What is the difference between an individual and an ecosystem?
Did you know that biodiversity reaches higher rates in tropical biomes (near the equator) than in polar biomes? Thanks to the studies of biomes and ecosystems of the world, ecologists have been able to affirm this fact, by obtaining accurate data on the flora and fauna of each biome of the planet and the existing relationships between living beings and the environment of the ecosystem to which they belong. Would you be able to distinguish without problems between the two ecological concepts? From EcologíaVerde we have proposed to define in the following article the differences between ecosystem and biome, to be able to better understand the complex relationships and characteristics of the biotic and abiotic factors of nature.
Ecosystems are biological systems of great complexity, which encompass each and every one of the different interactions existing between living beings and the environment in which they live. Thus, in the study of ecosystems it is possible to know both intraspecific relationships (between individuals of the same species) and interspecific relationships (between individuals of different species), as well as those relationships that living beings establish with the rest of their environment, that is, with natural resources and the different sources of energy that the ecosystem itself provides them with in order to survive. Now that we know what ecosystems are, in the next section we will see the definition of biomes, to be able to easily distinguish both ecological concepts.
Why is the difference between a community and an ecosystem important to ecologists?
An ecosystem is a set of plants and other living organisms (biocenosis) that are interrelated and share the same environment with certain physical and chemical characteristics (biotope). One ecosystem differs from another by its biodiversity, climate and geography.
The entire surface of the earth is a series of connected ecosystems. The set of nearby ecosystems that share a certain region of the planet is called a biome. Biome types can be terrestrial (such as rainforest, temperate forest, savanna, steppe, tundra and desert) or aquatic (freshwater and saltwater), within which diverse ecosystems can be found.
Each component depends on every other factor in the ecosystem, directly or indirectly. For example, a noticeable change in temperature may affect the plants that grow there, and animals that depend on the plants for food and shelter will have to adapt to these changes or move to another ecosystem.
What is an ecosystem?
A community is the set of all living organisms that develop their life cycles in a certain area or territory. That is to say, in the same ecological environment, delimited by mainly physical characteristics; for example, a lake, a forest, a savannah, etc. Logically, each population is made up of an independent organism, which fulfills its vital functions on its own, but which in turn depends on all the other inert factors (water, soil, salts, temperature, pressure, etc.).
All the living beings in this environment are called biological or biotic factors; and the inert factors of this environment with which the living beings that live there are related are called abiotic.
Ecosystem is the set formed by the biological components (biotic factors) of the community and the inert factors (without life or abiotic factors) that influence these living beings and that condition their way of life, their adaptations and their mutual relations. For example, a lagoon where frogs, mosquitoes, shrimp, fish, which depend on water, oxygen, temperature, etc., coexist.
Examples of community in an ecosystem
In the nutrient cycling schemes, everything seems to work in an ideal and stable way, and nutrients move through the ecosystem “smoothly”. Unfortunately, human activity has hindered some of the processes that have induced major alterations in their trajectories.
For example, the extensive use of phosphorus fertilizers on crops has led to an enormous increase in the extraction of phosphate rocks for processing. Fertilizers are applied to farmland in excessive quantities and their reincorporation into the soil has been neglected, which means that they are “carried” by water currents and eventually end up in the sea. There they accumulate on the bottom and only a little is incorporated by the algae in suspension in the water and are eventually transferred to the fish, which, in turn, when eaten by some seabirds, can be deposited as guano on the islets. But in reality, they are not reincorporated into the ecosystem and do not circulate. This makes phosphorus sources increasingly scarce for terrestrial ecosystems and agriculture, and in the future we are expected to have a shortage of phosphorus.