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Earths Ecosystems


Scientific study of the interactions between organisms and the environment

Rediscovery of the nearly extinct harlequin toad in Costa Rica raises many ecological questions
What environmental factors limit their geographic distribution?
What factors (food, pathogens) affect population size?

Ecological Research

Areas of Ecological Research:

Global Ecology: examines the influence of energy and materials on organisms across the

Landscape Ecology: focuses on the exchanges of energy, materials, and organisms across
multiple ecosystems

Ecosystem Ecology: emphasizes energy flow and chemical cycling among the various biotic
and abiotic components

Community Ecology: deals with the whole array of interacting species in a community

Population Ecology: focuses on factors affecting population size over time

Organismal Ecology: studies how an organisms structure, physiology, and (for animals)
behavior meet environmental challenges

Figure 52.2
Global ecology
Landscape ecology
Ecosystem ecology
Community ecology
Population ecology
Organismal ecology
Weather vs. Climate


Local areas short term temperature, precipitation, humidity, wind, cloud cover and
other physical conditions of the atmosphere measured over hours or days

Long-term prevailing weather conditions in an area
Major components of climate are temperature, precipitation, sunlight, and wind

Consists of patterns on the global, regional, and landscape (multiple ecosystems) level

Consists of very fine patterns, such as those encountered by the community of organisms
underneath a fallen log
Determined by fine-scale differences in the environment that affect light and wind patterns

Water Currents Affect Climate

Air Circulations Affect Climate
Rain Shadow Effect
The Earths surface affects climate.

Major life zones characterized by vegetation type (terrestrial biomes) or physical environment
(aquatic biomes)
Climate is very important in determining why terrestrial biomes are found in certain areas
Climate affects the latitudinal patterns of terrestrial biomes
Biomes are affected not just by average temperature and precipitation, but also by the pattern
of temperature and precipitation through the year
Leads to formation of tropical (hot), temperate (moderate) and polar (cold) regions deserts,
grasslands and forests

Terrestrial Biomes:
Often named for major physical or climatic factors and for vegetation
Characterized by distribution, precipitation, temperature, plants, and animals
Usually grade into each other, without sharp boundaries which may be wide or narrow
Climb a tall mountain from its base to the summit, youll see changes as you might as you
travel from the equator to the poles

Tropic of
Tropic of Capricorn
Tropical forest
Temperate grassland
Temperate broadleaf forest
Northern coniferous forest
High mountains
Polar ice
Figure 52.9
Biomes Based on Elevation

Similar characteristics can arise in distant biomes through Convergent Evolution
For example, cacti in North America and euphorbs in African deserts appear similar but
are from different evolutionary lineages

Tropical Rain Forest

Tropical Rain Forests:

Hot temperature, moisture laden air rises resulting in constant rainfall (200 inches per year)
Temperature is high year-round (2529C) with little seasonal variation
High Biodiversity: home to millions of animal species, including an estimated 530 million still
unknown species of insects, spiders, and other arthropods
2% of the land but of worlds species; single tree can have several thousand insect species
Dominated by broadleaf evergreen plants; their dense tops block out most of the sun not
reaching the forest floor
Ground has little vegetation (those that do have large leaves); vines (lianas) grow on trees to
reach the sun
Little wind because of the dense vegetation; plants depend on bats, birds, bees and other
species for pollination
Rapid human population growth is now destroying many tropical forests

Tropical Rain Forests


New mammal species in the cloud forests lining the Andes Mountains of South
America - Olinguito and classified it in the Procyonidae family, the same as raccoons.
Temperate Rain Forest

Coastal Coniferous Forest or Temperate
Rain Forests:
Found in scattered coastal temperate
areas that have ample rainfall or
moisture from dense ocean fogs
Douglass firs and redwoods


Annual precipitation is low; often scattered unevenly throughout the year
Heat of day bakes the earth causing evaporation of water from leaves and soil
Soils have little vegetation and moisture to store the heat so you can roast during the day and
freeze at night

Tropical Deserts:
Hot and dry most of the year; few plants and a hard wind blown surface of rocks and some

Temperate Deserts:
Daytime temperatures are high in the summer and low in winter; more precipitation than in the
topical deserts; drought resistance vegetation - cacti

Cold Deserts:
Vegetation is sparse; winters are cold; summers warm or hot and precipitation is low; plants
and animals have adapted to stay cool and get enough water

Fragile Ecosystem: slow plant growth; low species diversity; slow nutrient recycling and lack
of water

Equatorial and subequatorial regions
Warm temperatures year round with wet and dry seasons
Precipitation is seasonal
Temperature averages (2429C) but is more seasonally variable than in the tropics
Contains widely scattered clumps of trees (aracia with thorns to prevent being eaten)
Grasses and make up most of the ground cover; fire-adapted and tolerant of seasonal drought
Plants have adapted to survive drought and extreme heat
Grazing animals (grass and herb eating; wildebeest) and browsing animals (twig and leaf
eating; giraffe) along with predators (lion)


Occurs in mid-latitude coastal regions on several continents
Summer is hot (30C+); fall, winter, and spring are cool (1012C)
Close to sea provides a slightly longer winter rainy season than nearby temperate deserts
Precipitation is highly seasonal with rainy winters and dry summers
Fogs in the spring and fall reducing evaporation
Consist of dense growth of low growing evergreen shrubs and occasional small trees with
leathery leaves to reduce evaporation
Dominated by shrubs, small trees, grasses, and herbs; adapted to fire and drought
Prone to fires in the dry season
Many plants produce seeds that only germinated after a wildfire
Animals include amphibians, birds, reptiles, insects, small mammals, and browsing mammals

People like to live here because of its moderate, sunny climate with mild wet winters and warm dry
summers; risk losing their homes to frequent fires and mud slides

Temperate Grasslands

Temperate Grassland
Found on many continents
Precipitation is highly seasonal
Winters are cold (often below 10C) and dry; summers are hot (often near 30C) and dry
Dominant plants are grasses and adapted to droughts and fire
Little tree growth
Large grazers such as bison and wild horses and small burrowers such as prairie dogs
Most grasslands have been converted to farmland (Midwest)
Temperate Grassland

Some of the worlds most spectacular environments are high on Mountains, steep or high
lands that cover of the Earths surface; dramatic changes in altitude, slope, climate, soil and
vegetation occur in a very short distance
1.2 bil people (18% of the worlds population) live on them or their edges; 4 bil (59%) depend
on mountain systems for all or some of their water
Majority of the worlds forests; habitats for biodiversity and contain endemic species found no
where on Earth
Help regulate the earths climate: mountains covered in ice and snow help to reflect solar
radiation back into space helping to cool the plant and offset global warming
Can affect sea levels: storing or releasing water in glaciers; as the earth warms, water can be
released in oceans causing them to rise
Major storehouses of water

Despite their significance, mountain ecosystems are not a high priority for governments
and/or environmental groups

Mount Rainier National Park
Northern Coniferous Forest

Northern Coniferous Forest or Taiga:
Spans northern North America and Eurasia and is the largest terrestrial biome on Earth
Cold forests are often found just south of Artic tundra and above certain altitudes in the High
Sierras or Rockies
Precipitation varies; some have periodic droughts and others, especially near coasts, are wet
Winters are cold; summers may be hot (Siberia ranges from 50C to 20C)
Subarctic climate: winters are long, dry and extremely cold; sunlight may only be available 6-8
hrs; summers are short, with cool to warm temperatures; sun shines 19 hrs
Plant diversity is low as few species can survive the winters when soil moisture is frozen
Conifers such as pine, spruce, fir, and hemlock dominate; conical shape of conifers prevents
too much snow from accumulating and breaking their branches
Migratory and resident birds; large mammals such as moose, brown bears, and Siberian tigers

Northern Coniferous Forest
Temperate Broadleaf Forest

Temperate Broadleaf Forest:
Found at midlatitudes in the Northern Hemisphere, with smaller areas in Chile, South Africa,
Australia, and New Zealand
Significant amounts of precipitation fall during all seasons as rain or snow
Winters average 0C; summers are hot and humid (near 35C)
Long warm summers, cold but not severe winters and abundant moisture, often fairly spread
throughout the year
Dominated by deciduous trees in the Northern Hemisphere; evergreen eucalyptus in Australia
Broad-leaf trees: oak, hickory, maple and beech; survive cold winters by dropping their leaves
in the fall and becoming dormant; each spring, new leaves form and turn colors in the fall
Mammals, birds, and insects make use of all vertical layers in the forest
Eastern US were home to bears, foxes and pumas (many have been killed) and the dominant
mammal often is deer
In the Northern Hemisphere, many mammals hibernate in the winter
Impact of human activities: disturbed more than any other for growing of crops, wood or cities;
within 100-200 years after its left undistributed, it can return to forest

Temperate Broadleaf Forest

Covers expansive areas of the Arctic; alpine tundra exists on high mountaintops at all latitudes
Precipitation is low in arctic tundra and higher in alpine tundra
Winters are cold (below 30C); summers are relatively cool (less than 10C)
Treeless and bitterly cold
Swept by cold winds and covered by ice and snow
Winters are long and dark
Little precipitation
Permafrost, a permanently frozen layer of soil, prevents water infiltration
Vegetation is herbaceous (mosses, grasses, forbs, dwarf shrubs and trees, and lichen) and
supports birds, grazers, and their predators; alpine can be flowers
Most of the growth occurs in the 7-8 week summer when the sun shines almost 24 hrs
Mammals include musk oxen, caribou, reindeer, bears, wolves, and foxes; many migratory
bird species nest in the summer


Earth is covered with water - known as the Water Planet
Saltwater covers 71% of the Earth
Freshwater 2.3%
Aquatic Life Zones: determined by the amount of salinity amount of salt (NaCl) in the water

Marine: brackish which is a combination of salt and freshwater and are considered to be
saltwater and include
Global ocean is a single and continuous body of water
4 oceans: Atlantic, Arctic, Indian and Pacific; Antarctic
Oceans and estuaries, coastlands and shorelines, coral reefs and mangrove forests

Lakes, rivers and streams and inland wetlands

Water Planet
Aquatic Biomes

Aquatic Biomes:
Account for the largest part of the biosphere in terms of area
Marine biomes have salt concentrations of about 3%
Largest marine biome is made of oceans, which cover about 75% of Earths surface and
have an enormous impact on the biosphere
Freshwater biomes have salt concentrations of less than 0.1%
Freshwater biomes are closely linked to soils and the biotic components of the surrounding
terrestrial biome

Stratified into Zones or layers defined by light penetration, temperature, and depth:
Pelagic Zone:
Photic Zone has sufficient light for photosynthesis; most animals live here
Aphotic Zone receives little light; extensive with little life
Deep in the Aphotic Zone lies the Abyssal Zone with a depth of 2,000 to 6,000 m
Benthic Zone:
Organic and inorganic sediment at the bottom of all aquatic zones
Communities of organisms are collectively called the Benthos
Dead organic matter, falls from the productive surface water; important source of food

Aquatic Biomes
Tropic of
Tropic of
Oceanic pelagic and benthic zones
Intertidal zones
Coral reefs
Figure 52.15


Natural bodies of freshwater formed from precipitation, runoff or groundwater that fill in
depressions in the surface caused by glaciers (Bear Mountain), volcanoes (Crater Lake) or
other ways such as supplied with water from rain (precipitation) or streams
Size varies from small ponds to very large lakes

Oligotrophic Lakes:

Nutrient-poor and generally oxygen-rich
Small supply of plant nutrients
Generally deep with steep banks; fed by glaciers and mountain streams with little sediment;
crystal clear

Eutrophic Lakes:
Nutrient-rich and often depleted of oxygen if ice covered in winter
Rooted and floating aquatic plants live in shallow and well-lighted area close to shore
Water is too deep to support rooted aquatic plants; small drifting animals called zooplankton
graze on the phytoplankton
Invertebrates live in the benthic zone; Fishes live in all zones with sufficient oxygen

Surface Water: precipitation that does not sink into the ground or evaporate

Runoff: precipitation that runs into a stream

Watershed, Drainage Basin: land that delivers runoff, sediment and dissolved substances into a
stream; small streams form rivers and rivers flow downhill to the ocean

Aquatic Life Zones:
Source Zone:
Headwaters or mountain highland streams; usually shallow, cold, clear and swift flowing;
waterfalls and rapids
Not productive because of lack of nutrients and producers; food is from decomposition;
algae; fishes
Transition Zone:
Middle; become wider, deeper and warmer; slower; more turbid (cloudier)
Producers; both cold and warm water fish (black bass)
Floodplain Zone:
Over time, they shape the land including leveling or cutting through mountains forming
canyons; streams can join others, forming wider and deeper rivers
Large amount of producers and fish; rivers end in a mouth or delta; absorb the floodwaters
and add nutrient rich land

Human Activity
Human activities are disrupting and degrading many of the ecological and economic services provided
by fresh water rivers, lakes and wetlands:

Dams and Canals on rivers fragment about 40% of the worlds 237 large rivers
Alter or destroy aquatic wildlife habitats by reducing water flow and increasing damage from
coastal storms

Flood Control Levees and Dikes:
Built along rivers and disconnect the rivers from their floodplains
Destroy aquatic habitats and alter or reduce the function of nearby wetlands
Hinders the spawning cycle of fishes and birds and can disrupt food chains; species are lost
and the biodiversity is threatened
Interrupts sediment flow and distribution

Pollutants from cities and farms add excess nutrients causing algal explosions (blooms) and
depleting the oxygen

Wetlands have been drained or filled to grow crops or covered to build buildings or roads


Habitat that is inundated by water at least some of the time and that supports plants adapted
to water-saturated soil
High organic production and decomposition and have low dissolved oxygen content
Can develop in shallow basins, along flooded river banks, or on coasts of large lakes and seas
Wetlands are among the most productive biomes on Earth
Plants include lilies, cattails, sedges, tamarack, and black spruce
Wetlands are home to diverse invertebrates and birds, as well as otters, frogs, and alligators
Humans have destroyed up to 90% of wetlands; wetlands purify water and reduce flooding

Restoration of Wetlands
Streams and Rivers

Streams and Rivers:
Most prominent physical characteristic of streams and rivers is current
Headwaters are generally cold, clear, turbulent, swift, and oxygenrich; they are often narrow
and rocky
Downstream waters form rivers and are generally warmer, more turbid, and more oxygenated;
they are often wide and meandering and have silty bottoms
May contain phytoplankton or rooted aquatic plants
Diversity of fishes and invertebrates inhabit unpolluted rivers and streams
Damming and flood control impair natural functioning of stream and river ecosystems

Streams and Rivers
Coastal Wetlands
Where rivers meet the sea; partially enclosed bodies of water where sea water mixes with
fresh water as well as nutrients from streams, rivers and runoff from the land

Coastal Wetlands:
Coastal land areas covered with water all or part of the year
Combined with Estuaries, they are some of the Earths most productive ecosystems because
of nutrients, rapid flow of water and ample sunlight:

Estuaries and Coastal Wetlands: include river mouths, inlets, bays, sounds, salt marshes and
mangrove forests

Seagrass Beds:
Species of plants that grow underwater in shallow marine and estuaries along the coastline
Highly productive and support a variety of marine species
Stabilize shorelines and reduce wave impact

Life is harsh; adapt to daily and seasonal changes in tidal and river flow; water temperatures and
salinity; and runoff from the land including soil sediment and pollutants; because of this, they may
have low plant diversity but high productivity

Coastal Wetlands

Mangrove Forests:
Found along 70% of gently sloping sandy and silt coastlines in the tropics and sub-tropics
Grow in salt water and have extensive root systems that can support during changes in water

Coastal Aquatic Systems provide important ecological and economic services:

Maintain water quality by filtering toxic pollutants, excess plant nutrients, sediments and
absorb other pollutants
Provide food, habitats and nursery sites
Reduce storm damage and coast erosion by absorbing waves and storing excess water
produced by storms and tsunamis
Provide timber and wood for fuel

UN estimates that between 1980 and 2005 at least 1/5 of the mangrove forests were lost due
mainly to human coastal development

Loss of mangroves can lead to polluted drinking water caused by inland intrusion of saltwater into
fresh water aquifers used to supply drinking water

River Delta
Mangrove Trees
Life in Coastal Wetlands
Coastal Shoreline

Intertidal Zone:
Area between high and low tides (gravitational pull of the moon and sun)
Organisms must adapt to movement of water; high tides to drying out at low tides
Oxygen and nutrient levels are high
Deal with daily salinity and moisture changes
Organisms need to hold on:

Rocky Shores:
Pounded daily by waves
Numerous pools and other habitats with a great variety of species; marine algae
Animals have adapted to attach themselves to the hard surface
Sandy Shores:
Barrier beaches
Many organisms are hidden from view by burrowing, digging or tunneling in the sand;
home to shore birds that feed on crustaceans sea grass and algae
Barrier Islands:
Narrow islands that form offshore parallel to the coast

Intertidal Zones
Life Along the Coast
Importance of Sand Dunes

Importance of Sand Dunes:
Sand is held in place by plant roots
line of defense against the sea
Often removed by developers; and when large storms hit and cause damage, they are
incorrectly called Natural Disasters

Oceanic Pelagic Zone

Oceanic Pelagic Zone:
Constantly mixed by wind-driven oceanic currents
Oxygen levels are high
Turnover in temperate oceans renews nutrients in the photic zones; year-round stratification
in tropical oceans leads to lower nutrient concentrations
Biome covers approximately 70% of Earths surface
Phytoplankton and zooplankton are the dominant organisms in this biome; also found are
free-swimming animals
Zooplankton includes protists, worms, copepods, krill, jellies, and invertebrate larvae
Other animals include squids, fishes, sea turtles, and marine mammals

Oceanic Pelagic Zone
Coral Reefs

Coral Reefs:
Worlds oldest, most diverse and most productive ecosystem
Known as Natural Wonders
Biodiversity marine equivalent of Tropical Rain Forests
Formed by tiny animals known as polyps jellyfish; calcium carbonate
Occupy only 0.2% of the oceans floor
15% have been destroyed and another 20% damaged
They provide important ecological and economic services;
Moderate atmospheric temperatures
Act as natural barriers protecting coasts from erosion
Provide habitats
Support fishing and tourism businesses
Provide jobs and building materials
Coral Reefs
Life on a Coral Reef
Death of a Coral Reef
Marine Benthic Zone

Marine Benthic Zone:
Consists of the seafloor below the surface waters of the coastal zone
Organisms in the very deep benthic zone are adapted to continuous cold and extremely high
water pressure
Mainly soft sediments; some areas are rocky
Shallow areas contain seaweeds and filamentous algae
Deep-sea hydrothermal vents of volcanic origin on mid-oceanic ridges are surrounded by
unique chemoautotrophic prokaryotes, as well as echinoderms and arthropods
Benthic communities include invertebrates and fishes

Marine Benthic Zone
Human Problem

Human activities are causing major threats to marine systems, especially coastal wetlands, shore
lands, mangrove forests and coral reefs; threatened by man is the biological diversity and
ecosystems provided by the oceans that cover 71% of Earth:

Coastal Development: by 2006, 46% of the worlds population (more than of US) lived
along or near coasts; by 2040, up to 80% may
Overfishing: depletes population of commercial fish
Pollution: fertilizers or animal waste; sewage from ships; oil spillage
Habitat Destruction: development but also, trawler fishing
Introduction of Invasive Species (non-native)
Climate Change from Human Activities: rise in levels
Pollution of coastal wetlands and estuaries