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Natural Capital

• Natural capital is all the natural resources and

natural/ecosystem services that keep us and other
species alive
• Natural capital also supports human economies
• Natural resources are materials and energy in nature
that are essential or useful to humans – you will see
classifications of natural resources later in this slideshow
• Natural or ecosystem services are processes provided
by healthy ecosystems. Examples include air/water
purification, topsoil renewal, and pollination
• All of these services support life and economies at no
monetary cost to us! 1

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Feedback loop

• - any process that the product of the

process increase or decreases a change
to a system.
• Positive feedback loop- causes a system
to change further in the same direction
(erosion, albedo)
• Negative feedback loop (corrective)
causes a system to change in the opposite
direction from which it is moving.
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thermostat, homeostasis)
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Three Factors Sustain Life on Earth

• One-way flow of high-quality energy:

– Sun → plants → living things → environment
as heat → radiation to space
• Cycling of nutrients through parts of the
• Gravity holds the earth’s atmosphere

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Biosphere Parts of the earth's air, water, and soil
where life is found

Ecosystem A community of different species

interacting with one another and with
their nonliving environment of matter
and energy
Community Populations of different species
living in a particular place, and
potentially interacting with each
Population A group of individuals of the same
species living in a particular place

Organism An individual living being

The fundamental structural and

Cell functional unit of life

Molecule Chemical combination of two or

more atoms of the same or different
Water elements

Atom Smallest unit of a chemical element

Hydrogen Oxygen that exhibits its chemical properties Stepped Art
Fig. 3-4 p. 55
Ecosystems Have Several Important
Components (cont’d.)

• Producers (autotrophs)
– Photosynthesis
• CO2 + H2O + sunlight → glucose + oxygen
• Consumers (heterotrophs)
– Primary consumers = herbivores
– Secondary consumers
– Tertiary consumers
– Carnivores, omnivores

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Ecosystems Have Several Important

• Decomposers
– Consumers that release nutrients
• Detritivores
– Feed on dead bodies of other organisms
• There is very little waste of nutrients in

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Fig. 3-8, p. 57
Detritivores and
Decomposers Detritus feeders Decomposers

Bark beetle Carpenter Termite

Long- engraving ant and
horned galleries carpenter
beetle Dry rot
ant work
holes fungus

Wood Mushroo
reduced m
to powder

progression Powder broken down by
decomposers into plant
nutrients in soil
Fig. 3-9, p. 58
Organisms Get Their Energy in Different

• Aerobic respiration
– Using oxygen to turn glucose back to carbon
dioxide and water
• Anaerobic respiration
– Fermentation
– End products are carbon compounds such as
methane or acetic acid

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The Components
of an Ecosystem
Chemical nutrients energy
Heat (carbon dioxide,
oxygen, nitrogen,

Heat Heat

Decomposers Producers
(bacteria, fungi) (plants)

Consumers (plant
eaters, meat
Heat eaters) Heat
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Fig. 3-10, p. 59
Energy Flows Through Ecosystems in
Food Chains and Food Webs

• Food chain
– Movement of energy and nutrients from one
trophic level to the next
– Photosynthesis → feeding → decomposition
• Food web
– Network of interconnected food chains

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A Food Chain
First Trophic Second Trophic Third Trophic Fourth Trophic
Level Level Level Level
Producers Primary Secondary Tertiary
(plants) consumers consumers consumers
(herbivores) (carnivores) (top carnivores)

Heat Heat Heat Heat



Heat Heat

Decomposers and detritus feeders

Fig. 3-11, p. 60
A Food Web Humans
Blue whale Sperm whale

Elephant seal
seal Killer

Adelie Emperor
penguin penguin

Petrel Squid


zooplankton Herbivorous
Krill zooplankton

Fig. 3-12, p. 60
Usable Energy Decreases with Each Link
in a Food Chain or Web

• Biomass
– Dry weight of all organic matter of a given
trophic level in a food chain or food web
– Decreases at each higher trophic level due to
heat loss
• Pyramid of energy flow
– 90% of energy lost with each transfer
– Less chemical energy for higher trophic levels

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Usable energy available
at each trophic level Heat
(in kilocalories)
consumers 10
(human) Heat

consumers 100
(perch) Heat Decomposers Heat

consumers 1,000
(zooplankton) Heat


Stepped Art
Fig. 3-13, p. 61
Some Ecosystems Produce Plant Matter
Faster Than Others Do

• Gross primary productivity (GPP)

– Rate at which an ecosystem’s producers
convert solar energy to chemical energy and
– Kcal/m2/year

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Some Ecosystems Produce Plant Matter
Faster Than Others Do (cont’d.)

• Net primary productivity (NPP)

– Rate at which an ecosystem’s producers
convert solar energy to chemical energy,
minus the rate at which producers use energy
for aerobic respiration
– Ecosystems and life zones differ in their NPP

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Estimated Annual Average NPP in Major
Life Zones and Ecosystems

Fig. 3-14, p. 62
Nutrients Cycle within and among

• Nutrient cycles
– Hydrologic
– Carbon
– Nitrogen
– Phosphorus
– Sulfur
• Nutrients may remain in a reservoir for a
period of time
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Compare and contrast how carbon, phosphorus, nitrogen, and
water cycle through the environment.
• A source is a reservoir that contributes more of a material than it
receives, and a sink is one that receives more than it provides.

• Water moves widely through the environment in the water

(hydrological) cycle.

• Most carbon is contained in sedimentary rock. Substantial amounts

also occur in the oceans and in soil. Carbon flux between organisms
and the atmosphere occurs via photosynthesis and respiration.

• Nitrogen in a vital nutrient for plant growth. Most nitrogen is in the

atmosphere, so it must be “fixed” by specialized bacteria or lightning
before plants can use it.

• Phosphorus is most abundant in sedimentary rock, with substantial

amounts in soil and the oceans. Phosphorus has no appreciable
atmospheric pool. It is a key nutrient for plant growth.

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Nutrients circulate through ecosystems
• Matter is continually circulated in ecosystems
• Nutrient (biogeochemical) cycles: the movement of nutrients through
– Atmosphere, hydrosphere, lithosphere, and biosphere
• Pools (reservoirs): where nutrients reside for varying amounts of time (called
the residence time)
• Flux: the rate at which materials move between pools
– Can change over time
– Is influenced by human activities

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Main components of a biogeochemical

• Source: a pool that releases more nutrients than it accepts

• Sinks: a pool that accepts more nutrients than it releases

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The hydrologic cycle
• Water is essential for biochemical reactions
– It is involved in nearly every environmental system
• Hydrologic cycle: summarizes how liquid, gaseous
and solid water flows through the environment
– Oceans are the main reservoir
• Evaporation: water moves from aquatic and land
systems into the atmosphere
• Transpiration: release of water vapor by plants
• Condensation: water vapor changes phase into liquid
water (clouds)
• Precipitation, runoff, and surface water: water
returns to Earth as rain or snow and flows into
streams, oceans, etc.
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The hydrologic cycle

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The carbon cycle
• Carbon is a vital life sustaining nutrient. It is found in carbohydrates, fats,
proteins, bones, cartilage and shells
• Carbon cycle: describes the route of carbon atoms through the
• Photosynthesis by plants, algae and cyanobacteria
– Removes carbon dioxide from air and water
– Produces oxygen and carbohydrates
– Plants are a major reservoir of carbon
• Respiration returns carbon to the air and oceans
– Plants, consumers and decomposers

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Sediment storage of carbon
• Decomposition returns carbon to the
– The largest reservoir of carbon
– May be trapped for hundreds of millions of years
• Aquatic organisms die and settle in the
– Older layers are buried deeply and undergo high
– Ultimately, it may be converted into fossil fuels
• Oceans are the second largest reservoir of
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The carbon cycle

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The nitrogen cycle
• Nitrogen comprises 78% of our atmosphere
– It is contained in proteins, DNA and RNA
• Nitrogen cycle: describes the routes that nitrogen
atoms take through the environment
– Nitrogen gas cannot be used by most organisms (it’s an inert
gas, so it doesn’t react and the bonds are super strong)
• Nitrogen fixation: lightning or nitrogen-fixing bacteria
combine (fix) nitrogen with hydrogen
– To form ammonium
– Which can be used
by plants

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Nitrification and denitrification
• Nitrification: bacteria convert ammonium ions first into nitrite ions then
into nitrate ions
– Plants can take up these ions
• Animals obtain nitrogen by eating plants or other animals
• Decomposers get it from dead and decaying plants or other animals
– Releasing ammonium ions to nitrifying bacteria
• Denitrifying bacteria: convert nitrates in soil or water to gaseous

– Releasing it back into the atmosphere

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The nitrogen cycle

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Humans add nitrogen to the env

Fully half of nitrogen entering the environment is of human origin

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The phosphorus cycle
• Phosphorus (P) is a key component of cell membranes,
• Phosphorus cycle: describes the routes that phosphorus
atoms take through the environment
• Most phosphorus is within rocks
– It is released by weathering
– There is no atmospheric component
• With naturally low environmental concentrations
– Phosphorus is a limiting factor for plant growth
– A limiting factor is environmental conditions that limit the
growth, abundance and distribution of organisms or
populations of organisms within an ecosystem

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The phosphorus cycle

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Explain how human impact is affecting biogeochemical cycles.

• People are affecting Earth’s biogeochemical cycles by

shifting carbon from fossil fuel reservoirs into the
atmosphere, shifting nitrogen from the atmosphere to the
planet’s surface, and depleting groundwater supplies,
among other impacts
• Policy can help us address problems with nutrient pollution.

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Human impacts on the hydrologic cycle
• Removing forests and vegetation increases runoff and erosion, reduces
transpiration and lowers water tables
• Irrigating agricultural fields depletes rivers, lakes and streams and
increases evaporation
• Damming rivers increases evaporation and infiltration
• Emitting pollutants changes the nature of precipitation
• The most threatening impact: overdrawing groundwater for drinking,
irrigation, and industrial use
– Water shortages create worldwide conflicts

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Humans affect the carbon cycle
• Burning fossil fuels moves carbon from the ground to the air
• Cutting forests and burning fields moves carbon from vegetation to the air
• Today’s atmospheric carbon dioxide reservoir is the largest in the past
800,000 years
– It is the driving force behind climate change
• The missing carbon sink: 1-2 billion metric tons of carbon are
unaccounted for
– It may be taken up by plants or soils of northern temperate and boreal

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Humans affect the nitrogen cycle
• Haber-Bosch process : production of fertilizers by
combining nitrogen and hydrogen to synthesize ammonia
– Humans overcame the limits on crop productivity
• Fixing atmospheric nitrogen with fertilizers
– Increases emissions of greenhouse gases and smog
– Washes calcium and potassium out of soil
– Acidifies water and soils
– Moves nitrogen into terrestrial systems and oceans
– Reduces diversity of plants adapted to low-nitrogen
– Changed estuaries and coastal ecosystems and

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Humans affect the phosphorus cycle
• Mining rocks for fertilizer moves phosphorus
from the soil to water systems
• Wastewater discharge also releases
• Runoff containing phosphorus causes
eutrophication of aquatic systems
– Produces murkier waters
– Alters the structure and function of aquatic
– Do not buy detergents that contain phosphate
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Solutions to the dead zone
• The Harmful Algal Bloom and Hypoxia Research and Control
Act (1998)
– Called for an assessment of hypoxia in the dead zone
• Solutions outlined included:
– Reduce nitrogen fertilizer use in Midwestern farms
– Apply fertilizer at times which minimize runoff
– Use alternative crops and manage manure better
– Restore wetlands and create artificial ones
– Improve sewage treatment technologies
– Evaluate these approaches

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Decreasing pollution
• Scientists, farmers and policymakers
are encouraged to
– Decrease fertilizer use
– While safeguarding agriculture
• Offering insurance and incentives
• Using new farming methods
• Planting cover crops
• Maintaining wetlands
• There have been some successes
– Despite a lack of funding

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