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Ecosystem Degradation Functions and Causes

Class 10
May 11, 2023

Human Sustainability – Ecosystem Degradation


An ecosystem is a group of plants, animals, and other living organisms that share an environment’s space and resources.

Every organism in an ecosystem has a particular role and function. Thus, disrupting the balance of an ecosystem will be disastrous for all living things that rely on it.

It is possible to say that the Earth is a massive ecosystem. When external factors such as pollution enter the ecosystem via carbon dioxide and methane, the ecosystem’s balance is disrupted to such an extent that it affects everyone who lives in it.

Natural disasters such as earthquakes and tsunamis are caused by some of these disturbances.



Functions Of Ecosystem

Productivity, decomposition, energy flow, and nutrient cycling are four important functional aspects of the ecosystem.

i. Productivity refers to the rate at which any trophic level produces biomass per unit area in unit time. It is expressed in terms of weight (e.g., g/m2/yr) or energy (e.g., kcal/m2/yr).

ii. Decomposition: The physical and chemical breakdown of complex organic remains (detritus) by organisms known as decomposers. Fragmentation, catabolism, and leaching are the processes at work. Detrivores (such as termites and earthworms) feed on large pieces, leaving smaller fragments.

Pulverization occurs in animals’ digestive tracts when a portion passes undigested. This is known as fragmentation. For example, decomposers (bacteria and fungi) excrete digestive enzymes over the detritus.

It converts complex organic compounds that are insoluble into simple and soluble organic compounds and inorganic substances (catabolism). Percolating water exposes soluble substances formed during decomposition to leaching or passage to deeper layers of soil/groundwater.


The availability of oxygen affects decomposition. It is also affected by the chemical composition of the detritus and the climatic conditions. When detritus is high in nitrogen and sugars, it decomposes faster than when it is high in lignin and chitin. Decomposition is aided by a warm and moist environment.

iii. Energy flow: Sun is the ultimate source of energy flow in the ecosystem. Energy flows from producers to different consumers in an ecosystem composed of different trophic levels.

iv. Nutrient cycling: Biogeochemical cycles, also known as nutrient cycles, are cyclic exchanges, transfers, and storage of biogenetic nutrients through various ecosystem components (biotic and abiotic) so that the nutrients can be used repeatedly. The reservoir pool and cycling pool are both nutrient storage areas. The reservoir pool is a biogenetic nutrient reservoir from which nutrients are transferred to the cycling pool.

Causes of Ecosystem Destruction

Ecosystems are made up of animals, plants, and the surrounding environment. Ecosystems include wetlands, mangroves, rainforests, and coral reefs. Ecosystems must maintain a delicate balance. Unfortunately, various human activities threaten to upset this equilibrium and devastate the world’s ecosystems.

i. Pollution

Toxic substances and chemicals emitted from fossil fuel combustions, industrial wastes, homemade utilities, and other industry-processed materials such as plastics have destroyed most of the planet’s natural environments, with a large portion under severe threat. In addition, pollution from land, air, and water has long-term cumulative effects on the quality of the natural environments in which it occurs.

Polluted environments have lost their value as pollution makes biotic and abiotic components difficult to survive. In addition, pollution has an effect on the chemical compositions of lands, soil, ocean water, underground water, and rocks, as well as other natural processes.


ii. Improper Use of Land

Land development is one of the leading causes of habitat destruction. Unplanned conversion of lands into urban settings, mining areas, housing development projects, office spaces, shopping malls, industrial sites, parking lots, road networks, and so on causes pollution and degradation of natural habitats and ecosystems.

Mining and oil exploration, for example, make land unfit for human habitation and contribute to other types of environmental degradation by releasing toxic materials into the environment. As a result, improper land use has resulted in the loss and destruction of millions of acres of natural habitats around the world.


iii. Climate Change

Climate change continues to play a major role in ecosystem destruction. It is inextricably linked to urbanization and habitat loss. Human development has increased as urbanization has increased, as has the consumption of many natural resources.

Climate change alters regional climates, making it difficult for many species specifically adapted to those regions to survive. Furthermore, as the climate changes, species will migrate to new areas, altering the ecosystems that already exist.

Finally, some climates will vanish as a result of these changes. Glaciers will melt, and islands will be submerged.

Climate change

iv. Natural Causes

Despite the fact that environmental degradation is normally associated with anthropogenic activities, natural causes also play a role. Natural disasters such as wildfires, hurricanes, landslides, tsunamis, and earthquakes can completely devastate a region’s animal and plant communities.

These disasters can also change the nature of the landscape, rendering it unsuitable for supporting life forms. Furthermore, natural disasters such as hurricanes and flooding can wash or force invasive species into foreign environments, leading to their eventual degradation.

Natural disasters

v. Deforestation

Deforestation (tree cutting) has had an impact on the world in terms of depreciating the natural environment and wildlife. It has also had an impact on humans as a result of changes in environmental support processes such as weather patterns. Farming, construction, settlement, mining, and other economic purposes are some of the reasons for deforestation.

For more than a century, the global tree population has been declining, resulting in devastating consequences such as biodiversity loss, soil erosion, species extinction, global warming, and interference with the water cycle.


vi. Landfills:

One of the most disastrous effects of landfills is the loss of nearby environmental health and ecosystems. Landfills dump several chemicals on land nearby to forests, natural habitats, and water systems such as underground and surface water, making the environment unpleasant for the survival of trees, vegetation, animals, and humans.

It even disrupts the interactive food chains of animals because the chemicals pollute the plants and water that the animals consume. Aside from the foul odor from landfills and the periodic burning of waste, living in such environments is unbearable.


vii. Harmful Agricultural Practices

Intensive agricultural practices have resulted in a decrease in the quality of the majority of our natural environments. For example, most farmers convert forests and grasslands to croplands, lowering the quality of natural forests and vegetation cover. In addition, the increasing pressure to convert lands into resource areas for producing high-value foods, crops, and livestock has resulted in the decline of natural environments like forests, wildlife, and fertile lands.

viii. Population Decline

Animals in an ecosystem are important sources of food and population control. Unfortunately, many animal populations are dwindling as a result of overfishing and hunting. Animals are frequently hunted for their valuable skins, feathers, horns, and meat.

ix. Invasive Species:

Invasive species can also be introduced into ecosystems by humans. These species are frequently adaptable and opportunistic, and they lack natural predators to keep their numbers in check. The introduction of rats, monkeys, and other species into oceanic island environments is one example.

Birds and other wildlife in these areas have evolved without predators and lack the ability to recognize or react to the dangers they face.

Introduced plants can also have a significant impact on an ecosystem. They compete with native vegetation for light, space, and nutrients, and they can be toxic to humans, livestock, and wildlife. Kudzu, a fast-growing vine that can cover buildings and smother trees and other vegetation, and Salvinia, a water fern that forms dense mats that choke out native animals and plants, stop light from entering the waterway, and decreases oxygen levels to the loss of other species, are two examples.

Invasive species - Vine kudzu

Invasive species - Fern Salvinia

x. Overexploitation and Hunting

Exploitation and hunting pressures can cause ecosystems to become unbalanced. Overexploitation occurs when a population is harvested at levels that exceed what is sustainable, causing changes in population size and age distribution. Much edible fish, like tuna, cod, and haddock, have overexploited populations. Se species is a result; the population and average size have been significantly reduced due to fishing pressure.

Hunting can occur as part of exploitation, such as when exotic bird and fish species are targeted for pets or trophies. Hunting can also be used to keep predators at bay. Wolves, foxes, coyotes, and birds of prey are among the species that have been directly impacted.


However, because predators are at the top of the ecosystem food web, their removal can cause a cascade of significant changes within an ecosystem, potentially affecting many non-targeted species. The extinction of wolves in the continental United States is one example. In addition, when top predators are removed, deer and other prey populations can explode. They then consume native vegetation and destroy the habitats of various animals.

Destruction of Natural Vegetation

One of the most common types of ecosystem damage is clearing for agriculture. Clearing rainforests for cattle, soy, and palm oil plantations, as well as plowing prairies for corn, soy, and wheat crops, are two examples.

Plantations in which natural, diverse forest is cleared for monoculture plantings of a single tree species, such as eucalyptus or pine, that are uniform in size and age significantly reduce biodiversity in the area. Fertilizers, pesticides, and other agricultural chemicals can all have an impact on ecosystem processes and services like water quality, nutrient cycling, and carbon sequestration.

Destruction of natural vegetation

Expanding cities, roads, and industrial areas also destroy many habitats and ecosystems. Roads, bridges, and other infrastructure, in addition to direct clearing, can fragment populations and habitats, making it more difficult for animals and plants to disperse, migrate, or exchange genetic information with other populations.

Role of Science and Technology in the Prevention of Ecosystem Degradation

Saving the environment with technology entails using organic and inorganic techniques to create better ecosystems or repair environmental damage.

Technology has aided in the simplification of our lives. It has shrunk the world, aided in the fight against the deadliest diseases, and solved the most difficult problems for us. The next issue that we must address is the environmental changes that are taking place. Environmental scientists are now using technology to save the environment, considering the potential of technology.

It is time to focus on the solutions we know exist or can potentially develop. This is where technology, in conjunction with behavioral change, can assist us in rebooting the health of our nature and planet.

Technology can alter how we identify, measure, track, and value the many services and resources that nature provides us, from the high seas to the depths of the world’s most dense forests.

Blockchain Technology:

Earlier this year, WWF Australia, Fiji, and New Zealand joined forces to use blockchain technology to combat illegal fishing and slave labor in the tuna fishing industry. Blockchain technology advancements can help consumers track the entire journey of tuna – and potentially other agricultural commodities and fish – revolutionizing certification and traceability systems. Using satellite data and low-cost GPS tracking devices, we can also ‘see’ and understand global fishing and vessel traffic.

Artificial Intelligence to Detect Deforestation

How can environmentalists track forest loss across large strips of Latin America? Many governments are turning to Terra-i, an artificial intelligence program that predicts how green a given habitat should be based on real-time rainfall data and then compares that prediction to images of the habitat from an Earth-monitoring satellite. Differences in greenness between what is predicted and what is observed — down to the pixel — indicate habitat conversion caused by human activity.


Drones provide views of wildlife and habitats that would be impossible to obtain through simple observation.

Protecting the world’s forests entails ensuring that land is protected or restored in the right places and that it is healthy, providing people and wildlife with what they need to survive, such as clean air and water, food, and jobs. That’s where drones come in, acting as our eyes on the ground. This technology is being used by organizations other than the WWF (World Wide Fund).

Global Forest Watch (GFW) is an online forest monitoring and alert system that uses crowdsourcing to let anyone create custom maps, analyze forest trends, subscribe to alerts, or download data for their local area or the entire world.


Thermal Imaging to Prevent Poaching

Thermal imaging video cameras allow rangers to catch poachers at an alarming rate and deter many more from even trying.

In addition to direct interventions to prevent poaching, WWF employs technology to pursue wildlife traffickers.

AI (Artificial intelligence) to Track Wildlife.

It isn’t easy to imagine technology and nature coexisting but even advances like Artificial Intelligence (AI), which seem so far removed from the natural world, are aiding conservation efforts.

In China, WWF and tech giant Intel are utilizing the power of AI to help safeguard wild tigers and their habitats while safeguarding countless other species and aiding carbon storage, vital watersheds, and local communities.

Electric Cars

Electric vehicles emit significantly less pollution than conventional vehicles that burn fossil fuel directly. However, electric vehicles are not as environmentally friendly as you might think. In some places, we still need to burn fossil fuels to generate electricity. Nonetheless, because they lack a tailpipe, electric vehicles are far cleaner.

Although electric vehicles still use fossil fuel, the amount consumed is much lower than gas-powered vehicles. EVs also have the advantage of using electricity generated by renewable energy, giving them more options for clean energy.

Electric car

Ecosystem Degradation


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