Types of Ecosystems: What Makes Up The World Around Us
Imagine you are walking through the forest. Just imagine that for a moment. Take a look at what is around you. Trees, leaves, dirt, bugs, birds, animals, water. Everything around you is part of a larger ecosystem that is home to all sorts of creatures and organisms. Everywhere you look is part of a different ecosystem. The ocean or lake you swim in, the forest you hike through, the mountain you climbed up, the tundra you rode a sled through. There are many different types of ecosystems, each with their own characteristics and specific organisms that call it home.
Types of Ecosystems
To start off so everyone is on the same page, an ecosystem is all of the living and nonliving things in a natural community. Basically, it is the area in which the organisms thrive in, plus those organisms. The term ecosystem was coined in 1935 by British Ecologist Sir Arthur George Tansley./ he described the natural system as being in “constant interchange” with living and nonliving parts.
An ecosystem has a specific balance to it. Everything helps each other. In short, an ecosystem is an interaction and usually a symbiosis that permits organisms to exist in a limited space. The most important components of an ecosystem are the energy, air, water, soil, minerals, and nitrogen. Each has their own purpose and contribute to the natural cycle that keeps the ecosystem functional. However, an ecosystem is not just affected by those internal factors, there are external factors that also matter in how it exists and thrives. These would be climate, geography, time, and the biomes.
An ecosystem is not the same as a habitat. A habitat is the type of environment in which an organism lives in. For example, an earthworm lives in the soil, certain fish live in coral reefs, birds live mostly in trees. There can be multiple habitats that make up a larger ecosystem.
Components of an Ecosystem
When looking at any of the types of ecosystems, you will most likely see many things in common with other ecosystems. Each ecosystem has the same four basic components that allow it to prosper. When you think about what makes an ecosystem function, the most important concepts revolve around the organic and inorganic and their interactions with each other.
The abiotic components in an ecosystem are all of the nonliving elements. This includes the water, air, temperature, rocks, and the minerals in the soil. The abiotic elements will also include how the environment reacts to the climate. For instance, how much rain that ecosystem gets, whether the water is fresh or salty, how much sun there is and how often parts will freeze in the winter. The abiotic components are just as important as the biotic, or living, components because each help the other to thrive. The abiotic provide the biotic with the right environment they need to live and to grow, while the biotic contribute to the betterment of the environment with their waste and when they die.
The plants in the ecosystem are often called producers. This is because they supply the food source for the rest of the organisms as well as have the ability to transform carbon dioxide into oxygen. Some examples of these producers would be basically any plants that grow on land, algae in the waters, photosynthetic bacteria and many more. These organisms form the base of the food chain. They are also the largest group on the ecosystem. These plants also contribute to the abiotic level during the nitrogen cycle, where they incorporate inorganic carbon and nitrogen from the atmosphere.
As stated before, animals are another part of the biotic life. They make up most of the food chain depending on their diet. Herbivores eat plants, carnivores eat other animals, omnivores eat both. Just a refresher on 3rd grade science class. This level of the ecosystem makes use of the energy produced by the plants and then disposes of the waste for use by the abiotic level.
This is the last level in the ecosystem. As the abiotic systems support the plant life which supports the rest of the food chain, the waste gets deposited back into the Earth. There are organisms in place to recycle that waste for use by the abiotic system so the cycle can continue. These organisms are called decomposers. They can include earthworms, dung beetles, as well as many species of fungi and bacteria. This is done by making use of any decaying organic material, break it down and return the nutrients back to the soil or water.
Main Types of Ecosystems
Looking at the world as a whole, there are essentially two major types of ecosystems. Terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems. However, there are several subcategories within each major type. This is because there are many different climates and types of topography all over the world which are able to support some organisms over others. Depending on where you look, the actual number of ecosystems on Earth is different. Here, I will run through each subcategory of ecosystem and its specific characteristics.
The first major kind of ecosystem is the terrestrial area. These are the ones that we see everyday. We, ourselves, live in a terrestrial ecosystem. They are regions where organisms, like animals and plants, live and develop in the soil and air which surrounds the specific area. It is understood that the living things that inhabit these ecosystems find everything they need to survive without having to venture outside, with the exception of migration.
Depending on the abiotic factors of the Earth, there are several subcategories of terrestrial ecosystems. They are deserts, grasslands, forests, and mountains. These terrestrial ecosystems are part of other, even larger ecosystems called biomass or ecological regions. They are determined by latitude, climate, temperature and levels of precipitation.
These ecosystems are home to a wide range of animals. Over 900,000 species of insects, 8,500 species of birds, 4,100 species of mammals and countless invertebrates.
These ecosystems have an abundance of plants of many varying species, as well as many different species of animals. Due to the space available in these regions, the density of living organisms is extremely high. A small change in this ecosystem could spell disaster for every organism that inhabits it, which could bring down the whole ecosystem. Forest ecosystems have some of the greatest biodiversity on Earth. Forest ecosystems are also broken down again into more types of ecosystems.
Tropical rainforests are the most popular. They receive 200 centimeters of rain per year and are home to more species of organisms than anywhere else on Earth. Their forests are characterised by dense vegetation which comprises tall trees at different heights. Each level of the forest is a home to a different animal or organism.
Tropical Deciduous Forests
Here, shrubs and dense bushes are dominant, along with a broad selection of trees. It is home to a large number of fauna and many plants.
Temperate Evergreen Forests
This ecosystem will have much less tree population but a heavier moss and fern population. Most likely, you will find these forests in the mid-northern regions of the US.
Temperate Deciduous Forests
These would be the typical forest you would find in your backyard or between cities or towns. They are located in areas that receive sufficient rainfall. Summers and winters affect the trees by making them shed their leaves during the colder months. Most commonly, you’ll find these forests in the north-east to eastern United States.
These forests are located just before the arctic regions. They are defined by evergreen conifer trees. The temperature is below zero degrees Fahrenheit almost half a year, with the remainder of the months buzzing with migratory birds and insects.
These are located in areas that receive extremely low rainfall, barely any at all. They occupy about 17% of our planet. There is very little plant life or animal life due to the year round high temperatures, low water availability, and intense sunlight. Vegetation is also greatly diminished, comprising of mainly shrubs, bushes, few grasses, and cactus. The stems of these plants have evolved to the point where they can conserve as much water as possible. Only animals to be able to survive in this ecosystem are some bird species, insects, reptiles, and camels, which have all adapted to the desert conditions.
The tundra ecosystem is a tough one to place, but due to its characteristics, it could belong to the desert ecosystem. Tundras are extremely cold, rather than extremely hot. The ground remains frozen for most of the year. Living organisms and vegetation are also extremely low and the region receives very little rainfall.
You can find these ecosystems in both tropical and temperate regions of the world, though the specific ecosystems will vary slightly. The area mainly consists of grasses, few trees or shrubs, and many grazing mammals and herbivores.
There are two main types of grassland ecosystems. Savannas, which are tropical grasslands, but seasonally dry. You’ll see a lot of predators and grazers here. Picture the movie The Lion King. The other are prairies. These are temperate grasslands, totally devoid of large shrubs and trees. Mostly all you will find here are mixtures of short and tall grass.
The last in the line of sub types of ecosystems is the mountainous regions. Here you will see a scattered and diverse array of habitats that contain a large number of animals and plants. This is especially apparent the higher up the mountain you go. They are a bit like rainforests, which have a different habitat for each level. With mountains, the higher you go, the colder it gets, which means the type of vegetation and animals that can survive there changes. Lower slopes will be covered with coniferous forests and the common animals that live in a standard climate.
All ecosystems have the same components that make it up. Aquatic ecosystems are no exception. The only difference is the plants and animals that live in these aquatic regions can only survive while in the water. These ecosystems differ in relation to the geographic region where they exist (Antarctic, Subarctic, tropical, subtropical) and their distance to the land (coastal, oceanic, estuarine).
The types of living organisms that reside in these ecosystems include fish, amphibians, algae, shellfish and many more. Aquatic ecosystems are among the largest ecosystems. This is because the Earth is about 70% water and they contain 97% of our planet’s water. The following are the different habitats that make up the aquatic ecosystems.
Benthic habitats are at the bottom of the ecosystems. In shallower regions, the main inhabitants are algae, whereas in deeper areas, there will be most of the carnivorous fish. Nectonic habitats are in the water currents. Here animals move quickly and freely. Planktonic also live in the water currents but unlike nectonic, they can not move on their own and rely on the currents to move them. Lastly is neustonic. These are creatures and other organisms that reside on the surface of the water, floating.
Other Aquatic Ecosystems
Just like terrestrial ecosystems, aquatic areas also consist of different types of ecosystems which depend on their land, or seascapes.
The wetlands are an area of flat lands that have groundwater of shallow depth that overflow onto the surface frequently. This forms lagoons and marshes. Hundreds of species come to live in these areas, mostly amphibious creatures due to the availability of both land and water. There are 5 classes of wetlands:” marine, estuarine, lake, riparian, and marshy.
Next are mangroves. These are areas with groupings of semi-submerged trees that have been flooded with water, high levels of salinity and have developed and survive in coastal areas. These trees have long roots which are able to raise the trunks above the water.
Lastly we have reefs. These are the rainforests of the ocean, because they are the richest aquatic ecosystems on the planet. Huge amounts of different species of fish, snails, corals, and algae inhabit these areas. The reef structure contains large colonies of corals, as well as accumulations of sediments and calcareous sands. You can find these ecosystems in tropical regions and can either be made of hard or soft corals.
Different Types for Different Heights
There are so many different types of ecosystems that cover the Earth. Each defined by many different factors like geography, climate, availability of minerals, water and a whole lot more. However, no matter which of the types of ecosystems you are in, there will always be the same kind of components that make it up and allow it to be functional.
Human activity is putting all of these ecosystems at risk. Our increased carbon emissions are poisoning the air and overwhelming Earth’s natural defenses. Solid waste and toxins are polluting our waters and our lands throwing the natural balance of these ecosystems off, which threaten their very existence. If we do not start taking responsibility for our actions, we could permanently harm the very Earth we are living in.