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An ecosystem can refer to a small or big natural area, even the entire Earth. It is the network between all living organisms, weather and landscape of that area. In an ecosystem, all the parts interact and support one another, creating life’s natural balance. It is like the web of life. It is common to talk about the importance of ecosystems when discussing climate change, as human activities often disturb ecosystems and put them out of balance. 

For example, a forest is an ecosystem where plants, trees, animals, micro-organisms and fungi interact. The climate, weather, and other “non-living” parts like rocks are also part of this ecosystem. All the different parts depend on each other to function well. So when a human activity like deforestation happens, it is not only the trees that get destroyed; it is the whole ecosystem. 

Human activities and ecosystems

Throughout the history of the Earth, humans have been a natural part of ecosystems. However, when agriculture started, we began to overtake many ecosystems. For example, forests got cut down to make space for fields. Or animals got domesticated to serve human needs. Human populations also began to grow expansively. As development continued, the influence over the natural world grew larger and larger. With industrialisation and globalisation, more ecosystems were disturbed or destroyed. This effect relates to climate change, which highly changes the natural balance.

Ecosystem services

The Earth’s ecosystems provide humans with all the necessities to live a healthy life. These benefits are known as ecosystem services. For example, water and food are considered ecosystem services of the Earth. Other examples are fuels and air purification. Overall, ecosystems support all human life and activities. Therefore, it is increasingly important to understand how the systems work and what needs to happen to restore or protect them.

Picture of an ecosystem.

Recovering an ecosystem

Today, many people recognise how important it is to protect ecosystems. For example, some efforts aim to protect coral reef ecosystems worldwide. Or help rebuild natural forests so many species can have their home back. Some nations even protect nature and ecosystems by law. For example, countries such as Ecuador recognise the Rights of Nature in their constitution. This recognition means that entire ecosystems can be seen as legal persons, just as companies can be considered legal persons in court. This possibility helps when protecting an area like a river or a forest, enabling the protection of all the crucial parts that build a healthy environment. 

More on ecosystems

Scientists say that an ecosystem has biotic and abiotic parts. The biotic refers to living organisms, such as animals, plants and micro-organisms. While the abiotic is the physical characteristics of an environment, such as climate, humidity and temperature. 

Sources: National GeographicBritannicaEuropean Commission


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