What if our entire planet was a house of cards about to topple over?
It's easy to take each day for granted. However, even small effects on a single ecosystem can spell major disaster for the rest of the world. Are you curious about what happens if one part of an ecosystem is damaged or destroyed? Keep reading to discover the shocking answers!
What Is an Ecosystem?
We've put together the definitive guide to how damage to an ecosystem damages the entire world. Before we dive any further, though, it's important to define what an ecosystem is. An ecosystem refers to a specific type of environment. And that environment is made of two things: the biotope and the biocenosis. The biotope refers to the physical environment itself. This includes factors such as humidity, temperature, and overall climate.
Biocenosis refers to the living organisms within the environment. This includes animals, plants, and tiny organisms invisible to the naked eye. The living organisms within an ecosystem rely on each other for health and survival. By understanding this, you can start to understand how small effects ripple out and create larger disruptions.
Different Types of Ecosystems
You may think of an ecosystem as a single environment within nature. In reality, there are many different kinds of ecosystems out there. Generally speaking, these ecosystems refer to vastly different types of environments. For example, the ocean makes up one type of ecosystem while the desert makes up another. These different ecosystems each form a balanced system of interdependent living creatures. And on the "macro" level, even different ecosystems rely on each other to maintain the global biodiversity that all of us depend on.
The Effects of Human Intervention
Humans often affect different ecosystems in unintentional ways. Every now and then, though, the disruption is intentional. And even intentional disruptions can lead to unintended effects.
In Yellowstone National Park, the government was initially very concerned about wolves and other predators. In an attempt to make the area safer, the government largely wiped out the wolves in the area. This ended up drastically affecting the ecosystem and eventually changing the course of the river through the area. Why? Because predators serve an important role in any ecosystem, and removing any living organism from an ecosystem will create a wide range of unexpected effects.
Humanity Needs Ecosystems to Survive
Studying ecosystems often feels like we are on the outside looking in. The truth, however, is that human beings are highly dependent on these different ecosystems for our survival. For example, we all need clean food and water to survive. But much of the food you like will only grow in certain conditions, and the purity of the water relies on a similar ecological balance. Even small changes to a certain ecosystem can render that food and water completely unusable. In many cases, we also develop medicine from specific plants that only grow in specific conditions. By harming an ecosystem, we may lose access to these plants and consequently lose many lives that could otherwise be saved. Still unsure why protecting ecosystems is so important? It all comes down to biodiversity.
The Importance of Biodiversity
What is biodiversity, exactly? This refers to the biological diversity of all the different genes, species, and ecosystems out there. Damage or destruction of ecosystems is often referred to as "biodiversity loss." The reason is simple: even if the overall ecosystem remains, human activity may mean the loss of that diversity through things like the extinction of living creatures.
Another way of thinking about biodiversity loss is that we are losing out on future potential. Every plant species we lose today means that we may have lost a new life-saving medicine or medical innovation in the future. Factors like deforestation, climate change, overfishing, and pollution all threaten the biodiversity of this planet. And that means they threaten the health and integrity of our ecosystems.
What Happens If One Part of an Ecosystem Is Damaged or Destroyed?
All of this brings us back to the original question. Exactly what happens if one part of an ecosystem is damaged or destroyed? The short answer is that it all depends on which part of the ecosystem is affected. In the case of Yellowstone, the loss of the wolves meant that their prey, such as elk, could now roam free. In turn, the elk destroyed aspens and willows, necessitating in the reintroduction of wolves in 1995.
Other cases may be more drastic. For example, climate change is currently affecting the global bee population. There are 100 crop species that feed 90% of the world, and bees pollinate 70 of those 100 species. Without bees, we could potentially face a massive food shortage that could threaten billions of lives!
As Bad as Climate Change
Speaking of climate change, the verdict is in: threats to our ecosystem are just as dangerous to our longterm survival as the threat of climate change. Robert Watson, the head of the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform, puts it this way. "The evidence is incontestable - our destruction of biodiversity and ecosystem services has reached levels that threaten our well-being at least as much as human-induced climate change." It's more important to protect our environment than ever before. In addition to urging your legislators to action, there are small changes you can make in your daily life that make a big difference.
Ways You Can Help
Recycling remains one of the biggest ways you can protect the environment. You should also buy sustainable products (such as sustainably harvested seafood) in order to be a responsible steward of the environment. If possible, bring your own shopping bags to grocery stores instead of using plastic bags. And consider turning some of your daily waste into compost that will help your flowers and plants thrive. Finally, volunteer whenever you get the chance. Local habitats and "green" organizations in your area are waiting for someone like you to make a difference.
What's Your Next Move?
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