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Do you know what an ecosystem is?

It is a place where nature has created a unique mixture of air, water, soil, and a variety of living organisms to interact and support each other. It is the living community of plants and animals of any area together with the non-living components of the environment such as soil, air, and water. The living and the non-living interact with each other in such a manner that it results in the flow of energy between them. In a particular ecosystem the biotic community consists of the birds, reptiles, mammals, insects and other invertebrates, bacteria, plants, and other living organisms.

An ecosystem includes not only the species inhabiting an area, but also all the features of the physical environment. Energy cannot be produced without the consumption of matter; the pyramid of life therefore has a wide base of vegetation, the smaller herbivores that feed on plants, and a much smaller number of carnivores. Ecosystem ecologists are interested in the exchange of energy, gases, water and minerals amongst the biotic (living) and the abiotic (non-living) components of a particular ecosystem; therefore, they tend to study confined areas that are easier to control or monitor.

Small and relatively self-contained ecosystems are called microcosms, because they represent miniature systems in which most of the ecological processes characteristic of larger ecosystems operate, but on a smaller scale. A small pond is an example of a little ecosystem. On the other hand, the largest and the only really complete ecosystem is the biosphere.

An ecosystem can exist in any place where there are varied forms of life. Even the park near your home or a village pond can be an ecosystem as there are different forms of life here and they coexist. One of the most productive ecosystems is at the point where sea water meets freshwater.

Conservationists have now realized that in order to save the natural world, ecosystems as a whole have to be saved. Unless the entire ecosystem is preserved, the individual species will not be able to survive for long.

Human activities clearly demonstrate the interdependence of all ecosystems – acid rain that falls on forests is carried to pristine lakes far from the source of pollution. Deforestation and the burning of fossil fuels change the composition of the atmosphere and perhaps contributes to the alteration of the earth's climate. The most important lesson to be learned about life on earth is that most things on the earth are interdependent and interconnected – actions taken have a much larger impact than one can think of.


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