When you think of an ecosystem, odds are you probably imagine lush green forests like the amazon, beautiful coral reefs, or maybe even mountains. Very rarely do we think of our own backyard.
An ecosystem is in essence a community of organisms living and interacting with their surroundings. You can think of them like life's natural neighborhoods. But you don’t need to go past your backyard to find one. I'm sure many of you are aware of the people in your neighborhood. But what about all the animals? The diverse array of plants? Insects? Ecosystems are literally everywhere, you just need to know what to look for. Let's start with something familiar.
Pretend for a moment that you want to make an ecosystem for your new pet fish. What do you need? Well for starters living organisms i.e the fish (and any other animal or plants it might like) and a place for them to stay like a pond or aquarium tank. We have our set up for a wonderful mini ecosystem, but it needs one more thing: self sufficiency. An ecosystem is able to recycle nutrients between all living organisms and nonliving matter. I covered this in more detail in an earlier post on nutrient cycling, but the jist is that energy is regulated in and out of ecosystems. Three processes keep the energy flowing in these systems: photosynthesis, decomposition, and digestion. Over the next few weeks we'll go over the first two processes in greater detail but for now let's get back to your fish. To make your fish tank a true mini ecosystem, simply add plenty of live plants for the fish to eat and some critters that eat fish waste and algae build up. Once all the essential elements are together, your model ecosystem is born.
But who needs to make an ecosystem when you can simply discover them! The next time you go to a park or a hike look around you. What sort of animals or plants do you see? What are they eating? How are they moving, seeing being? How do they interact with each other? How do they interact with you? And, for that matter, how do you interact with them? I believe it’s time we all got a little more acquainted with just who is in our neighborhood.