc. are limited. Resource limitation leading to competition is implicit in Drawins idea on struggle for existence and survival of the fittest. What happens when two related species compete for the same resource? The outcome usually depends on how competitive the species are. If one species is competitively superior, it will eventually exclude the other species from the habitat, a phenomenon referred to as Gauses Principle of Competitive Exclusion, named after the Soviet biologist G.F. Gause (Fig. 1.28). If both are equally strong competitors, the outcome depends on the initial conditions; an uncertain and unstable coexistence is possible. If however, both species are weak competitors, both could co-exist peacefully indefinitely in the same habitat.


Fig.1.28: Competition between two species of Paramecium. When grown separately, P. caudatum (a) and P. aurella (b) established stable populations (c) When grown together, P.aurelia (bold line) drove the other species (dotted lines) toward extinction

Gauses competitive exclusion principle states that two species having identical requirements cannot occupy the same niche indefinitely. So what is the niche of a species? A niche is the unique functional role or place of a species in an ecosystem (Fig.1.29). It is a description of all the biological, physical and chemical factors that a species needs to survive, stay healthy and reproduce. A niche is unique for a species, that means no two species have exactly identical niches. Niche play an important role in conservation of organisms. If we have to conserve a species in its native habitat we should be knowledgeable about the niche requirements of the species and should ensure that all requirements of its niche are fulfilled.

Why is Environment Important? 1. Habitat niche where it lives 2. Food niche what is eats or decomposes & what species it competes with 3. Reproductive niche how and when it reproduces. 4. Physical & chemical niche temperature, land shape, land slope, humidity & other requirement.

Fig.1.29: A niche is unique for a species. No two species have exactly the same niches. If two species did have identical niches then competition for the same food and living space would mean that one species would either die out or be driven away

III) Predation

This is an interaction in which one organism, the predator kills another, namely the prey for food. This is a process of paramount importance not only in natural ecosystems but to man as well, because he is either directly a predator himself or has to deal with natural predators which are directly harmful to him or kill prey that are beneficial to him. First let us consider the importance of predation in nature. Following are its important roles:

Environmental Concerns

1. Predation helps to channelise the energy fixed by photosynthetic plants through different trophic levels. 2. Predators can bring down the intensity of interspecific competition in a community by selectively preying on the competitively superior species and thus keeping their densities low. This permits the weaker species to persist in the habitat. 3. Predators also appear to be responsible for maintaining high species diversity in many biological communities. Experimental removal of all predators from a community has been known to lead to the elimination of some species and a general decline in species diversity. 4. Predators in some cases can regulate the population densities of their prey. Predation is obviously not beneficial to the individual organism that is killed and eaten as food, but could be very beneficial to the prey population as a whole. In an ideal situation, the prey and predator populations show what are called coupled oscillations over a period of time. Let us see how these oscillations occur in a habitat with plenty resources, prey numbers start increasing. As a result predators get more food & produce more offspring. With increasing predator population in the habitat, more and more prey are killed, bringing down their population size eventually. Now due to low density of prey in the habitat the predators cannot obtain enough food and so their number starts falling. These events lead to oscillation in densities of both prey and predator. It is important to mention that the situation will turn out different if the predator is not prudent or is too efficient at killing prey. This could result in killing of every prey individual, driving the prey species to extinction. This would subsequently lead to elimination of the predator as well, due to starvation.

In order to find solutions for environmental problems the understanding of systems and rates of change occurring in the systems including the ecosystem is essential.
1.10.1 System A system, may be broadly defined as any part of the universe that can be isolated for the purposes of observation and study. Some systems may be physically isolated for example bacteria culture in a petri dish or may be isolated in our minds or in a computer database. In another way you can visualise a system as a set of components or parts that function together to act as a whole. A single organism may be considered a system as may be a river, your office, a city or a thermal power plant. On a much larger scale, you already know that biosphere is also a system.


At every level in environmental science we have to deal with a variety of systems that may range from simple to complex and irrespective of how we approach environmental problems its is necessary that we have an understanding of the systems and of how various parts of the systems interact with one another. Systems may be open or closed. A system, which is open with respect to some factor, exchanges that factor with other systems. The Ocean is an open system in regard to water, which it exchanges with the

atmosphere. A system that is closed in regard to some factor does not exchange that factor with other systems. Earth is an open system in regard to energy and a closed system (For all practical purposes) in regard to material. All these systems in order to operate smoothly need to maintain their existing constant condition. This capacity of a system to self regulates or self maintain itself is called homeostatis. What keeps the system fairly constant is a feedback mechanism. The feed mechanism provides environmental information to which a system responds.
1.10.2 Feedback Mechanism

Why is Environment Important?

Systems respond to inputs and have outputs. Our body for instance is a complex system. If by chance you encounter a snake, which you think is poisonous, then the sight of the snake is an input. Our body reacts to the input. The adrenaline level in our blood rises; our heart rate increases and the hair on our body may rise. Our response perhaps standing still or moving away from the snake is an output. Feedback, a special type of system response occurs when the output of the system also serves as input and leads to changes in the state of the system. A classic example of feedback is temperature regulations in human (Fig. 1.30). The normal temperature for humans is 37 C. We call such a norm a set point. When the temperature of the environment rises the sensory mechanisms in the skin detect the change (input) and the body responds physiologically.

Fig.1.30: Negative and positive feedback mechanisms. In negative feedback the response inhibits or reverses any change from the normal. Positive feedback leads to further change in the same direction. Negative feedback brings the system back


Environmental Concerns

to the set point. Positive feedback leads away from the set point and can damage the system

A message is sent to brain, which automatically relays the message to the receptors which enhances increase in blood flow to skin, induce sweating and stimulate behavioural responses. Water excreted through the skin evaporates, cooling the body. The person may also respond behaviourally: as on feeling hot (input) he or she may move into the shade as a result of which the temperature would return to normal. This is an example of negative feedback since the systems response is in the opposite direction from the input, and halts or reverses any deviation movement away from set point (an increase in temperature leads due to response a decrease in temperature). In the case of positive feedback, an increase in input leads to a further increase in output. For example if the environmental temperature becomes extreme and the body temperature keeps on increasing correspondingly the homeostatic system of the body breaks down, which is because when it gets too hot, the body is unable to lose heat fast enough to maintain normal temperature, as a result of which the metabolism speeds ups, raising body temperature until the person dies of heat stroke. Thus a situation in which feedback reinforces change, driving the system to higher and higher or lower and lower values is called positive feedback. Negative feedback is generally desirable as it is stabilizing. It usually leads to a system that remains in a constant condition. Positive feedback often called vicious circle is destabilizing.
1.10.3 Ecosystem Homeostasis

Let us see how the feedback in an ecosystem helps to maintain homeostasis or balance. The ecosystem as you must know by now is a dynamic system, where a lot of events occur, like plants eaten by animals, which in turn are eaten by other animals. Water and nutrients flow in and out of the system and the weather changes. However, despite all these events the ecosystem persists and recovers from minor disturbances due to homeostatis. Consider a grassland which has suffered from drought due to which plants do not grow well and which have a mice population. The mice that feed on grass become malnourished due to lack of food. When this happens, their birth rates decreases. Furthermore, the hungry mice retreat to their burrows and sleep. By doing so, they require less food and are exposed less to predators. As a result their death rates decreases. Their behaviour protects their own population balance as well as that of the grasses, which are not being eaten, while the mice hibernate (sleep). Thus you can see that the ecosystem has maintained its balance or ecological homeostasis as a result of negative feedback mechanism, which is the prime regulatory mechanism for the ecosystem as a whole. You must be fully aware by now that in an ecosystem several kinds of organisms are present. Thus all the organisms in an ecosystem are part of several of different feedback loops. A feedback loop may be as a defined relationship in which a change in some original rate alters the rate of direction of further change. Now let us consider another important parameter of ecosystem balance, which is species diversity. Species diversity the number of different species and their relative abundance in a given ecosystem accord the stability or persistence to the ecosystem under small or moderate environmental stress. High species diversity tends to increase long-term persistence of the


ecosystem. This resilience is due to the fact that risk is spread more widely with the presence of many different species and the linkages between them. An ecosystem having several well-adjusted species has more ways available to respond to most environmental stresses. For example, in an ecosystem endowed with complex food web, the loss or drastic reduction of one species does not threaten the existence of others, as most consumers have alternative food supplies. In contrast, the highly specialised ecosystem, planted with only one kind of crop (monoculturing) plant like wheat or rice is highly vulnerable to destruction from a single plant pathogen or pest. The essence of the above discussion is that most balanced ecosystems contain many different types of species and that the presence of many types of or high species diversity imparts stability to the ecosystem. The ability of an ecosystem to cope with any disturbance or disruption is however limited and fails in cases of positive feedbacks like fires (destruction of landscape), over exploitation (widespread mining, deforestation), excessive simplification (monoculture, plantation, crop fields) or extreme and prolonged stresses (like drought, pollution). In extreme cases the homeostatic mechanism are overshadowed leading to ecosystem degradation. It is essential that we should check and control our actions, so that we do not overload the ecosystem and disrupt its homeostasis.

Why is Environment Important?

Discuss how monoculturing can cause disaster in Indian farming.


You will recall from subsection 1.5.2 that a community is also called biotic community. It is a group of interacting populations living in a given area. It represents the living part of an ecosystem and functions as a dynamic unit with trophic levels, an energy flow and a cycling of nutrients as described earlier. Some of the species interactions such as predator-prey relationships, mutualism and competition have been described earlier (see subsection 1.9.2). The organizational components of a biotic community seem to us for the most part to be static or suspended in time. However, biotic communities do exhibit progressive change as part of their normal development. Communities for example, change in response to climatic and geological forces as well as in response to the activities of their inhabitants. In some cases even within a particular climate, the inhabitants of a location are not the same from one year to the next. Organisms that live in a given location may change the environment by their very presence or activities. An environment that favoured an organism earlier may over time becomes progressively less favourable to them and may become more favourable to other life forms. Thus one type of organism may make way for another.
The orderly process of change or replacement of some inhabitants or species of the community in an area, through time is known as community development or more traditionally as ecological succession.

Ecological succession, on the basis of the force responsible for the change or succession are of two kinds: (1) autogenic succession where ecological succession is the product of the organisms themselves and (2) Allogenic


Environmental Concerns

succession where succession occurs due to outside forces particularly physical forces such as fire or flood which regularly affect change. In most cases, succession is a result of both autogenic and allogenic factors although one or the other may have triggered the process. Allogenic succession is less predictable than autogenic succession. For example, the sudden bloom of unexpected opportunistic species such as weeds often interrupts an orderly progression of species during succession. The accidental introduction of congress weed (Parthenium sp.) along with wheat imported from the USA (PL480) into India is a good example of opportunitic species. Often one population does not give up its place for the next gracefully. On the contrary species are often quite persistent and seemingly resist their own displacement. Ecological succession includes both (1) primary and (2) secondary succession. Each succession stage or the series of sequential changes in its entirety is known as a sere and each sere is made up of a series of seral communities (seral stages).
1.11.1 Succession in Terrestrial Community

Seres of particular environments tend to follow similar successions and may therefore be classified according to environment for example, a hydrosere develops in an aquatic environment as a result of the colonisation of open water; and a halosere develops in a salt marsh.

1. Primary succession occurs where no community exists before, such as rocky outcropping, newly formed deltas, sand dunes, emerging volcanic islands and lava flows. An example, which can be used as a model showing development of primary succession, is the invasion and colonisation of bare rock as on a recently created volcanic island. Trees and shrubs are unable to grow on bare rock due to insufficient soil. Primary succession sere thus begins with lichens. Lichens can invade and colonise such areas, coming in, by various methods of dispersal and gaining a foot hold by means of their tenacious, water-seeking fungal component and thus forming the first community, very appropriately often called the pioneer community. (Fig.1.31). Lichens are soil builders, producing weak acids that very gradually erode the rock surface. As organic products and sand particle accumulate in tiny fissures, mosses, larger plants, such as grasses also get an opportunity to establish themselves and begin a new seral stage. In time lichens that made the penetration of plant roots possible are no longer able to compete for light, water and minerals and will be succeeded by larger and more nutrient demanding plants such as shrubs and trees. Ultimately the final stable and self perpetuating community which is in equilibrium with its environment, is formed and this is called climax community. The climax community is the most productive community that the environment can sustain. The animals of such a community also exhibit succession, which to a large extent is governed by the plant succession, but is also influenced by the types of animals that are able to migrate from neighbouring communities. A climax community is more complex and is dominated by a few species that came late in the succession. The community becomes self perpetuating and its appearance remains the same though there is constant replacement of individuals. The nature of the climax is determined by environmental conditions such as temperature, humidity, soil characteristics, topographic features and so on. A climax community has much less tendency than


earlier successional communities to alter its environment in a manner injurious to itself. Fig. 1.31 illustrates the primary ecological succession in a terrestrial habitat. The succession on bare rock out croppings is initially an extremely slow process with a sere often lasting hundreds of years or more. But once soil formation has begun, the process usually accelerates. Succession in other types of habitat may be slow. It has been estimated that succession from sand dune to climax forest community on the shores of Lake Michigan took about a thousand years.

Why is Environment Important?

Although succession ends with the establishment of a climax community, this does not mean that a climax community is static. It does change though slowly, even when the climate is constant. It will change rapidly however, if the community is disturbed in some way.

Fig.1.31: The orderly series of species replacement during succession can be seen in this sequence of plants from a bare rock outcropping to a fir-birch-spruce community. Pioneering lichens and mosses begin the soil-building process, followed by the invasion of increasingly larger plants until a more stable longlived, climax forest community emerges

2. Secondary succession occurs where a community has been disrupted, such as previously burned or neglected farms reverting to the wild, or a forest community that has been subjected to forest clearing or a mining area that has been reclaimed (Fig. 1.32).


Environmental Concerns

Fig.1.32: A community formed through secondary succession subsequent to the area being reclaimed after limestone mining

Secondary succession in grassland communities is much faster, taking 20 to 40 years while on the other hand, fragile disturbed tundra may require many hundreds of years to recover, if it ever does.

In secondary succession, the basic features are similar to those of primary succession, but the seres occur at a more rapid pace. This is possible because the soil is already formed and available. Secondary succession is said to occur when the surface is completely or largely denuded of vegetation but has already been influenced by living organisms and has an organic component. In such areas seeds, spores and plant propagates, such as rhizomes may be present in the ground and thus influence the succession. As secondary succession progresses, the initial invader species are eventually replaced by plants from surrounding communities. Larger, fast growing trees appear and may block the sunlight and so a new generation of shade tolerant shrubs emerge below the canopy of trees. Finally there is a general blending with the surrounding community. Such a transition may take well over 100 years, depending on the community. In both primary and secondary succession the flora and fauna, of surrounding areas are major factors influencing the types of plants and animal entering the succession through chance dispersal and migration.
1.11.2 Succession in Aquatic Habitat

Lakes and ponds rich in nutrients and high in productivity are called eutrophic (true foods), while those with limited nutrient supply and little productivity are termed oligotrophic.

Aquatic habitats also undergo community development or succession although such changes may be held in check by shortages of nutrients. Succession in ponds and lakes take place as a result of eutrophication.Eutrophication means changes brought about by increase in nutrients carried by streams and runoff from the land. The general trend in fresh water bodies is towards increased eutrophication and thus increased community growth, but the deficiency of any of the essential nutrient may reverse the trend.

Fig.1.33: Succession in a pond


As the community development in a fresh water body progresses, the sediments increase and the depth decreases. The shores are crowded by littoral zone plants, which extend further and further into the water body, followed by

increasing numbers of water tolerant shore plants (Fig.1.33). Unless this progress is interrupted, the water body will be transformed into a marsh and will be invaded by terrestrial plants from surrounding community as a result of which the water body would be lost. Lake Baikal in Russia has shown alarming indications of eutrophication, sadly though not through natural means. The nutrient enrichment of Lake Baikal is anthropogenic due to inflow of nutrients added to runoff water from the surrounding agriculture landscapes.
1.11.3 General Characteristics of Succession

Why is Environment Important?

Communities in succession tend to produce more organic material than they use, while in climax communities an equilibrium is attained between net production and utilization. In the early stages of succession the rate of exchange between organisms and the environment is slow, but as the climax stage is reached, nutrients cycling is speeded up and often nutrients cycle directly, through exchange pools, between organisms and the decomposing material. The species composition tend to become highly diverse as the community enters the climax state. As a result a greater number of increasingly specialized niches develop. Simultaneously, some ecologists are of the view that feeding relationships transform from a simple chainlike sequence to an intricate food web. Some evidence also exists that climax communities are more stable than their transitional several stages and less susceptible to external influences.
1.11.4 Ecosystem and Human Intervention

As you are aware, humans can and do change natural communities. We are often guilty of accidentally or deliberately altering the complex and myriad factors that maintain the delicate equilibrium of ecosystems. Often in order to correct the wrongs of the past intervention we tend to undertake well-intended but uninformed measures however, our efforts falter or fail because of lack of basic information. All this shows that we have still not learnt to live in harmony with the ecosystems of which we are a part. Our technology has far outpaced our basic knowledge and understanding of the environment. As we turn to the scientific community for answers and solutions, ecologists will play an increasingly important role in changing the ways in which we interact with the natural world.



During the later part of the twentieth century there has been a dramatic increase in the history of the human population. In merely 35 years the human population of the world has more than doubled increasing from 2.5 billion to over 5.9 billion. The rapid explosion of the human population is sometimes referred to as, the population bomb or population explosion.
The human population issue is one of the main causes of environment, legislations because most current environmental damage results from very large number of people on the earth. 1.12.1 Population Characteristics

Populations are characterised, not only by their size and growth rates, but also by their age structure and sex composition, sex ratio, by their birth, death and

Environmental Concerns

fertility rates, by their pattern of spatial distribution within the country, and by migration within and across natural boundaries.
Natality is an expression of the production of new individual in the population. In human population natality is equivalent to the birth rate, and is usually expressed as the number of births per year per thousand persons in the population. The growth rate of the population can be zero or positive but never negative.

The natality rate of the population is expressed by

B Nn t

where B = birth or natality rate Nn = number of newborns, and t = time.

Mortality refers to death rate of individuals. In a population, members die due to various causes, such as malnutrition, disease, accidents and old age. Mortality is also expressed as death per year per thousand persons in the population.

D t

where d = mortality or death rate D = total number of death and t = time

Migration is the movement of people to new homes either within the boundaries of a country (internal migration) or across the boundaries to another country (international migration). Only international migration can affect the growth of population within a country. In some countries migration is large enough to have a significant effect on the growth rate. Emigration is the entry of people into a city or country and this also affects the population.

Thus in order to take account of the movement of people in calculating population growth, we must add the net migration (which is negative if emigration is greater than migration), to the population count.
1.12.2 Population Histograms

A population histogram (Fig.1.34) is a bar graph, drawn for a particular year, in which each horizontal bar represents a particular age group of the population. The length of the bar on the left tells us the number of percentage of male (of the total population) in this age group, and the same is shown for female on the right. A histogram can tell us a number of things such as: 1) The Age structure of the population i.e., the percentage of the population in a significant age group, such as those who are dependent on others for support, or those who can do productive work. 2) The sex composition i.e. the number (percentage) of males and females in each age group, from which we can also tell the number of females in the reproductive ages 15-44.


3) The impact of growth and changes in the population over several decades in the recent past, and 4) The likely growth of the population in the next few decades, at the current growth rates.
1.12.3 Types of Histogram Expansive histogram The population histogram with an expanding base is called an expansive histogram. It is typical for the developing countries, whose populations are growing very rapidly. (Fig. 1.34a) Constrictive histogram In this type of histogram the base is smaller (constrictive). As you can see in Fig. 1.34 b, which depicts a population constrictive histogram of USA, there are fewer children being born in each 5 year group than before. However, this does not mean that the population in the United States is not growing. You can see a definite bulge during the year 50-65 during which period there was a baby boom. As this bulge passes through the reproductive years this will result in more children than the parents. Thus even if Chinas one child per couple policy was enforced during early 1980s, China did not achieve its goal of stabilizing population at 1.2 billion in the year 2000. Instead, it grew to 1.3 billion in 2000 and will inevitably increase to about 1.5 billion by 2025. Stationary histogram In this type of histogram (Fig. 1.34 c) each bar is not very different till we come to the age groups (over 75 years) where death rates are significant. This means that for many years the average family size has just been sufficient to replace itself. Such a population is not growing at all, hence the name stationary.

Why is Environment Important?


Environmental Concerns Fig.1.34: Population histograms for Kenya, the United States and Austria

1.12.4 Population of India

India next only to China is one of the most populated countries in the world. Although India occupies only 2.4% of the total area of the world it supports over 15.6% of the world population, as revealed by statistics. On sunday August 15, 1999, Indias population passed one billion mark. Each year India is adding 18 million people (roughly another Australia). U.N. demographers project that by 2050 it will have added another 530 million people for a total of more than 1.5 billion. If India continues on the demographic path as projected, it will overtake China by 2045, becoming the worlds most populated country, but there are doubts as to whether the natural resource base will support such growth. Demographers estimate that even if India could reduce its average family size to 2.2 children (replacement level fertility) in the next 33 years its current population would continue to grow until it reaches two billion by 2100.
1.12.5 Future of Human Population: Where Are We today?

Global population has quadrupled in 100 years, a rate of increase unknown in previous history. Especially since 1960, several developments have dramatically reduced infant and child mortality throughout the world. (The use of DDT to eliminate the mosquito borne malaria; childhood immunizations and antibiotics). During the same period, the Green Revolution has greatly boosted food output through the cultivation of new disease resistant, high yield hybrid varieties of wheat. These changes have been greatly responsible for a dramatic increase in human population. The global earth population crossed 6 billion mark in September 1999. During this decade it will increase by another billion, the fastest population growth in history. It was only 2 billion in 1930. Every second about three people are added to the world; every day a quarter of a million are added. Every year, about 87 million people are added to the world. A recent joint statement by the U.S. National Academy of Sciences and the British Royal Society finds that population is growing at a rate that will lead to doubling by 2050. It seems clear that in the next century, the earth will have to support twice as many humans as it does today. Can our planet do this? Clearly, the answer is no. We are maintaining our present population of 6 billion only by rapid depletion of our resources: ground water, topsoil, tropical forests, biodiversity, fossil fuels, clean air, etc. Today, approximately 40 per cent of the earths photosynthetic productivity is used or influenced by human activities. Thus we will have to face the consequences of over population and degradation of our environment. The question arises can we build a sustainable society? For an answer in the affirmative we have to make profound changes on a global level. We have to develop international policies to regulate critical resources such as fresh water, forests, fossil fuels, and the atmosphere and take steps to minimize the damage that has already taken place. Now is the time to tackle serious problems because to delay will have dire consequences.


Try to find out the population data of your city/village/State for at least past 30 years and try to plot a graph. Make your inferences by observing the graph. What is the shape of curve and why it is so? Has the population gone up or down during these years? Identify the factors responsible for the population level. Discuss the factors you think are responsible for growth or downfall of population growth. Also suggest ways to reduce the population as we are seeing high population growth rate in India and we need sustainable development.

Why is Environment Important?


In the later part of this course you will learn about the laws or legislations pertaining to the environment. We have national and international laws on environment. However, the fact is that environment knows no boundaries. If the snow melts from polar caps, all the cities lying in low areas of the world will get flooded. In case of a nuclear disaster, deadly radiations are bound to travel as much as the climate permits as radiations do not know boundaries of city/state/country/continent or direction. Radiations are going to affect who ever comes on their route. So the environment is ours not his or hers. It is our constitutional obligation to care for the environment and have sustainable development. This is more important because Nature does not have rights. This question can be debated long. It is time now to think about nature seriously and carefully and this can probably be done through Environmental Ethics.
1.13.1 Obligation to the Future

The most important question that comes to our mind is what do we owe to our future generations? These questions have become more relevant because we know that modern technology is affecting the environment in ways that will last hundred and thousand years. The particular concerns are: Long-term climatic change resulting from land-use changes, urbanisation and technological activities. The destruction of forests and fertile agricultural soils. Radioactive wastes from nuclear power plants. Worldwide spread of non-radioactive toxic chemicals. Environmental effects of thermonuclear war. The direct effects of rapid increases in human population. The long term impacts of apparently short term technological benefits, such as the impact on natural systems caused by rapid advances in genetic engineering.
1.13.2 Responsibilities and Duties of a Citizen

Before reading about responsibilities and duties you should know about the extent of major damage to the environment due to human activities. These details and data of damage to the environment have been provided by Peter J. Bryant 1 and are as follows:

Biodiversity and conservation A Hypertext Book by Peter J. Bryant.


Environmental Concerns

We have already transformed or degraded 39 50% of earths land surface (agriculture as well as urban) We use 8% of the primary productivity of the oceans (25% from upwelling areas and 35% from temperate continental shelf areas). We have increased atmospheric CO2 concentration by 30%. We use more than half of the accessible fresh water sources. Over 50% of terrestrial nitrogen fixation is caused by human activity (use of nitrogen fertilizer, planting of nitrogen-fixing crops, release of reactive nitrogen from fossil fuels into the atmosphere). On many islands, more than half of plant species have been introduced by humans; on continental areas the fraction is 20% or more. About 20% of bird species have become extinct in the past 200 years, almost all of them because of human activity. About 22% of marine fisheries have been overexploited or depleted, 44% more are at the limit of exploitation These problems seem to be too difficult to be solved but there should be some initiation. Individuals can become involved in improving the environment, which encompasses a wide range of approaches. As we have explained, you will study in coming units that environmental problems are in part, the result of the growing number of human beings on earth. This means individual actions, summed over, due to a large number of people, can have great influence on the environment. There are a wide range of environmental issues so it becomes confusing as to: in which of the many environmental issues one should participate. We think one must attend to the problem that has the most personal meaning and then try to find solutions. People should help themselves rather than looking towards authority for answers and solutions. We hope that after reading this course you would participate in the efforts designed to address the environmental issues, which challenge us today.


Environment is the sum total of living and non-living components that surround and influence an organism. Living components are called biotic components while non-living components are called abiotic components. The biosphere is that region of water, earth, atmosphere and where life systems exist. Within the biosphere there are several major regions containing specific types of ecosystems. The major terrestrial regions are called biomes, which are characterised by their dominant vegetation. The other portion of the biosphere is the aquatic zone. An ecosystem is the simplest entity that can sustain life. At its most basic, an ecosystem is formed of a variety of individual organisms both plants and animals which interact with each other and with their physical environment. It sustains two processes, the cycling of chemical elements and flow of energy. It is self-regulatory based on feedback information given by its living and non-living components. Ecosystems are considered functional units of nature having no specific size or limits. Ecosystems are highly dynamic entities. They have evolved effective homeostatic mechanism for self regulation through feedback.


The abiotic components of the ecosystem consist of physical factors such as light, temperature, rainfall, water, nutrients etc. The biotic component of the ecosystem consists of autotrophs or producers and heterotrophs or consumers and decomposers. These organisms belong to different trophic levels. Trophic levels tell us how far the organism is removed from the plant in its level of nourishment and which organisms share the same general source of nutrition. Sun is the main source of energy needed for functioning of an ecosystem. The flow of energy through the ecosystem is a one-way process or is unidirectional. The sequence of organisms through which the energy flows is known as food chain. Two main types of food chain can be distinguished namely grazing and detritus food chain. The flow of energy is governed by the two laws of thermodynamics. First Law of thermodynamic states that energy cannot be created or destroyed while the second Law says that as energy is used to do work, some energy is wasted as heat at each transformation. As a result of this all living systems need a continuous supply of energy. The loss of energy at each trophic level limits the number of trophic levels in a food chain to four or five. Several intersecting food chains form a food web, which depicts the pattern of food consumption in an ecosystem. Trophic relationships of an ecosystem can be represented graphically in the form of ecological pyramids. The base of the pyramid represents the producers and the successive tiers represent the subsequent higher trophic levels. Ecological pyramids are of three types: (i) pyramid of number depicting the number of individual organisms at each trophic level; (ii) pyramid of biomass representing total weight of living organisms at each trophic level and (iii) pyramid of energy showing the amount of energy utilised at successive trophic levels. Nondegradable pollutants often accumulate (bioaccumulation) and magnify (biomagnification) at each trophic level in the food chain and may become lethal when compared to the amount initially introduced into the biosphere. The nutrients in an ecosystem are continuously cycled and recycled. Nutrients essential to organisms are distributed in various chemical forms in air (atmosphere), soil or rock (lithosphere), water (hydrosphere) and living beings. Over time elements move from one sphere to another in biogeochemical cycles. Key cycles described in the unit are water, carbon, oxygen, nitrogen and sulphur. Soil microorganisms play a key role in cycling of elements, particularly nitrogen and sulphur. In general some chemical element may cycle quickly compared to others. Biogeochemical cycles that include a gaseous phase in the atmosphere tend to have more rapid recycling than those that do not. Ecosystem succession occurs when a series of communities replace one another. Each community changes the environment to make conditions favourable for a subsequent community and unfavourable for itself till the climax community is established. The first plants to colonise an area are called pioneer community. The final stage of succession, which is quite stable, is called the climax community. The stages leading to climax community are called successional stages or seres. When succession is brought about naturally by the living inhabitants, the process is called

Why is Environment Important?


Environmental Concerns

autogenic succession, while changes brought about by outside forces is called allogenic succession. The pattern of interaction between living things are an important dimension in an ecosystem and include intraspecific relations interactions between members of same species and inter specific relations interactions between members of different species. Human population throughout history has been quite small but has been increasing since the onset of the industrial revolution. It has now back being growing is an explosive manner. Human populations have specific characteristics such as density, natality, and mortality, age structure, biotic potential dispersal or migration and growth rate. Population histograms are helpful in showing the recent history of a population as well as its short-term growth trends. We distinguish three types of histogram: expansive, constrictive and stationary. The future of human population with current trends is bleak, due to rapid depletion of resources, over crowding and destruction of the ecosystem. The future lies in slowing down population growth rapidly enough to ensure a smooth demographic transition in the developing countries, failing which, large-scale disasters may occur.


1. Basic Ecology Eugene P. Odum. 2. Biology Today Vol.2 Sandra S. Gottfried 3. Biology the Science of Life Robert A. 4. Biology an Exploration of Life Carol H. Mc Fadden and William T. Keeton. 5. Biological Science, NPO Green, G.W. Stout, D. J. Taylor. 6. Biology Ruth Bernstein & Stephen Bernstein 7. Concepts of Ecology. Edward J. Kormondy. 8. Demography 9. Environmental Science A framework for decision making. Daniel D. Chiras. 10. Environmental Science Earth is a living planet. Daniel Botkin and Edward Keller. 11. Elements of Ecology Robert Leo Smith and Thomas M. Smith. 12. Human Environment Block-I (AHE-01). 13. Human population Growth 14. Heath Biology James E. McLaren, Lissa Rotundo. 15. INDIA: Quantitative Freedom, Democracy, Progress 16. Population Council/Asia-India. 17. Population and human development the key connections

18. Standard Grade Biology James Torrance

19. Wallace Jack L. King Gerald P. Sanders.

Why is Environment Important?