Basic Ecology

Each day the sun rises and we begin our daily grind, we inevitably will be in touch with the ecology that surround us. When we run the water to brush our teeth and take our showers, when we get in our vehicles and drive to work, when we come home and check our email on trash throughout our day.
If we look around, we find so many living creatures around us viz. plants, animals, birds, insects, micro-organisms, etc. which are found growing in different habitats. Different visible habitats surrounded by you are woodland, marsh, river, forest, grassland, etc.
What is habitat?
A habitat is a special place where a plant or animal calls home. It is an environment or place where a group of organisms. Just like you have a home or place to live, so do animals and plants. When we talk about an animal or a plant’s home it is more like a neighborhood than a “house”. An animal needs four things to survive in its habitat – food, water, shelter, and a place to raise its young. Just like you have to go to store to get food, an animal leaves its “shelter” to get the things they need to live. If the population’s needs aren’t met, it will move to a better habitat.

What is Ecology?
Ecology is the study of how living (biotic) and nonliving (abiotic) parts of the environment interact with and depend on each other. Guess you could say it’s a study of life on Earth! In fact, if you break ecology down “eco” means house and “logos” means to study. So, essentially we are studying about our house in the biggest sense, which is Planet Earth!

Everything is connected!
When scientists study the ecology of certain areas, they call those areas ecosystem. Together the living (biotic) and nonliving (abiotic) factors in an area is called an ecosystem. The biotic, or living, things in an environment would include plants, animals (this includes include people), bacteria, fungi and all other living things. The abiotic or non-living parts of the environment would include things like sunlight, the soil, atmosphere, climate, nutrients and water. An ecosystem can be small like a puddle in your backyard, with only few organisms forest with lots of organisms (mosquitoes, flies, some few algae, microorganisms, etc.) interacting or may be large like a forest with lots of organisms interacting (plants, animals, birds, etc. interacting with each other). Ecologists study the interactions within ecosystems.

The populations (organisms of same species or variety interacting with each other) of specific plants and animals that live together in an ecosystem make up a community (different varieties of living organisms like plants, animals, birds, etc. interacting with each other)
Each species occupies a certain role in the community. A species role includes how a plant or animal uses the living and non-living resources. No two species in a community have exactly the same role.
Working Together

There are many plants and animal that will share the same habitat. The animals and plants that live together in a habitat form a “community”. The community of living things interacts with the non-living world around it to form the ecosystem.

Energy – The Food Web
One of the major parts of life in an ecosystem is finding energy. All living things in an ecosystem need energy to survive cycle of an organisms eating and being eaten is one way that parts of the environment interact with each other.

The main source of energy for life on Earth comes from the Sun. Plants use light energy from the Sun to make food. Organisms that use the sun for producing food are called producers. Algae, grass, trees and vegetables are all producers.
Organisms that get energy by eating other organisms are called consumers. Consumers must eat producers or other consumers for their energy. This transfer of energy creates a food chain. There are four different kinds of consumers in an ecosystem.
Most consumers and decomposers get energy from more than one kind of food. Overlapping food chains create food webs.

Web of Life
An ecosystem is a complex system with many parts, both living (biotic) and non-living (abiotic). All parts of the system are important! If one part of the system is removed, lots of other parts can be affected. Just imagine a car – if you didn’t fill it with oil, it would still run, but in time ecosystem, with a part of it missing may continue for a while but in time would start falling apart. All of the parts of the ecosystem work together.

Different Kind of Ecosystems
Wherever you live, you are part of a large ecosystem called a Biome. Biomes cover huge areas and are characterized by their climate and the types of animals and plants that are found there.
A fundamental classification of biomes is:
Terrestrial (land) biomes
Aquatic biomes (including fresh water biomes and marine biomes)

Constant Change
Ecosystems are constantly changing. Houses shopping malls and people often replace grasslands and forests. Earthquakes, lightning and floods can also change ecosystems. Some changes to an ecosystem like a species becoming extinct may be hard to see, while others like forest fires or volcanoes are easier to see and understand. The study of ecology helps us understand these processes.

Different Kinds of Ecosystem
There are basically two types of ecosystem; Terrestrial (land) and Aquatic (water). All other sub-ecosystems fall under these two.
Terrestrial ecosystem
Terrestrial ecosystems are found everywhere apart from water bodies. They are broadly classified into:

• The Forest Ecosystem
These are the ecosystems where abundance of flora (plants) is seen and they have a large number of organisms living in relatively small areas. You can see wonderful diversity in the fauna (animals) of these ecosystems too. They are again divided into few types.

• The Desert Ecosystem
Desert ecosystems are found in regions receiving an annual rainfall of less than 25cm.
They occupy around 17 percent of all land on the planet. Due to the very high temperature, intense sunlight and low water availability, plants and animal species are very poorly developed and meager. Vegetation is mainly bushes, shrubs, few grasses and rarely trees. Leaves and stems of these plants are modified to conserve water. The best known desert plants are the succulents like spiny leaved cacti. Animal life includes insects, reptiles, birds, camels all of whom are adapted to the xeric (desert) conditions.

• The Grassland Ecosystem
Grasslands mainly comprises of grasses with very little amount of shrubs and trees. Many grazing animals, herbivores and insectivores are found in grasslands. Two main types grasslands ecosystems are:
1. Savanna: these tropical grasslands are seasonally dry with few individual trees. They support large number of grazers and predators.
2. Praises: this is temperate grassland. It is completely devoid of trees and large shrubs. Praises can be categorized as tall grass, mixed grass and short grass prairie

• The mountain Ecosystems
An aquatic ecosystem is an ecosystem located in a body of water. It comprises aquatic plants and animals. There are two types of aquatic ecosystems: marine and fresh water.
1. The Marine Ecosystem
The marine ecosystems are the largest ecosystems with coverage of nearly 17 % of the Earth’s surface and containing 97% of the planet’s water. The water in marine ecosystems has salts and minerals dissolved in them in high amounts.
Many types of organisms are found in marine ecosystems including brown algae, fishes, corals, cephalopods, echinoderms and sharks.
2. The Fresh Water Ecosystem
In contrast to the marine ecosystem, freshwater ecosystems only cover 0.8% of the Earth’s surface and contain 0.009% of its total water. The different of freshwater ecosystems are pools, ponds lakes, streams, rivers, wetlands, etc.
These ecosystems are home to amphibians (animals that can survive in land as well as water e.g. Frogs, tortoise, etc.), reptiles (snakes, lizards) and almost 41% of the world’s fish species. A number of aquatic and amphibious plant species survive in this type of species. Faster moving turbulent water typically contains greater concentrations of dissolved oxygen, which supports greater biodiversity than the slow moving water of pools.


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