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Topic 2: Ecosystems at Risk

Dot Point 1 Ecosystems at Risk What is an ecosystem? Ecology is the science that examines the interactions between organisms and their living (biotic) and non-living (abiotic) environment. Groups of organisms ant their biophysical environment interacts and exchange matter and energy. Collectively they form an ecological system or ecosystem. Ecosystem: The dynamic complex of plant, animal and micro-organism communities and their non-living environment as a functional unit. Classifying ecosystems Ecosystems are usually classified according to their dominant feature. Hence we have ecosystems named according to climate (polar ecosystems), physical features (coral reef ecosystems) and vegetation (rainforest ecosystems). An ecosystem may vary in size from a small pond to a vast area of rainforest or desert. Whether large or small, ecosystems rarely have distinct boundaries. Individual ecosystems blend into adjacent ecosystems via a zone of transition or ecotone. The Ecosphere The ecosphere is the collection of living and dead organisms (the biosphere) interacting with one another and their non-living environment. The study of ecology is primarily concerned with interactions that occur at five levels of organisation: Organisms, populations, communities, ecosystems and the ecosphere. Populations are said to be dynamic as they adapt to changes in environmental conditions by changing over time their size distribution, age structure and genetic make-up. Productivity of Ecosystems The productivity of an ecosystem can be expressed in two ways. It can be expressed in terms of the amount of biomass produced in the area, that is, the mass of new living matter produced per square metre of land (or within a volume of water) per unit of time. It can also be expressed in terms of energy flow that is the amount of energy (in kilojoules) that is locked into all the organisms in an area per unit per time. Energy Flows and Nutrient Cycling Producers, consumers and decomposers form a chain that facilitates the flow of energy from the sun, through the plants, to various kinds of animals within an ecosystem. At each level of food chain, energy, in the form of heat is lost into the atmosphere. Organisms that share the same types of food, in a food chain are said to belong to the same trophic level. Producers belong to the first trophic level, primary consumers to the second and secondary consumers to the third, and so on. Organisms in a natural ecosystem are usually part of a complex network of interacting food chains, called a food web. Nutrient Cycles Nutrients such as oxygen, carbon, nitrogen and phosphorus are constantly cycled through ecosystems, making them available for plant growth. Water is also cycled through ecosystems and is important in allowing other cycles to take place.

Example: The earth is a vast storehouse of carbon. Only small amounts of this are suitable for use in ecosystems. Most carbon is available as carbon dioxide. Plants extract the carbon from CO2 and give off oxygen. Carbon cycle varies in time and space. Humans can have a large impact on Carbon cycles Releasing long term stores of CO2 by mining and burning of fossil fuels. Large scale destruction of forests, again releasing large amounts of CO2 into the air. As CO2 is a greenhouse gas, the impact of humans has been the so-call enhanced green house effect. Factors Affecting the functioning of Ecosystems The Atmosphere The atmosphere is the main source of the climatic factors that impact on ecosystem functioning. Temperature and the amount of rainfall determine the nature of all the factors within the ecosystem and the speed at which they function. The main source of nutrients-nitrogen, carbon, oxygen as well as water. Circulation patterns in the atmosphere determine the spread of pollutants. The Hydrosphere Linked to the atmosphere, the hydrosphere determines the nature of the water cycles in an area. Large bodies of water moderate the temperatures of adjoining land masses because water heats and cools more slowly than land. The Lithosphere Determines the nature of soils and provides habitats for many decomposer organisms the recycle the minerals essential to the plants forming the basis of the food web. The capacity of the soil to store nutrients and store water helps to determine the nature of the ecosystem. Climatic factors affect the role soils play in an ecosystem. Landforms also affect ecosystems. Small differences in elevation result in marked differences in plant communities. The Biosphere The biosphere is the domain on or near the earths surface where environmental conditions enable solar energy to produce the chemical changes necessary for all life to occur. It comprises all living and dead organisms found near the earths surface. The Technosphere The technosphere is the interdependence of all parts of an ecosystem that creates their fragility. The development of a technosphere which involves extensive use of technology has encouraged an attitude that growth is good. As a consequence humanity has lost sight of the fact that many resources are finite. People are destroying the dynamic equilibrium that exists in ecosystems.

Dot Point 2 Vulnerability and Resilience of Ecosystems All ecosystems are in a sense vulnerable, but the level of vulnerability depends on how small a change is needed to upset the equilibrium. Ecosystems are therefore, not equally at risk, some are more resilient that others. Cause of Ecosystem Vulnerability All ecosystems have an ability to withstand stress. They tend to resist being disturbed and will restore themselves it not disturbed drastically. A number of factors are relevant to the vulnerability of ecosystems and their associated stress. These include location, extent, biodiversity and linkages. Location The location of an ecosystem effects its functioning. The greater the degree of familiarisation an organism has to a particular set of environmental conditions the more vulnerable an ecosystem is to irreversible change within the ecosystem. Proximity to large concentrations of people is another important factor contributing to ecosystem vulnerability. As populations grow do does the demand for land. Urban, industrial and agricultural land uses, at times, destroy ecosystems while oceans and rivers become dumping grounds for pollutants. Extent The extent of an ecosystem is the product of a variety of factors. The most important is the microclimate variations created by the physical features of an area. Recent research has shown the boundaries of an ecosystem demonstrate a high degree of overlap. Ecosystems that are restricted to relatively small areas of already extensive disturbance are especially vulnerable. Biodiversity Considered at three levels: genetic diversity, species diversity and ecosystem diversity. Genetic Diversity Variety of genetic information contained in all the individual plants, animals and microorganisms. Genetic diversity favours the survival of a species, as there is a high chance some members of a species will have the characteristics which aid their survival, if the population is subject to stress. Species Diversity The greater the species diversity, the more robust the ecosystem. When ecosystems are diverse there is a range of pathways for ecological processes. If one pathway is damaged an alternative may be used and the ecosystem can continue to function. Ecosystem Diversity Ecosystem diversity is the variety of habitats, communities and ecological processes present within ecosystems in terms of habitat differences and variety of ecological processes.

Link ages

Is related to species diversity. The greater the level of interdependence the greater the ability to absorb change. Ecosystems which have low levels of independence are much more vulnerable to change. Example: Few linkages through the food chain of the oceans around Antarctica. Any reduction on the supply to Krill will directly affect whales. Primary consumers with highly specific food shortages are vulnerable to disturbances. Ecosystem Resilience Resilience is the ability of an ecosystem to adapt to a changing environment and to restore function following an episode of natural or human induced stress. (Kleeman et al 2000.) Ecosystems with rich biodiversity have greater resilience. They are able to recover from naturally induced habitat destruction. Long term ecosystem degradation occurs when the magnitude and duration of stress exceed the ability of the ecosystem to repair itself. The more successful a species is at regeneration and adaptation, the less vulnerable it is to changes in its ecosystem. The intensity and duration of stress is important in terms of the effect it has on an ecosystem. Natural and Human Induced Environmental Stress Ecosystems are constantly changing in response to stress from the environment. These could include: The availability of water Climate Draught Flood Volcanic Eruption Earthquake Landslide Disease In nature these changes usually take place very slowly. The biome gradually adapts in the process known as natural selection. Sudden natural disasters can cause whole species to become extinct as they are left with minimal time to react to change, yet such disasters are rare. This is not the case in respect to human induced stress. Today human activity destroys or seriously threatens species, and their habitat. These human induced stresses include: Environmental degradation, a result of massive population growth Developing world- poverty, non-sustainable consumption and environmentally damaging waste. Developed world- non-sustainable agriculture and exploitation of natural resources. Human threats to biodiversity include: Species introduction either deliberate or accidental. Exotic species can disrupt energy flows. Habitat destruction is a major threat. It can include outright loss of areas, degradation, and where native species are deprived of food. Hunting can lead to exploitation of wildlife and decimation of species. Pollution is a major threat to aquatic and terrestrial ecosystems. Human Induced Modification to Ecosystems

Because people are part of the biosphere, they play a role in maintaining or disturbing the dynamic equilibrium of any ecosystem. Humans have the ability to simplify natural ecosystems in order to grow food or extract resources. The great environmental challenge now facing humans is how to maintain a sustainable balance between the simplified human ecosystems and the neighbouring, more complex, natural ecosystems on which simple ecosystems depend on. Nature of Human Induced Modifications Human induced modification can either be intentional or inadvertent. It may also be the result of negligence. Intentional Ecosystem Change In many instances, human-induced ecosystem change is the unintended consequence of human activities. Some modifications are intentional but result in unintended consequences, over the longer term. When aboriginals brut the bush to aid hunting, they did so intentionally. The consequence of this management practise was, however, the long term effect on Australias pattern of regeneration, not what was planned by the initial indigenous counterparts. Inadvertent Ecosystem Change Meeting the needs of the technosphere and a rapidly increasing human population with inevitably bring about large scale change to an environment. Unlike other species, humanity has the ability to transfer resources from one region to another and to modify ecosystems in order to sustain continued population growth. The issue is whether such modifications will continue to lead to inadvertent changes. Measuring the Effect of Human Activity on Ecosystem Functioning There is no standard measure for the effects of human activity on ecosystem functioning except to look at the ecosystem itself and note damages. Magnitude of Change Refers to the extent in which an ecosystem has been stretched beyond its state of dynamic equilibrium. The change may be slight or extreme. Measuring the magnitude of the change requires a comparison between known data and whatever benchmark date may be available. The Rate of Change The rate of ecosystem change is largely related to two factors: Rapid world population growth Ever increasing demand for the worlds resources Development Because much of the continuing environmental degradation is taking place in the countries of the developing world, and it is these countries that population is growing most rapidly, it is easy to assume population is the main cause of degradation. This is not the case maintenance of the technosphere in the developing world to the level of that of the developed world, must occur.

Human Populations and Ecosystem Change

Population pressure is closely related to the rate of ecosystem change. Governments need money to implement social and economic programs that aim to improve diet, health and education standards. They often encourage Transnational Corporations (TNCs) to invest in resources based development with little governmental control. The need for foreign exchange also means governments encourage the growing of cash crops for export such as coffee, tea and cocoa. These crops require irrigation and potentially damaging inputs of fertilizers and pesticides, and also the occupation of prime agricultural land. The reduced availability of agricultural land can mean the soil has no time to recover between crop cycles. Infrastructure development can also create problems. Inappropriate irrigation schemes can contribute to salination problems, destroying the productivity of the land. The provision of a water supply can encourage nomadic herders to settle in one place. The growing population requires and needs a food supply and access to fuel and water. The intensification of agriculture and fuel wood collection is resulting in widespread land degradations. Central to this process is the loss of soil. Almost 11 million ha of arable land is degraded each year. It takes 2500 years for 2.5 com of topsoil to develop and human mismanagement can destroy that in less than a decade. The countries of the developing world have much faster rates of population growth those countries of the developed world. It will take many years before zero population growth can be achieved, if at all, so the rate for ecosystem change will continue to grow and diversify, for better or worse.

Dot Point 3 The importance of Ecosystem Management and Protection. The protection of ecosystems is central to the future wellbeing of earth and its inhabitants. People must reassess the relationship they have with their bio-physical environment. Central to this will be the need to adopt values, attitudes and practises that are compatible with sustainable development. The reasons for managing and protecting ecosystems include: The maintenance of genetic diversity Utility Value Intrinsic Value Heritage Value The need to allow natural change to proceed Maintaining Genetic Diversity Ecosystems rich in diversity generally have greater resilience, and are as a result able to recover more readily from naturally induced stress, and human induced habitat destruction. Genetic diversity allows a species to adopt changes in its environment. The loss of genetic diversity is an opportunity lost for an expanding technosphere. Every time a species becomes extinct, an irreplaceable library of genetic information is lost. Genetic diversity covers a variation between distinct populations of the same species and genetic variation within a population. Genetic engineering is an exciting new frontier of science and yet genetic diversity is being diminished at a frightening rate. Governments have collected a great variety of crop cultivators from the original centres of cultivation. Hot Spots are being protected where genetic diversity can be protected and conserved. There is no means of knowing what exists in the genetic libraries of ecosystems at risk, yet we are aware of the perilous futures such ecosystems face. Utility Value By maintaining and protecting ecosystems we maximise humanitys ability to adopt to change and minimise such change. The sheer diversity of life represents a vast store of genetic material that can be tapped as human needs change. The loss of a species denies humanity a possible source of food, medicine and chemicals. The protection is critical to the physical wellbeing of humanity. Almost all the important food crops are native to environments at risk in the developing world: wheat from Afghanistan. These vital sources of wild breeders where plant breeders must turn for genetic material must be preserved and wild species are allowed to grow. Plants, animals and micro-organisms supply us with the many of the medicines that are used to sure human disease. Many drugs are derived from plants. The losses of small areas could mean the loss of a disease-curing chemical compounds and resources. Medical scientists have only examined 5,000 of the estimated 250,000 plants which have pharmaceutical value. Ecosystems provide service such a schools of fish, forests of timber to insects that pollinate crops. Ecosystems supply scores of wild products including meats, fruits, dyes and clothing. In India, at least 30% of the population have been called ecosystem people, with their survival very dependent on the productivity and diversity of local surroundings.

Savannah ecosystems in East Africa have enormous present utility value involving affluent visitors from richer countries. A lion living to 7 years worth $515,000 in foreign exchange. The same animal if shot for big game would be worth $8,500. A 1992 estimate of medicines derived from natural sources topped $US40 billion per annum. However, for more than 80% of the worlds population in developing countries, traditional methods are still the major source of health care using natural elements from ecosystems. In USA 60% of non- prescription medicines come from natural ecosystems. Approximately one third of all plant species have edible parts. There are many species which have yet to be developed commercially. The winged bean from Paua New Guinea has been called a one species supermarket. Leaves are like spinach, seed resemble peas. The roots can be cooked like potatoes. Mature seeds are like Soya beans. Others include the Buriti Palm of the Amazon, Amazon River Turtles and green Iguana. Tourism is also adapted to certain environments providing value. Intrinsic Value Ecosystems are endowed with their own intrinsic value and ethical value, that is, they have the right to exist irrespective of their utility value. The biophysical environment provides for many of the inspirational, aesthetic and spiritual needs of some people. The aesthetic qualities of ecosystems are also valued to the recreational potential. The links between indigenous people and environment is particularly strong. Traditional Aboriginal people have an ecocentric world view, which are people who live with acute appreciation of the natural world in which they live. Each individual has an obligation to protect and preserve the spirit of the land and the living things on it. Intrinsic and amenity values are very difficult to attach monetary values to and as a result are often ignored. Heritage Value The World Heritage Conservation Council considers natural heritage to be, natural features consisting of physical and biological formations which are of outstanding universal value from an aesthetic or scientific point of view. In Australia there are many sites of the heritage list. Preserving important elements, via responsibility, of our natural heritage for the enjoyment of our future generations. The Need to Allow Natural Change to Proceed Life forms of earth are a product of ongoing evolutionary process; Humans have the ethical responsibility to allow this process to continue relatively unimpeded. Large Areas of representation, ecosystems, should be preserved, such as: Areas large enough to should be conserved and allowed to process and normal Have boundaries reflecting such environmental needs Take into account interests of local people Be surrounded by a buffer zone where human activity is managed and watched Well managed/effectively resourced Dot Point 4

Evaluation of Traditional and Contemporary Management Strategies Throughout the world there is a growing recognition that people must accept responsibility for protecting and managing ecosystems, especially those considered to be at risk. There is no one measure of successful ecosystems management. Any success must be measured over a period of time to ensure they are not part of normal fluctuations in ecosystems. Increasingly, the environmental impact of human activity is being judged in terms of its ecological sustainability. Management Approaches Four broad approached can be identified: Preservation Conservation Utilisation Exploitation Preservation: Refers to the protection of habitat in its existing form. It involves prevention of all human activities in the area being protected. Conservation: On the other hand involves active resource management. It is planned use of natural resources in an effort to minimise environmental damage Utilisation: Involves the replacement of an ecosystem with a human made environment that is capable of providing a sustainable yield Exploitation: Occurs when an ecosystems resources are used irrespective of ecological consequences. Underpinning the approaches to ecosystem management are five key attitudes that help us define the relationships people have with eh environment. These are: Environmental imperialism This egocentric world view holds that everything in nature is subordinate to the needs and wants of humans. Utilitarianism This view is based on the belief that things only have value if they contribute to the happiness and well being of people. Stewardship This view contends that humans occupy a privileged position in relation to the rest of nature. People have a responsibility to protect and nurture the land for the benefit of future generations. Romanticisms A view that values the beauty of nature. Support for the protection of wilderness areas. Radical Environmentalism This includes a wide range of views ranging from those who advocate the right of all species to survive to those against all development. A Management Strategy is a Plan of Attack Evaluation Criteria Contemporary approached to the management of ecosystems focus on the extent to which the strategies adopted promote ecologically sustainable development. The ultimate measure of ecological sustainability will be higher living standards within the context, of ecologically sustainable development (ESD). Sustainable development is

achieved by maximising peoples economic and social wellbeing, while protecting and maintaining the biophysical environment. ESD Incorporates Three Important Concepts: Intergenerational Equity Precautionary Approach Biological Diversity Protection Process towards a sustainable future depends on successful implementation of strategies to address issues. These Include: Reduction in political tensions betweens countries Provision of adequate resources for all people to reduce unsustainable exploitation, (lacking in Istanbul) Initiatives to curb population growth and boom Providing education and training Strategies to curb our resilience on non-renewable resources Monitoring the progress made in addressing global issues provides an indicator to the extent to which ESD is being achieved. Indicators of sustainability include: Conservation of Scare resources Species Diversity Prevalence of Pests Ability of the ecosystem to recover from disturbance Minimising Human Impacts on Ecosystems People can implement a range of strategies to minimise environmental impact and to maximise ecosystems. They are measured against ESD and include exclusion, education, restoration, rehabilitation, design and legislation. Exclusion Ecosystems at risk are protected by excluding activities likely to have an adverse impact. Education Provides opportunity to inform people about an ecosystem, its needs, problems and ways people can minimise their impact. Action Can remove human-induced sources of stress, assist in rehabilitation populations of flora and fauna and prevent further degradation. Techniques used to address various types of degradation to ecosystems: No Action- Because restoration is too, expensive, previous attempts failed Restoration- Of an area to its original species composition but a program of reintroduction. Rehabilitation- Of some ecosystems functions and some original species. Replacement- Of a degraded ecosystems with another productive ecosystem. Design- When it is impractical to remove the source of stress, artificial ways must be planed to minimise impacts of the stress factor. Legislation- Policies applying to various ecosystems to minimise degradation.

Traditional Approaches to Ecosystem Management The goals and objectives of ecosystem management by traditional societies focus on t5he collection of food and the provision of shelter within the context of a respect for the earth, its fragile nature and the interdependent relationship of people and the environment . Their aim is self sufficiency by taking only what they need. In meeting their needs indigenous people often manipulate and manage ecosystems, for example, Aboriginals: Built artificial dykes Dug trenches Dammed rivers Burning Generally these did not have long term effects. However, the burning of bush to catch food by the Aboriginals has now been seen to have had long term effects on Australians vegetation by modifying it. Indigenous peoples often engage in long term management practises, for example Aborigines planned parts of yams back into the hole from which they dug so that the plants would regenerate. They would also artificially fertilised flowers, seeded river flats, settles bees into tree hollows to start hives and dug pits which filled with water providing a breeding ground for frogs. Aboriginal management strategies included: Restrictions on species caught Closed seasons Taboos Designated areas Leadership according to age, thus elder restrictions Limits on population Sustainable methods of hunting This accumulates experience of human interaction with nature is then passed down generation to generation in laws, customs and rituals, ceremonies, stories and teachings. Management units and boundaries are determined through the creation of territories, each with its own laws. Changes in Management Strategies The ways in which ecosystems are managed are constantly changing and in part, reflects the changing nature of the relationship that people have with their environment. Not until the 1970s did governments start to respond to community concerns about the state of environments. Changing Economic Attitudes It was not until the late 20th Century that economists appreciated the ecosphere was a scarce resource with value.

Changing Technologies Technology offers the promise to: Genetically engineer new crop varieties that reduce dependence on fertilisers Develop alternative energy forms to reduce fossil fuels Introduce more efficient industrial processes Enhance ability to monitor environment degradation Those developing new technologies now pay greater attention to the impact of their work. Australian scientists are working on solar panels which will provide infinite energy source. Industrial processes are being refined to reduce costs and impacts on environment. Changing Environment Attitudes Attitudes are generally changing in favour of protection and management for ecosystems at risk. Green politics has become important in many developing countries.