What Makes an Ecosystem

What makes an ecosystem is a unique and dynamic relationship between a group of living things and their non living environment. An ecosystem may be as large as the planet Earth itself with ALL of its life and habitats. But what is usually called an ecosystem is generally taken to be one of Earth’s smaller functional units of its biomass (living things) along with its non-living habitats (environments) such as a pond, a forest, a meadow, a lagoon, a swamp, or a coral reef.

Ecosystems are almost always interrelated and overlap with other ecosystems into larger ecosystems. Even a puddle in a dirt road or in a vacant lot can be a unique ecosystem when it gets taken over and inhabited by an array of competing and cohabitating living things such as mosquito larvae, worms, and tadpoles about which we can make observations, collect data, and learn to understand.

When we study ecosystems, scientists arbitrarily define their boundaries for purposes of convenience and simplicity. For instance, the “Pond” ecosystem includes certain plants and animals, its banks and water, the sediments at its bottom, birds and animals that visit it (from other ecosystems) as well as those living things which live in the pond full time.

Ecologists are scientists who study ecosystems and the relationships between their inhabitants and non-living environmental factors. Ecologists are very interested in the distribution and abundance of living things in ecosystems and the factors that can favorably or adversely affect the distribution and abundance of plant and animal populations.

Two concepts seem to be keys to defining the health and success of an ecosystem. These are diversity and balance. Diversity is the number of different species that occupy an ecosystem. In general for an ecosystem, the more varieties of living things present, the greater its diversity, and the healthier the ecosystem. An ecosystem remains stable as long as the numerous cycles of population, immigration, nutrient levels, and toxins which operate within it remain stable.

When an ecosystem begins to use up any one of its resources (oxygen, water, food, living space) faster than usual, or when toxins pile up faster than an ecosystem can absorb them, imbalance or instability will occur which can lead to a complete disruption, evolution, or even death of an ecosystem.

Ecologists and Environmental scientists study the impacts of human activity on our environment and neighboring ecosystems to help us learn the ways that WE can help to maintain a balanced diversity of our plant and animal neighbors and thus the health of the ecosystems that we live in and share.