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Biodiversity and Ecosystem Stability

The term biodiversity refers to the number and variety of species on Earth. There are about 1.6 million known species, most of which are insects. Estimates vary, but many scientists believe that the actual number of species on Earth is about 13 million. Every ecosystem is connected, either directly or indirectly, with other ecosystems. The human population is increasing at a rate of about 220,000 people each day. As human populations grow, more land is used to build homes and extract natural resources. As all of this building and depletion of resources occurs, crowding and pollution occur, and natural habitats of other species are destroyed. Animals lose their niches and upset the balance of nature. Remember that it is all of the different species, along with all abiotic factors, that make up an ecosystem. Ecosystems vary greatly in their biodiversity. For example, deserts have much less biodiversity than tropical rainforests because deserts have significantly less resources to support plant and animal life. Comparisons of biodiversity between biomes is not appropriate, however changes in biodiversity within a given ecosystem can indicate significant changes in environmental health and productivity. Environmental scientists have confirmed that richer biodiversity of plant and animal life enhances an ecosystems productivity, resilience, and stability. Ecological productivity is the efficiency of an ecosystem to make the most use of all energy and nutrient resources. Ecological resilience is an indication of how quickly an ecosystem can return to is original state after the introduction of some stressing event. It is important to maintain healthy ecosystems because they insure the health of the biosphere, which is where we began in this unit. Every plant and animal species in an ecosystem is connected through a web of interactions. Each species has a role to play and each is dependent upon other species for survival. If one species disappears from an ecosystem, the whole ecosystem will undergo a change. If more species continue to disappear, whole ecosystems can collapse. The collapse of an ecosystem from the lost of one or more species is called the rivet hypothesis of ecology in which each species of an ecosystem has more or less importance in supporting the ecosystem. The rivet hypothesis refers to the loss of species, just like the loss of rivets in a bridge, can lead

to a collapse of the ecosystem or bridge. If a collapse occurs then the ecosystem is no longer ecologically stable. Ecological stability refers to the equilibrium state of an ecosystem which supports biodiversity. Biodiversity has been described as an "insurance policy" of ecosystems because greater biodiversity leads to healthier and more productive ecosystems. Many people agree that we have a responsibility to preserve out planets ecosystems. Pollution, deforestation and commercial or residential development places stress on ecosystems so that they may not be able to resist disturbances like the introduction of invading species of plants or animals. When an ecosystem can no longer defend itself against invaders, the ecological resistance of the ecosystem is weakened and the ecosystem may collapse. The loss of biodiversity and the destruction of ecosystems can lead to soil erosion and drought, decreases in the food supply, increases in greenhouse gases in the atmosphere and changes in global climate. These conditions may lead to large scale extinctions of many species of plant and animal life. Besides the practical concerns for the protection of the environment, many people also believe that species and ecosystems have a right to exist and are valuable simply because they do exist. Psychologists have found that when we spend time with other living things, our sense of connection is to the world around us is increased, and we develop a greater appreciation and respect for the natural world.