Ecosystems define life as we know it. An ecosystem "includes all living organisms in an area as well as its physical environment functioning together as a unit," as stated by Biology Online. Measuring the increase in biomass of a specific area within a determined period of time establishes the productivity of ecosystems, as described by Encyclopaedia Britannica. Climate, soil conditions, altitude and different forms of stress all directly affect an ecosystem's productivity.
Tropical Rain Forests
According to the World Wildlife Fund, "Rain forests are the most productive ecosystems on Earth, using the energy they generate for self-maintenance, reproduction and new growth." These forests can maintain a steady production of biomass throughout the year due to a continuous supply of light and rainfall in a warm climate. This favors plant growth, the organisms that depend on these plants to thrive and the predators that feed on these organisms. This contributes to a high degree of biodiversity. Despite poor soil conditions, these ecosystems contain a highly efficient system that recycles dead matter into a usable food source for plant roots. Fungi, bacteria and other microorganisms all play a key role in supporting this impressive ecosystem.
The varieties of corals that form reefs inhabit the shallow, clear and warm waters of the tropics. "Due to their structural complexity, corals are one of the most productive ecosystems on Earth," reports Mongabay.com. Often called rain forests of the ocean, they support a wide diversity of marine life in various stages of growth. They serve as nurseries and habitats for countless species of vertebrates and invertebrates that form elaborate prey and predator relationships. The foundation of this multi-structured ecosystem begins with tiny colonial animals that form hard exoskeletons. As they multiply their structures grow, and over time can span miles and support millions of species.
The Massachusetts Office of Coastal Zone Management states that, "Wetlands are among the most productive ecosystems in the world, comparable to rain forests and coral reefs." They support countless varieties of plant and wildlife species. Some species of animals such as birds may use this ecosystem temporarily to rear their young, while others such as fish, reptiles and amphibians may use it permanently. Dead plant matter decomposes in the water and feeds aquatic insects, shellfish and small fish, forming the base of this productive food chain. "Food webs" refer to the intricate relationships among the inhabitants of this ecosystem.
These forests grow in tropical and subtropical climates along the coastlines. "Mangrove forests are one of the most productive ecosystems on the planet," according to GoodPlanet.info. (see References 6) They store large amounts of nutrients which feed multiple species of mollusks, fish and crustaceans. These attract various predators that also use mangroves for shelter and nurseries. The trees and shrubs have evolved to thrive in the inter-tidal zones between land and ocean. Abundant in nutrients, these sensitive areas depend on the mangrove forests to maintain the intricate balance of life that flourishes here.
- Biology Online: Ecosystem Definition
- Encyclopaedia Britannica: Flow of energy / Measurement of biomass
- World Wildlife Fund: Amazon rainforest
- Mongabay.com: Coral Reefs: the Tropical Rainforests of the Sea
- Massachusetts Office of Coastal Zone Management: Wetland Ecology and Functions
- GoodPlanet.info: Mangrove Forests
- Photo Credit Jupiterimages/Photos.com/Getty Images Digital Vision./Digital Vision/Getty Images Jupiterimages/Brand X Pictures/Getty Images Gary Faber/Digital Vision/Getty Images
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