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There are two types of ecosystems Each ecosystem is a unique combination of a variety of organisms and physical conditions such

as soil, climate etc.

Biomass is the living matter in any organism. It is the amount of living time or energy available as food for the organisms of the next trophic level. The mass of organisms in each trophic level is called the standing crop. Pyramid of Biomass In a given food chain the biomass normally decreases at each successive level in the chain and so do the numbers at each level. The maximum biomass is at the first trophic level i.e. plants, which is synthesise

Chemical composition
Biomass is carbon based and is composed of a mixture of organic molecules containing hydrogen, usually including atoms of oxygen, often nitrogen and also small quantities of other atoms, including alkali, alkaline earth and heavy metals. These metals are often found in functional molecules such as the porphyrins which include chlorophyll which contains magnesium.[1]

[edit] Biomass sources

Biomass energy is derived from three distinct energy sources: wood, waste, and alcohol fuels. Wood energy is derived both from direct use of harvested wood as a fuel and from wood waste streams. The largest source of energy from wood is pulping liquor or black liquor, a waste product from processes of the pulp, paper and paperboard industry. Waste energy is the second-largest source of biomass energy. The main contributors of waste energy are municipal solid waste (MSW), manufacturing waste, and landfill gas. Biomass alcohol fuel, or ethanol, is derived almost exclusively from corn. Its principal use is as an oxygenate in gasoline.[4] Biomass can be converted to other usable forms of energy like methane gas or transportation fuels like ethanol and biodiesel. Methane gas is the main ingredient of natural gas. Smelly stuff, like rotting garbage, and agricultural and human waste, release methane gas - also called "landfill gas" or "biogas." Crops like corn and sugar cane can be fermented to produce the transportation fuel, ethanol. Biodiesel, another transportation fuel, can be produced from left-over food products like vegetable oils and animal fats.[5] Also, Biomass to liquids (BTLs) and cellulosic ethanol are still under research. [6]

[edit] Biomass conversion process to useful energy

There are a number of technological options available to make use of a wide variety of biomass types as a renewable energy source. Conversion technologies may release the energy directly, in the form of heat or electricity, or may convert it to another form, such as liquid biofuel or combustible biogas. While for some classes of biomass resource there may be a number of usage options, for others there may only one appropriate technology.

[edit] Thermal conversion

These are processes in which heat is the dominant mechanism to convert the biomass into another chemical form. The basic alternatives are separated principally by the extent to which the chemical reactions involved are allowed to proceed:Combustion,Torrefaction, Pyrolysis,Gasification. There are a number of other less common, more experimental or proprietary thermal processes that may offer benefits such as hydrothermal upgrading (HTU) and hydroprocessing. Some have been developed for use on high moisture content biomass, including aqueous slurries, and allow them to be converted into more convenient forms. Some of the Applications of thermal conversion are Combined heat and power (CHP) and Co-firing.

[edit] Chemical conversion

A range of chemical processes may be used to convert biomass into other forms, such as to produce a fuel that is more conveniently used, transported or stored, or to exploit some property of the process itself.

[edit] Biochemical conversion

As biomass is a natural material, many highly efficient biochemical processes have developed in nature to break down the molecules of which biomass is composed, and many of these biochemical conversion processes can be harnessed. Biochemical conversion makes use of the enzymes of bacteria and other micro-organisms to break down biomass. In most cases micro-organisms are used to perform the conversion process: anaerobic digestion, fermentation and composting. Other chemical processes such as Converting straight and waste vegetable oils into biodiesel is transesterification.[7]

[edit] Environmental impact

On combustion the carbon from biomass is released into the atmosphere as carbon dioxide (CO2). The amount of carbon stored in dry wood is approximately 50% by weight.[8] When from agricultural sources, plant matter used as a fuel can be replaced by planting for new growth. When the biomass is from forests, the time to recapture the

carbon stored is generally longer, and the carbon storage capacity of the forest may be reduced overall if destructive forestry techniques are employed. The existing commercial biomass power generating industry in the United States, which consists of approximately 1,700 MW (megawatts) of operating capacity actively supplying power to the grid, produces about 0.5 percent of the U.S. electricity supply. Currently, the New Hope Power Partnership is the largest biomass power plant in North America. The 140 MW facility uses sugar cane fiber (bagasse) and recycled urban wood as fuel to generate enough power for its large milling and refining operations as well as to supply renewable electricity for nearly 60,000 homes. The facility reduces dependence on oil by more than one million barrels per year, and by recycling sugar cane and wood waste, preserves landfill space in urban communities in Florida. The amount of biomass available is usually not as great as stated in the example above. Many times, especially in Europe where large agricultural developments are not usual, the cost for transporting the biomass overcomes its actual value and therefore the gathering ground has to be limited to a certain small area. This fact leads to only small possible power outputs around 1 MWel. To make an economic operation possible those power plants have to be equipped with the ORC technology, a cycle similar to the water steam power process just with an organic working medium. Such small power plants can be found in Europe.[9] [10][11][12] Despite harvesting, biomass crops may sequester (trap) carbon. So for example soil organic carbon has been observed to be greater in switchgrass stands than in cultivated cropland soil, especially at depths below 12 inches.[13] The grass sequesters the carbon in its increased root biomass. But the perennial grass may need to be allowed to grow for several years before increases are measurable.[14] Using biomass as a fuel produces the same air-pollution challenges as other fuels. Black carbon -a pollutant created by incomplete combustion of fossil fuels, biofuels, and biomass- is possibly the second largest contributor to global warming.[15] In 2009 a Swedish study of the giant brown haze that periodically covers large areas in South Asia determined that it had been principally produced by biomass burning, and to a lesser extent by fossil-fuel burning.[16] Researchers measured a significant concentration of 14C, which is associated with recent plant life rather than with fossil fuels.[17]

The most distinguishing characteristic of life is the boundless diversity in living forms. It is the total living (biotic) component of our bioshpere. Biodiversity can be defined as the variety and variability of all animals, plants and micro organisms found on earth. The diversity is due to the genetic make up of each organism. This variation or diversity is seen at species level, genetic and ecosystem level. The

biological diversity is seen when we studied the classification of plant kingdom and the classification of animal kingdom. Conservation of biodiversity is very important if man has to survive. Ecosystems are cyclical, balanced and self perpetuating. If a particular component is removed faster than it is replaced, the ecosystem loses its balance. Hence, to maintain stability of the ecosystem both the biotic and the abiotic components must be preserved. The following are some of the factors that are affecting biodiversity adversely. Increase in population resulting in the increased need for food and shelter. Industrialisation has lead to rapid urbanisation converting cultivable land into settlements. Use of certain chemicals has affected the ozone layer surrounding the earth. Use of non-biodegradable substances like plastic, DDT, etc, reach the body of the organism through the food chain and cause harm to them. Indiscriminate cutting of trees has resulted in deforestation Killing wild animals for the thrill of sport has resulted in certain species becoming endangered.

Certain remedial steps have to be taken to conserve biodiversity.

Educating people and creating an awareness of the problem. Creating sanctuaries and parks for wild life and birds. Preventing pollution and planning proper disposal for wastes. Growing more trees through aforestation. Banning the use of non-biodegradable materials (E.g. plastic) and substituting with biodegradable materials (E.g. paper, cloth). Banning the use of harmful insecticides and pesticides. Eco-friendly substitutes should be used.

All is not lost. Biotechnology has recently provided some long-term solutions to the problem of the fast depleting diversity. Seeds, pollen grains and vegetative propagated parts of plants are preserved and stored in very specialised conditions in the form of genetic material called germplasm. By preserving the germplasm of the species the risk of them being permanently lost is overcome.

An ecosystem is a natural unit consisting of all plants, animals and microorganisms(biotic factors) in an area functioning together with all of the non-living physical (abiotic) factors of the environment.[1]

A coral reef near the Hawaiian islands is an example of a complex marine ecosystem.


Flora of Baja California Desert, Catavia region, Mexico.

Savanna at Ngorongoro Conservation Area, Tanzania. The term ecosystem was coined in 1930 by Roy Clapham to denote the combined physical and biological components of an environment. British ecologist Arthur Tansley later refined the term, describing it as "The whole system, including not only the organism-complex, but also the whole complex of physical factors forming what we call the environment".[2] Tansley regarded ecosystems not simply as natural units, but as "mental isolates".[2] Tansley later[3] defined the spatial extent of ecosystems using the term "ecotope".

Central to the ecosystem concept is the idea that living organisms interact with every other element in their local environment. Eugene Odum, a founder of ecology, stated: "Any unit that includes all of the organisms (ie: the "community") in a given area interacting with the physical environment so that a flow of energy leads to clearly defined trophic structure, biotic diversity, and material cycles (ie: exchange of materials between living and nonliving parts) within the system is an ecosystem."[4] The human ecosystem concept is then grounded in the deconstruction of the human/nature dichotomy and the premise that all species are ecologically integrated with each other, as well as with the abiotic constituents of their biotope.

Map of Terrestrial biomes classified by vegetation. Similar to an ecosystem is a biome, which is a climatically and geographically defined area of ecologically similar climatic conditions such as communities of plants, animals, and soil organisms, often referred to as ecosystems. Biomes are defined based on factors such as plant structures (such as trees, shrubs, and grasses), leaf types (such as broadleaf and needleleaf), plant spacing (forest, woodland, savanna), and climate. Unlike ecozones, biomes are not defined by genetic, taxonomic, or historical similarities. Biomes are often identified with particular patterns of ecological succession and climax vegetation.

Ecosystem topics

The Daintree Rainforest in Queensland, Australia. Ecosystems have become particularly important politically, since the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) - ratified by more than 175 countries - defines "the protection of ecosystems, natural habitats and the maintenance of viable populations of species in natural surroundings"[5] as a commitment of ratifying countries. This has created the political necessity to spatially identify ecosystems and somehow distinguish among them.

The CBD defines an "ecosystem" as a "dynamic complex of plant, animal and microorganism communities and their non-living environment interacting as a functional unit". With the need of protecting ecosystems, the political need arose to describe and identify them efficiently. Vreugdenhil et al. argued that this could be achieved most effectively by using a physiognomic-ecological classification system, as ecosystems are easily recognizable in the field as well as on satellite images. They argued that the structure and seasonality of the associated vegetation, complemented with ecological data (such as elevation, humidity, and drainage), are each determining modifiers that separate partially distinct sets of species. This is true not only for plant species, but also for species of animals, fungi and bacteria. The degree of ecosystem distinction is subject to the physiognomic modifiers that can be identified on an image and/or in the field. Where necessary, specific fauna elements can be added, such as seasonal concentrations of animals and the distribution of coral reefs. Several physiognomic-ecological classification systems are available:

Physiognomic-Ecological Classification of Plant Formations of the Earth: a system based on the 1974 work of Mueller-Dombois and Heinz Ellenberg[6], and developed by UNESCO. It describes the above-ground or underwater vegetation structures and cover as observed in the field, described as plant life forms. This classification is fundamentally a species-independent physiognomic, hierarchical vegetation classification system which also takes into account ecological factors such as climate, elevation, human influences such as grazing, hydric regimes, and survival strategies such as seasonality. The system was expanded with a basic classification for open water formations.[7] Land Cover Classification System (LCCS), developed by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).[8]

Several aquatic classification systems are available, and an effort is being made by the United States Geological Survey (USGS) and the Inter-American Biodiversity Information Network (IABIN) to design a complete ecosystem classification system that will cover both terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems. From a philosophy of science perspective, ecosystems are not discrete units of nature that simply can be identified using "the right" classification approach. In agreement with the definition by Tansley ("mental isolates"), any attempt to delineate or classify ecosystems should be explicit about the observer/analyst input in the classification including its normative rationale.

Summer field in Belgium (Hamois). The blue flower is Centaurea cyanus and the red one a Papaver rhoeas.

Ecosystem services
Ecosystem services are fundamental life-support services upon which human civilization depends,i and can be direct or indirect. Examples of direct ecosystem services are: pollination, wood, and erosion prevention. Indirect services could be considered climate moderation, nutrient cycles, and detoxifying natural substances.

Ecosystem legal rights

The borough of Tamaqua, Pennsylvania passed a law giving ecosystems legal rights. The ordinance establishes that the municipal government or any Tamaqua resident can file a lawsuit on behalf of the local ecosystem.[9] Other townships, such as Rush, followed suit and passed their own laws.[10] This is part of a growing body of legal opinion proposing 'wild law'. Wild law, a term coined by Cormac Cullinan (a lawyer based in South Africa), would cover birds and animals, rivers and deserts.[11][12]

Function and biodiversity

From an anthropological point of view, many people see ecosystems as production units similar to those that produce goods and services. Among some of the most common goods produced by ecosystems, is wood by forest ecosystems and grass for cattle by natural grasslands. Meat from wild animals, often referred to as bush meat in Africa, has proven to be extremely successful under well-controlled management schemes in South Africa and Kenya. Much less successful has been the discovery and commercialization of substances of wild organism for pharmaceutical purposes. Services derived from

ecosystems are referred to as ecosystem services. They may include (1) facilitating the enjoyment of nature, which may generate many forms of income and employment in the tourism sector, often referred to as eco-tourisms, (2) water retention, thus facilitating a more evenly distributed release of water, (3) soil protection, open-air laboratory for scientific research, etc. A greater degree of species or biological diversity - popularly referred to as Biodiversity of an ecosystem may contribute to greater resilience of an ecosystem, because there are more species present at a location to respond to change and thus "absorb" or reduce its effects. This reduces the effect before the ecosystem's structure is fundamentally changed to a different state. This is not universally the case and there is no proven relationship between the species diversity of an ecosystem and its ability to provide goods and services on a sustainable level: Humid tropical forests produce very few goods and direct services and are extremely vulnerable to change, while many temperate forests readily grow back to their previous state of development within a lifetime after felling or a forest fire. Some grasslands have been sustainably exploited for thousands of years (Mongolia, Africa, European peat and mooreland communities).

The study of ecosystems

View of The Blue Marble, taken in 1972 by the Apollo 17 crew. This image is the only photograph of its kind to date, showing a fully sunlit hemisphere of the Earth.

Ecosystem dynamics
Introduction of new elements, whether biotic or abiotic, into an ecosystem tend to have a disruptive effect. In some cases, this can lead to ecological collapse or "trophic cascading" and the death of many species within the ecosystem. Under this deterministic vision, the abstract notion of ecological health attempts to measure the robustness and recovery capacity for an ecosystem; i.e. how far the ecosystem is away from its steady state. Often, however, ecosystems have the ability to rebound from a disruptive agent. The difference between collapse or a gentle rebound is determined by two factors -- the toxicity of the introduced element and the resiliency of the original ecosystem.

Ecosystems are primarily governed by stochastic (chance) events, the reactions these events provoke on non-living materials, and the responses by organisms to the conditions surrounding them. Thus, an ecosystem results from the sum of individual responses of organisms to stimuli from elements in the environment. The presence or absence of populations merely depends on reproductive and dispersal success, and population levels fluctuate in response to stochastic events. As the number of species in an ecosystem is higher, the number of stimuli is also higher. Since the beginning of life organisms have survived continuous change through natural selection of successful feeding, reproductive and dispersal behavior. Through natural selection the planet's species have continuously adapted to change through variation in their biological composition and distribution. Mathematically it can be demonstrated that greater numbers of different interacting factors tend to dampen fluctuations in each of the individual factors. Given the great diversity among organisms on earth, most ecosystems only changed very gradually, as some species would disappear while others would move in. Locally, sub-populations continuously go extinct, to be replaced later through dispersal of other sub-populations. Stochastists do recognize that certain intrinsic regulating mechanisms occur in nature. Feedback and response mechanisms at the species level regulate population levels, most notably through territorial behaviour. Andrewatha and Birch[13] suggest that territorial behaviour tends to keep populations at levels where food supply is not a limiting factor. Hence, stochastists see territorial behaviour as a regulatory mechanism at the species level but not at the ecosystem level. Thus, in their vision, ecosystems are not regulated by feedback and response mechanisms from the (eco)system itself and there is no such thing as a balance of nature.

Arctic tundra on Wrangel Island, Russia. If ecosystems are indeed governed primarily by stochastic processes, they may be more resilient to sudden change than each species individually. In the absence of a balance of nature, the species composition of ecosystems would undergo shifts that would depend on the nature of the change, but entire ecological collapse would probably be infrequent events. The theoretical ecologist Robert Ulanowicz has used information theory tools to describe the structure of ecosystems, emphasizing mutual information (correlations) in studied systems. Drawing on this methodology and prior observations of complex ecosystems, Ulanowicz depicts approaches to determining the stress levels on ecosystems and predicting system reactions to defined types of alteration in their settings (such as increased or reduced energy flow, and eutrophication.[14] See also Relational order theories, as to fundamentals of life