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Unit VI

LIFE ON THE EARTH


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CHAPTER
DIVERSITY OF LIFE

O
rganically, biosphere is the most active have been described and ordered by a system
sphere of the earth in comparison to of classification which has been internatio-
the lithosphere, atmosphere and nally accepted. The science of classification of
hydrosphere. It is a shallow zone at the earth organisms is called taxonomy. Earlier, all
surface, both on land and in water. All living organisms used to be broadly grouped into two
organisms together with the environment with categories — the plant kingdom and the
which they interact for m the biosphere. animal kingdom. Under each category there
Whether they belong to the plant or animal used to be several species. Whittaker, in 1969,
kingdom, they all interact with each other. The divided dif ferent organisms into five
study of these interactions between life forms kingdoms, namely:
and the environment is called ecology. All the (i) Monera (single cell microscopic
components which enter into interactions with organisms);
a group of organisms is called ecosystem. (ii) Protista (unicellular, primarily aquatic
The earth is full of diversities. There is organisms);
diversity in soils and minerals, diversity in (iii) Plantae (multicellular photosynthetic
plants and animals, and diversity in cultures plants);
and civilisations. Charaka, the father of (iv) Fungi (multicellular decomposers) and;
Ayurveda, who lived in the first century A.D., (v) Animalia (multicellular animal consumers).
listed over 200 kinds of animals and about 340 The above classification into five kingdoms
kinds of plants in his book of Indian medicine is made on the following criteria: complexity
titled Charaka Samhita. Carolus Linnaeus, the of cell structure, complexity of organism’s
eighteenth century Swedish naturalist, body, and mode of obtaining nutrition.
identified about 5,900 species of plants and Bacteria belong to the monera kingdom. Its
4,200 species of animals. Since then some 1.7 cells are microscopic and do not contain a
million species have been given scientific nucleus. It prepares its own food by reducing
names; of these, over a million are animal carbondioxide and using light energy or energy
species and the rest plant species. According derived from chemical reactions.
to an estimate, over 5 million species of living Protistan organisms are mostly unicellu-
organisms exist in the world today, and over lar. Many are photosynthetic autotrophs and
half of these are believed to be found in the chief producers in oceans and fresh water
unexplored tropical rain forests of the world. environments. They are collectively called
phytoplankton, microscopic, floating photo-
The rain forests constitute less than 8 per cent
synthetic organisms.
of the total land area of the world but support
Plantae includes all the coloured,
a very rich diversity of life.
multicellular, photosynthetic plants which we
all see on land, on sea shores, in lakes and in
CLASSIFICATION OF ORGANISMS
streams. Main groups are the sea weeds
Scientists can identify many kinds of consisting of algae, mosses, ferns, and seed
organisms with scientific names because they plants with or without flowers.
130 FUNDAMENTALS OF PHYSICAL GEOGRAPHY

Fungi includes diverse kinds of multi- distribution of living organisms. The abiotic
cellular heterotrophic organisms. There are over component consists of the kinds, quantity and
100,000 species of fungi. Some are unicellular distribution of physical and chemical factors
like yeasts, others complex like mushrooms. The such as light, temperature, water, oxygen,
fungi are the major decomposers and their carbon, nitrogen and minerals. The study of
activity is essential for the recycling of inorganic the functional aspect of an ecosystem involves
resources in the biosphere. the volume and the rate at which various
Members of the animal kingdom are materials circulate and the rate at which
multicellular. This includes sponges, snails, energy flows through it. The study also
insects, star fishes, amphibians, birds, includes the processes by which living
mammals etc. Under each kingdom, there are organisms change the abiotic environment,
several species. the processes by which non-living
Human beings belong to one of the species environment affect living organisms and the
of the animal kingdom. But because of their events by which population levels of organisms
unique characteristics, they are called Homo are regulated.
sapiens (homo= man; sapiens = wise). At the
biological level, the human beings are not unique Biotic Components
for strength, ability, speed or endurance. They
All organisms require energy for their life
have a poorer sense of hearing, smell and vision
processes and materials for the formation and
than many other animals, but their brains are
maintenance of body structures. Food
large and highly developed, and they have skilled
supplies both energy and materials for the
hands. They can change themselves according
sustenance of life. Green plants produce
to environment and need and hence, more
carbohydrates by photosynthesis and also
powerful than other animals.
synthesise proteins and fats. The green
ORGANISATION OF AN ECOSYSTEM plants, therefore, are called producers. The
animals that consume this energy as food are
The biotic community along with the physical called consumers. The non-green organisms
environment forms an interacting system like the fungi and some bacteria, which do not
called the ecosystem. An ecosystem can be produce their own food, live on the dead
natural or artificial, temporary or permanent. and decaying plants or animals and are
A large grassland or a forest, a small tract in a consumers of a special type, called
forest or a single log, an edge of pond, a village, decomposers (Fig. 16.1).
an aquarium or a manned spaceship can all The herbivores like cattle, deer and goat
be regarded as ecosystems. Thus, any derive their food (or energy) directly from
structural and functional unit of the plants (the producers) and are called the first
environment that can be identified and studied order consumers. The carnivorous organisms
is called ecosystem. like the tiger and the lion are the second order
The study of an ecosystem is not merely a consumers. The food relation in its simplest
description of the biotic community and its form — grass-deer-tiger-microorganisms —
abiotic environment. It involves the representing a producer, a primary consumer,
understanding of a whole network of a secondary consumer and a decomposer is
relationships comprising the various called a food chain (Fig.16.2). Each step in the
exchanges and interactions between the living food chain represents a trophic level.
and the non-living. Various structural
components of an ecosystem are classified Energy Flow in the Biosphere
into two main groups: (i) biotic or living; and
(ii) abiotic or non-living. Energy from the sun enters the living world
The biotic component of an ecosytem through photosynthetic organisms and passes
comprises the kinds, numbers and on from one organism to another in the form
DIVERSITY OF LIFE 131

Fig.16.1 : Cycle of Energy and Nutrient Flow in an Ecosystem


Note the direction of flow of energy and that of the nutrients.

of food. The organisms which trap solar energy their own life processes. Only a portion of the
and act as producers also use some energy for energy trapped is taken up by the primary

Fig.16.2 : Food Chain


Note how energy received from the sun is transferred to other organisms.
132 FUNDAMENTALS OF PHYSICAL GEOGRAPHY

consumers. Animals being more active than chains exists, which is called a food web. The
plants use much of the energy acquired before food web becomes more complicated when
they are consumed by the next trophic level. taste and preference, availability and
At each stage of energy transfer, some amount compulsion are involved. In the Sunderbans,
of energy is lost from the food chain. The tigers are forced to feed on fish or crabs.
amount of energy transferred to the next In a food chain the members at the
higher level thus, gradually decreases. The successive higher levels become smaller in
decomposition of dead organisms also releases number. In a forest, the small herbivorous
chemical energy. Eventually, all the solar insects are more abundant than the
energy that entered the living system through insectivorous birds. The preying birds like
the producers goes back into the non-living hawks are fewer than insectivorous birds.
world, not as light but as heat. Thus. the number of organisms in one trophic
In nature the food relationships cannot be level is higher than that at the next higher
explained only in terms of a single food chain. level. When the number at successive levels
A herbivore consumes many types of plant or are plotted, they assume the shape of a
plant products. Many kinds of animals other pyramid. (Fig.16.3). This is called a pyramid of
than the tiger derive food from herbivorous numbers.
animals. Ticks and mites, leeches and blood- The number of organisms at any trophic
sucking insects are dependent on herbivores level depends upon the availability of
and even on carnivores. Thus, food chains are organisms which serve as food at the lower
not isolated linear chains of trophic levels. level. Thus, the number of a particular
Depending upon the availability and choice of herbivorous insect would increase if more
food, different organisms at each level have plant food was available to them.
food relationship with more than one organism Consequently, plenty of food would be
at the lower levels. A rat, for example, feeds available not only to its prey, but also to other
on various kinds of stems, roots, fruits and animals like a bird which feeds on that insect
grains. In turn, it is consumed by a snake even as a second choice leading to an increase
which is eaten by a falcon. The snakes feed on in their number. As a result of this increased
both frogs and rats. Thus, a network of food predation the number of herbivorous insects

Fig.16.3 : Food Pyramid (Pyramid of Numbers)


Note the organism who is at the top level and why is it so.
DIVERSITY OF LIFE 133

is decreased and this in turn would lead to a the most important abiotic factors are
reduction in the number of their predators. described below :
Thus, availability of food is the main factor Temperature: Living organisms can
which maintains the grand balance of nature. survive only in a narrow range of temperature
This balance is dynamic and fluctuates within which allows their metabolism. Wherever they
certain limits. live the organisms must develop physiological
No organism exists in isolation but in and behavioural adaptations to withstand
company with others of similar or differing extremes of temperature. The polar bear can
type, and its actual or ecological range will live in very cold regions and hibernate during
depend on the suitability of the biotic winter. Some birds and mammals migrate to
environment. The biotic environment is a warmer places in winter to avoid extreme cold.
product of the interactions between organisms Some desert animals live inside burrows to
and their abiotic habitat vis-à-vis interactions avoid the intense heat of the desert. Water is
between organisms of the same or different an essential requirement of life. A large
species living together. Competition is a number of organisms live only in water. The
negative interaction in which both competing requirement of water varies from organism to
species suffer. It is the struggle of two or more organism. The distribution of organisms
organisms to exploit the same resources. For depends upon the extent of the need and
example, green plants compete each other for special adaptations for conserving water. Light
sunlight. The creation of shade and the is essential for photosynthetic organisms for
consequent reduction in light intensity is the the preparation of food, on which the rest of
most common way in which one type of plant the living world depends. Plants show various
may suppress or prevent the growth of other adaptations for obtaining optimum light. Most
plants. The process of intra and inter-specific animals are sensitive to light. Many animals
competition between animals is more complex have special photoreceptors.
than that between plants. Competition among Humidity : The atmospheric humidity
directly regulates the rate at which water
animals is primarily for living space, food and
evaporates from the earth’s surface, and the
breeding partners.
body of organisms by transpiration,
In contrast to the preceding negative biotic
perspiration and other means. Plants and
interactions, mutualism and communalism are
animals have different levels of adaptations to
the two positive biotic interactions. Mutualism
withstand dry conditions. Wind determines
or symbiosis is the mutually beneficial
the rate of transpiration where wind velocity
association of two dissimilar organisms.
is very high, the plants with strong root system
Communalism occurs when one of the two
and tough stems only survive. Most organisms
species benefits from an association while the
thrive in an optimal pH range. Some plants
other is unaffected as in the case of plants or
and aquatic animals require acidic conditions,
animals growing on shells of marine animals.
others need neutral or alkaline conditions. The
pH of the soil and water has a strong influence
Abiotic Components
on the distribution of organisms.
Among the abiotic factors the most important Mineral elements: Availability and
are climatic and edaphic factors. The climatic concentration of essential mineral elements
factors include temperature, humidity, rain control the distribution of microbes and plants
and snowfall. The edaphic factors comprise and animals. Plants living in soil deficient in
the soil and substratum. The ability of nitrogen have developed special adaptations
organisms to utilise, tolerate or combat the for obtaining it, such as, harbouring nitrogen-
various abotic factors are different and it may fixing bacteria and the carnivorous habit.
limit their distribution, behaviour and Salinity in soil or in water greatly affects the
relationship with other organisms. Some of distribution of organisms. Fresh water species
134 FUNDAMENTALS OF PHYSICAL GEOGRAPHY

usually, cannot survive in a marine habitat. factors like wind, water current, light or wave
Animals inhabiting an estuary have special action. The background of the habitat also
physiological or behavioural adaptations to determines the distribution of animals by
withstand fluctuations in salinity caused by enabling them to camouflage against the colour,
tidal rhythms. Topography or sur face general texture and pattern. Desert animals
configuration of an area influences distribution like the lion and the camel are sand-coloured.
of organisms as much as wide geographic Most of the jelly fishes, sea cucumbers are
separation. Topographical effect may be direct glassy. The chameleon changes its colour
as well as indirect. Indirectly, it affects other according to its background.

EXERCISES

Review Questions
1. Answer the following questions:
(i) Define biosphere.
(ii) How does humidity affect plant life?
(iii) Mention five kingdoms into which different organisms are divided.
(iv) What are the functions of fungi?
(v) What is an ecosystem?
(vi) What is a food chain?
2. Distinguish between:
(i) First order consumers and second order consumers;
(ii) Biotic and abiotic factors;
(iii) Food chain and food web;
(iv) Mutualism and competition.
3. Write short notes on the following:
(i) Taxonomy of organism;
(ii) Pyramid of numbers;
(iii) Balance of nature;
(iv) Energy flow in biosphere.
4. Describe the importance of abiotic factors in biosphere.
5. Mention various kinds of diversities which you observe in the world today.

Project Work
Divide organisms into five kingdoms. Write about their characteristics, types and functions. Also
draw their sketches.