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An ecosystem can refer to a small or big area in nature, even to 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 the balance of life. In fact, it can be seen as the web of life. The term is increasingly heard of in relation to climate change. Since human activities many times 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 and weather is also part of this ecosystem. As well as “non-living” parts like rocks. All the different parts depend on each other to function well. When a human activity, such as deforestation, happens to a forest, the whole ecosystem is destroyed. Which then affects many other parts than the trees.

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 were cut down to make space for fields. Or animals were domesticated to serve human needs. Human populations also began to grow much bigger. As development continued, the influence over the natural world grew larger and larger. With industrialisation and globalisation, more ecosystems were disturbed or destroyed. This is of course linked 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 is considered an ecosystem service of the Earth. Other examples are all the foods and fuels, even air purification. In fact, ecosystems support all human life and activities. Therefore, it is increasingly important to understand how the systems work and what can be done to restore or protect them.

Picture of an ecosystem.

Recovering an ecosystem

Today, many people recognize how important it is to protect ecosystems. For example, there are efforts that aim to protect coral reef ecosystems all over the world. Or help to rebuild natural forests, so many different species can have their home back. Some nations even protect nature and ecosystems in their legislation. By acknowledging their importance and respecting how all things depend on one another. For example, countries such as Ecuador recognise the Rights of Nature in their constitution. This means that full ecosystems can be seen as a legal person, just as companies can be considered legal persons in court. This helps greatly when protecting an area like a river or a forest. As it is not only the trees that need protection, but also the ground and the air. As all the parts are crucial for an areas healthy environment.

More on ecosystems

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

Sources: National Geographic, Britannica, European Commission

 


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