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Free Essay on Biodiversity

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Ecosystem is a system formed by the interaction of all living organisms with each other and with the physical elements of the environment. The vulnerability of an ecosystem can be determined through the examination of its location, biodiversity, extent and linkages. The vulnerability of the ecosystem is closely linked with the effectiveness of the functioning and the diversity of the ecosystem. The resilience of an ecosystem is also important when looking at the survival of ecosystems. Resilience is a measure of the ability of an ecosystem to adapt to a changing function and structure following an episode of natural or human induced stress.

The biophysical interactions between the hydrosphere, lithosphere, atmosphere and biosphere lead to diverse ecosystems. Through the interaction of the three nonliving spheres, the hydrosphere, lithosphere and atmosphere a variety of different conditions are created for the biosphere. Location of a ecosystem determines the characteristics of the nonliving spheres it is through their interaction that the foundations of an ecosystem are made. For example deserts are usually located between 20 and 30 degrees north and south of the equator. In these locations we find that the interaction between the hydrosphere and atmosphere lead to dry and extreme temperatures. The sandy soils in the desert mean water drains quickly leaving no water. The lack of water in these areas means there is no precipitation. Therefore there are no clouds that hold warmth from the day through the night slightly. Water also acts as a moderator of temperature as it warms and cools slowly, as there is very little water the desert has high daytime temperatures and cold nights. Due to the hardy climate there is little biodiversity in the desert. Plants and organisms must adapt to suit the conditions. Widely scattered shrubs and water conserving plants are found in these areas.

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Tundra ecosystems are found most extensively in the Northern hemisphere. The ecosystem is covered with ice and snow for much of the year and the subsoil is permanently frozen. Due to the conditions there is a 1 to 3 month growing season in which a treeless, shrubby or mat like vegetation grows. The conditions produced through the interactions of the spheres are linked to specific ecosystems. The biophysical interaction of the spheres directly affect the ecosystem and make them vulnerable to change as the functioning of the ecosystem is disrupted.

Ecosystem functioning is the ability of an ecosystem to capture, store and transfer energy, nutrients and water. Energy enters an ecosystem through the photosynthesis of the primary producers (autotrophs). Photosynthesis is a process in which the plant uses sunlight to produce starch that is stored and used in the plants leaves. As these plants are eaten by the primary consumers (herbivores) the energy is transferred. The animal uses the majority of the energy but energy continues to up the food chain to secondary consumers and tertiary consumers. Decomposers then recycle the material from the dead animals while consuming and using the left over energy in the system. However 90% of plant material is not consumed decomposers recycle this material in a process called detritus. The proces is vital in the functioning of the nutrient cycle. Nutrients such as O, N, C and Phosphorous are constantly cycled through the systems by means of biogeochemical cycles. For example the carbon cycle which is essential to the functioning of all ecosystems as all plants and animals require carbon. Carbon is absorbed by plants as carbon dioxide in the process photosynthesis and changed to glucose. The carbon is used and passed up the chain as is energy. However the carbon is not lost as matter can not be destroyed. Carbon dioxide is breathed out by animals ready for plant use. These complex systems make ecosystems vulnerable and make them easily unbalanced eg burning of fossil fuels.

The location of an ecosystem is the key factor determining the type and diversity of the ecosystem that exists as explained above. If a ecosystem becomes highly adapted to those conditions they become increasingly vulnerable to a change in conditions. For example coral reefs exist in shallow levels of warm water that are low in nutrients usually in the tropics. If the interactions between the biophysical spheres in the ecosystems change it can be destroyed. For example if nutrient levels at the location were to increase then Algae would grow. This would decrease the amount of sunlight which the coral would receive thus destroying the aquatic ecosystem that existed. Increased temperatures can also be highly lethal to the coral ecosystem as it causes coral bleaching. Consequences of global warming may be the loss of coral reefs. Humans can easily change the interactions between the spheres in different locations. It is important those highly adapted ecosystems are protected, as they are vulnerable and are not very resilient to change.

The extent of area an ecosystem expands over is also indicative of its vulnerability. Extent refers to the size and configuration of an ecosystem. Ecosystems with a small, isolated and limited extent are highly vulnerable. If a small are of a small ecosystems with small populations yet large number of species (eg rainforest) is cleared some plants and animals may face extinction. However if a small area that was highly populated and had a low number of species (eg grasslands) was cleared little effect would be experienced. A isolated ecosystem can not benefit from migration of plants and animals to save the ecosystem when it has become vulnerable. With the continued sprawl of human development over the globe the extent of our ecosystems continue to shrink increasing their vulnerability and making the less resilient to change.

Biodiversity refers to the variety among living organisms and the ecosystems they inhabit. A ecosystem that is not biodiverse is highly vulnerable as change could result in major disruption in the functioning of the ecosystem. One type of biodiversity is gene diversity. If a species in a ecosystem has diverse genes it will be better able to deal with change in the ecosystem thus less vulnerable. For example aphids that are resistant to common pesticides are less able to survive cold winters than are the aphids not resistant to pesticides. Species diversity is another type of biodiversity it is a measure of species at each trophic level of an ecosystem. The greater the species diversity the less vulnerable the ecosystem will be. For example if a ecosystem is not species diverse and the population of a species was wiped out due to hunting then the functioning of the ecosystem would be destroyed unless there was species in the ecosystem that could bridge the gap. This is more likely in a species diverse ecosystem. Ecosystem diversity is another type of biodiversity that refers to the variety of habitats and ecosystems. The loss of biodiversity in the globes ecosystems through pollution has resulted in an increase in vulnerability.

He linkages between species in a ecosystem also determines the vulnerability. Linkages refer to the interdependence between species in a ecosystem and is related to species diversity. If a keystone species (a species vital to the existence of the ecosystem) is removed then the ecosystem will collapse as energy flows and biogeochemical cycles will be interrupted. For example When the Sea Otter was removed from the coast of North America the ecosystem collapsed. The Sea Otter ate the Sea Urchins which took over the ecosystem when the Sea Otter was removed killing the kelp and Seaweed that grew. When the Sea Otter was reintroduced the ecosystem recovered. A ecosystem that relies on a keystone species is highly vulnerable.

Ecosystems are complex environments in which complex interrelationships exist between plants, animals and the biophysical environment. The functioning and diversity of a ecosystem are the key factors in determining its vulnerability. Human development and its impact on the environment must be monitored to ensure the survival of the globes ecosystems.

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