What is ecology?
Ecology is the science that deals with the study of relationship of organisms between other life forms and their physical environment. Ecological systems, simply ecosystems, are a dynamic complex made up of living organisms and nonliving components interacting as a community, and functioning as one whole unit. Each component of an ecosystem benefit each other through a dynamic exchange of nutrients, energy and waste.
Every ecosystem has the ability to carry out a self regulating process beneficial to the environment. This is called ecosystem function. Another way to look at it, is that ecosystem functions are the unique exchanges occurring within ecosystems. The amazing interdependencies occurring within or among ecosystems develop characteristics that cannot be attributed to one component alone.
Examples of ecosystem functions can be found in biomes. Biomes are large-scale community of organisms typically referring to major vegetations such as tropical rain forest, grassland, tundra, desert, etc. that extend over large geographic areas. The biomes themselves are not ecosystems but you can find many ecosystem functions in one biome. The life forms found in a particular biome are well adapted to its characteristic climate and geology. You can say that the biotic components complement the abiotic components in each biome.
Coastal marine ecosystems are brought about by the ecosystem functioning influences of shallow water organisms composed of key producers and consumers, seafloor sediments, light, surface heat, water temperature and current, among others. Each one has a mutualistic relationship to one another, enabling productivity and healthy feedback mechanisms to disturbances. The connectivity of each component allows the system to be self-organized1.
Human beings benefit from ecosystem function both directly and indirectly. We call these benefits ecosystem services.
The ecosystem goods and services are usually reported with an estimated monetary value. Do you know that they are actually undervalued by assigning them a price tag for their economic contribution? Can we pay the oxygen that we freely breathe everywhere we go? The intrinsic properties of organisms, whether known or unknown, that contribute to ecosystem functions are truly priceless. Try to understand that this economic value profiling is necessary to educate the people about the importance of biodiversity in our everyday lives. By being able to explain such values, especially to the urban majority who don’t directly interact with nature, it may produce desires to help in natural resource management and conservation efforts. The more of us who can work together towards saving, protection and sustainable use of biodiversity, the more ripple effects we can make for a positive change.
Ecosystems are characterized with their equilibrium state in which for every disturbance that happen whether external (anthropogenic, human-related) or internal (natural, nature-driven), they have their own mechanisms that enable them to go back to a productive state. They possess stable systems, allowing them to maintain a population number or nutrient exchange.
Biodiversity as a part of ecosystem
Biodiversity being a part of an ecosystem is a factor affecting ecosystem functions. However, it is unknown as to what extent ecosystem functions are affected considering current alterations due to heavy incidences of biodiversity loss. Studies are yet to be conducted in this area.
Since the strength of ecosystem functions relies on the interactions between and among biodiversity, and other nonliving components, each part play an important role in the overall system.
Featured Image – The healthy food we eat is one of the major ecosystem services that we benefit from. | CC Image courtesy of National Institutes of Health