What is an Ecosystem?
In any area — a pond, meadow, or your backyard — water, soil, air and living things form an ecosystem. Your ecosystem includes the sunshine, air, water, land, food, house and friends you depend on to keep you healthy and happy.
An ecosystem can be huge — our whole planet, for instance. Or it can be small, like a meadow at the edge of your town. That meadow needs air, water and sunshine to help it flourish. And the insects, birds or small mammals that use it for food or shelter are also a part of the meadow's ecosystem.
So you could say an ecosystem is like a complicated jigsaw puzzle where all the parts fit together to make a whole. Take away any of those vital parts and the puzzle is incomplete — the ecosystem is forced to change, or sometimes disappear.
You can look at the problem of disappearing ecosystems from a big perspective, such as what's happening to our earth. Or you can consider it from a smaller view — your ecosystem. Are you doing things to upset that ecosystem? Or are you looking after it so it can continue to keep you healthy?
You may think whatever small thing you do to help your ecosystem won't make much difference to the whole world. But everything you do is helping one of the little jigsaw pieces of the whole complicated puzzle. You will make a difference with whatever you decide to do.
Adopt One, Protect it
Choose an ecosystem you would like to protect in your community. Get to know it. Learn about its plants and animals and how they interact. Think about what would happen to its wildlife if it disappeared.
Here are some tips on how to protect an ecosystem:
- Respect it. Don't destroy what lives there.
- Clean it up. If wildlife swallows or gets tangled in litter, it can die. Some litter can be recycled and used again.
- Tell your community. Announce your ecosystem by posting a sign. Let your schoolmates, family and mends know why it's so important.
How it Works
Soil, air and water are raw materials that allow ecosystems to function. The sun's energy is their fuel. Green plants that contain chlorophyll are their engines. They absorb carbon dioxide from the air and release oxygen into it. They slurp up nutrients dissolved in water from the soil. Using these components and the sun's energy, plants manufacture proteins, carbohydrates and fats.
Important processes occur within ecosystems. Green plants produce living tissues. Herbivores (plant-eating animals such as moose and mallard ducks) eat them. Carnivores or predators (meat-eating animals like cougars and salmon| get food from plants second-hand. Decomposers - teeny-tiny forms of life — break down animal wastes, tissues and dead plants so they can be absorbed again and recycled by plants. All these functions support life in any ecosystem, big or small.
Other important things happen in ecosystems. Roots of plants keep soil from being washed away. Animals help scatter seeds. Trees and other plants provide food, nesting sites and hiding places for many animals. Insects like bees and birds like hummingbirds help plants reproduce by transferring pollen. Predators keep prey from becoming too common. As you can see, everything is interdependent.
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