Ecology

by Sophie

Question One: Sustainable Living

Sustainable living is a lifestyle that attempts to reduce an individual's or society's use of the Earth's natural resources and personal resources. Sustainable living means living a lifestyle that causes the least amount of environmental damage for future generations to deal with.


One could achieve sustainable living by reducing their carbon footprint. This could be done by finding an alternative to driving, driving a more efficient vehicle, and by using energy efficient windows. Another way to obtain sustainable living is to stop using plastic and products that endanger wildlife, be aware of how much water you use and use less, stop using fossil fuels and use renewable energy, reduce water use and pollution by not eating meat, and choose to have a smaller family so that world hunger and poverty can decrease.


I believe that I could get very close to sustainable living. I would very much like to get an electric car when I can, and, if I have the money, build an eco-friendly house. To stop using plastic altogether wouldn't be very easy, but it could be possible. The biggest issue for me would probably be the water use. We are very privileged to have all of the clean water that we have, compared to third world countries, and people tend to take that for granted, including myself. I already don't eat meat or any animal by-products, which saves tons (literally) of water, food, and habitat, and greatly reduces carbon emissions. As of right now–it may change in the future–I am not the biggest fan of children, so having a small family will no be an issue.

Question Two: Fossil Fuels vs. Renewable Energy

A fossil fuel is a natural fuel such as coal or gas, formed in the geological past from the remains of living organisms. Renewable energy is energy from a source that is not depleted when used, such as wind or solar power. The burning of fossil fuels releases carbon, which is terrible for the environment. Eventually, they will run out. Renewable energy does not damage the environment and will never run out.


The global use of fossil fuels costs taxpayers and consumers $5.3 trillion a year. The environmental cost of fossil fuels include global warming, air pollution, water and land pollution, and thermal pollution. If we doubled the use of renewable energy by 2030, over sixteen million jobs would be produced. Renewable energy has little to no global warming emissions, improved public health and environmental quality, a vast and inexhaustible energy supply, and creates jobs and other economic benefits.


You should conserve energy because it is the only option left for the planet. The harmful effects of fossil fuels is destroying our planet. If we don't start changing our ways soon, the organisms living on earth won't be able to survive here. Start conserving before it's too late.

Question Three: Recycling

Recycling means to convert waste into reusable material, return material to a previous stage in a cyclic process, or use again. You should recycle because it saves energy, reduces landfills, preserves resources and protects wildlife, is good for the economy, and helps our climate problem. It saves energy by not causing manufacturers to produce new products. It reduces landfills by reusing products that would end up there. Recycling preserves resources and protects wildlife by not needing to cut down more trees. Recycling helps our environment by reducing carbon emissions.


It takes a tin can fifty years to decompose. A glass bottle takes one million years to decompose. A diaper is estimated to take around two-hundred to five-hundred years to decompose. Wood can take up to fifty years to decompose. Paper takes two to five months to decompose. Since the decomposition of paper bags may depend on environmental conditions, it takes them anywhere from twenty to one-thousand years. A styrofoam cup will take anywhere from five-hundred years to forever to decompose. An aluminum can will take two-hundred to five-hundred years to decompose. A cotton shirt will take six months to decompose. An apple core will take two months to decompose. The glass bottle surprised me.

Question Four: Great Pacific Garbage Patch

The Great Pacific Garbage Patch is a gyre of marine debris particles in the central North Pacific Ocean. The ocean debris is continually mixed by wind and wave action and widely dispersed both over huge surface areas and throughout the top portion of the water column. The debris concentrates in various areas of the North Pacific Ocean. The size and contents of the patches are difficult to estimate.


We can help to reduce the Great Pacific Garbage Patch by using biodegradable plastic, getting rid of plastic altogether, and changing personal habits. By using biodegradable plastic, people get the same use out of plastic, but it will decompose sooner. By getting rid of plastic altogether will take care of much of the problem. You can change your personal habits to help reduce the patch by reducing, reusing, and recycling.

Question Five: Biomes

The tundra is a vast, flat, treeless Arctic region of Europe, Asia, and North America in which the subsoil is permanently frozen. The biotic factors include shrubs, lichens, herbivores, carnivores, birds, insects, and fish. The abiotic factors include strong winds, rainfall, short summers, long winters, soil, and permafrost.


The tropical rainforest is a tropical woodland with an annual rainfall of at least 100 inches and marked by lofty, broad-leaved evergreen trees forming a continuos canopy. Rainforests are found in South America, Africa, and Southern Asia, all near the equator. The biotic factors include over millions of species of plants and animals. The abiotic factors include soil, water, rocks, light, and climate.

Question Six: Food Chain

The primary producer in the desert is cacti, shrubs, and gourds. The primary consumers are camels, rabbits, and kangaroo rats. The secondary consumers are shrews, roadrunners, and fennecs. The tertiary consumers are servals, coyotes, rosy boas, and common kingsnakes. The quaternary consumer is the cougar. The herbivores are squirrels, rats, rabbits, mule deer, bighorn sheep, and burros. The omnivores are white-tailed antelope, squirrels, coyotes, and ravens. The carnivores are coyotes, kit foxes, gray foxes, bobcats, and mountain lions. The scavengers are ravens, coyotes, vultures, and golden eagles. The decomposers are bacteria, beetles, earthworms, and millipedes.

Question Seven: Dead Zones in the Gulf of Mexico

Dead zones are hypoxic areas in the world's oceans and large lakes, caused by excessive nutrient pollution from human activities coupled with other factors that deplete the oxygen required to support most marine life in bottom and near-bottom water. The dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico is caused by nutrient enrichment from the Mississippi River, particularly nitrogen and phosphorous. Most of the nitrogen comes from major farming states in the Mississippi River Valley, such as Minnesota, Iowa, Illinois, Wisconsin, and Missouri. The nitrogen and phosphorous excess is caused by run-off from fertilizers. These excess nutrients cause an exorbitant algae growth which causes the oxygen depletion. Fewer animals can live in these areas and cause massive fish kills.


In order to reduce dead zones, particularly in the area of the Gulf of Mexico, farms in the Mississippi River Valley need to reduce fertilizer use and adjust the time that they use the fertilizers. Animal waste needs to be controlled from entering waterways. Septic systems and sewage treatment facilities need to be monitored to reduce the discharge of nutrients. Careful industrial practices need to take place, such as limiting the discharge of nutrients, organic matter, and chemicals from manufacturing facilities.

Question Eight: Keystone Species

A keystone species is a species on which other species in an ecosystem largely depend, such that if it were removed the ecosystem would change drastically. It's a plant or animal that plays a unique and crucial role in the way an ecosystem functions. Without a keystone species, an ecosystem could cease to exist.


An example of a keystones species that is a top predator is a mountain lion. The populations of deer, rabbits, and birds are partly, if not all, controlled by the mountain lion. Scavenger species are also affected by the mountain lion. If the mountain lion were to disappear, the deer and rabbit population would explode. Since the ecosystem cannot support that amount of animals, the deer would have to compete with each other for food and water. Soon, their population would decrease dramatically.


An example of a keystone species that isn't a top predator is the elephant on the African savannas. They eat the small trees on the savanna. By doing this, they keep the savanna a grassland and not a forest. If the elephants were to disappear, the trees would continue to grow and the grassland would be taken over. Lions and other predators depend on the prey that lives in the grassland.

Question Nine: Competitive Exclusion

Competitive exclusion is the inevitable elimination from a habitat of one of two different species with identical needs for resources. The competitive exclusion principle the principle that when two species compete for the same critical resources within an environment, one of them will eventually outcompete and displace the other. The displaced species may become locally extinct, by either migration or death, or it may adapt to a sufficiently distinct niche within the environment so that it continues to coexist non-competitively with the displacing species. Two different species cannot share the same niche.


One example of competitive exclusion is the bird species on the Galapagos Islands. When the finches were competing for the same resources, they couldn't survive. As a result, some of the birds' beaks adapted in order to obtain different resources.


Another example is two species of barnacle. The first species is the Balanus. It grows fast in order for it crush its rival, the Chthamalus. The Chthamalus stays close to the shore where it is too dry for the Balanus. This way, both still live and in their own niches.

Question Ten: Terms

Coexistence - exist at the same time or in the same place

ex. A giraffe and the acacia tree

ex. Human and dog


Parasites - an organism that lives in or on another organism and benefits by deriving nutrients at the host's expense

ex. tapeworms

ex. fleas


Mimicry - the close external resemblance of an animal or plant to another animal, plant, or inanimate object

ex. coral snakes and king snakes

ex. gopher snake and rattlesnake


Mutualism - symbiosis that is beneficial to both organisms

ex. zebra and oxpecker

ex. flowers and bees



Commensalism - an association between two organisms in which one benefits and the other derives neither benefit or harm

ex. cattle egrets and cattle

ex. flatworms and crabs

Question Eleven: The Carbon Cycle

The carbon cycle is the series of processes by which carbon compounds are interconverted in the environment, chiefly involving the incorporation of carbon dioxide into living tissue by photosynthesis and its return to the atmosphere through respiration, the decay and dead organisms, and the burning of fossil fuels. The carbon interacts between the atmosphere, the lithosphere, the biosphere, and the hydrosphere.


Humans are moving carbon into the atmosphere. We do this by burning fossil fuels, burning wood, and deforestation. The burning of fossil fuels removes the carbon from them and releases them into the atmosphere. Deforestation eliminates plants that would be capturing carbon from the atmosphere.

Question Twelve: Global Dimming

Global dimming is the decrease in the amounts of solar radiation reaching the surface of the earth. The by-product of the burning of fossil fuels are pollutants which absorb solar energy and reflect back sunlight into the space. It is also caused by an increase in particulates such as sulfate aerosols in the atmosphere due to human action. This affects the hydrological cycle by reducing evaporation and may reduce rainfall.


Global dimming occurs mostly in the Northern Hemisphere. Europe and North America have received much less global dimming than China and India. Global dimming, along with global warming, dramatically changes precipitation patterns. The water in the Norther Hemisphere is colder, causing it to be more difficult to evaporate. The precipitation reaches fewer parts of the world and results in drought and famine situations. Global dimming also causes acid rain, smog, and respiratory problems in humans.

Question Thirteen: The Greenhouse Effect

The Greenhouse Effect is the trapping of the sun's warmth in a planet's lower atmosphere due to the greater transparency of the atmosphere to visible radiation from the sun than to infrared radiation emitted from the planet's surface. Earth is constantly bombarded with radiation which is either reflected right back out into space or absorbed and released later back out of the atmosphere at a weaker wavelength. Its called the Greenhouse Effect because it works like a greenhouse. The radiation easily passes through the glass and warms the plants inside. However, the weaker heat can't escape through the glass. This is what happens with our atmosphere. The heat can get in but can't get back out.


The Greenhouse Effect and the carbon cycle are closely related because the carbon cycle directly affects the Greenhouse Effect. Carbon dioxide is a greenhouse gas, which means that it acts like a blanket to absorb radiation and preventing it from escaping back out of the atmosphere.

Question Fourteen: Endangered Species

An endangered species is a species that of animal or plant that is seriously at risk of extinction. An example of an endangered species is the black rhinoceros. If this species was a keystone species the entire ecosystem would be at risk of failing and probably would fail. Every organism in an ecosystem depends on the keystone species.


Humans should care about endangered species because we don't know what will happen to an ecosystem without them. Plants and animals that we depend on for survival could also go extinct and cause us to eventually to die out. For example, if the bee population were to go extinct, the human race would shortly follow.

Question Fifteen: Invasive Species

An invasive species is a plant, fungus, or animal species that is not native to a specific location, and which has a tendency to spread to a degree believed to cause damage to the environment, human economy, or human health.


One example of an invasive species is the kudzu vine. It's native to Japan but was brought to the United States to help prevent erosion. It was introduced into the South. People didn't realize how quickly it grew, however. It grows at the rate of 150,000 acres per year and quickly takes over wildlife and produces devastating environmental consequences. It has been nicknamed "the vine that ate the South." It destroys buildings, power lines, and other vegetation.


Another example is the northern snakehead which is a fish. The fish was originally intentionally introduced to the United States in 2002 in Maryland. The fish are native to parts of Africa and Asia. They have large mouths and sharp teeth. They are able to breathe air and can travel on land for up to four days in order to search for a new body of water. They can lay up to 150,000 eggs a year. They quickly take the place at the top of the food chain in their environment, and with no other species to keep them in check they quickly become overpopulated and destroy other fish populations.

Question Sixteen: Rainforests

Rainforests are important because they help to reduce the effects of worldwide climate change by absorbing the carbon in the atmosphere. They also are the home to more than half of the species of plants and wildlife. The rainforests also regulate our climate by storing so much water. They are believed to hold half of the Earth's rainwater. The rainforest then provides the water to rivers, lakes, and irrigation systems which prevents droughts. They help prevent erosion with the roots of the trees binding the soil together. Without them, the soil washes away, causing blockages and floods in lower land. Many indigenous people live in the rainforests and their homes are being destroyed also. In addition, many of our modern medicines come from the trees in the rainforest.


The rainforests are being destroyed for multiple purposes. One is cattle ranching. For each pound of beef, 200 acres of rainforest are destroyed. Another reason for the cutting down the trees in the rainforest is for logging. Other reasons include agriculture, mining, oil, and dams.


If there are no more rainforests, over half the plant and animal species, along with indigenous cultures, will go extinct. The ecosystem and the environment will be catastrophically impacted. Within a few years, it is expected for all humans to die as well as many other species.

Question Seventeen: Human Overpopulation

Human overpopulation is one of the causes of global warming, environmental pollution, habitat loss, and mass extinction. Human overpopulation has caused a loss of fresh water. By 2025, more than half of the world population will be facing water-based vulnerability and the human demand for water will take up 70% of fresh water. As the human population grows, so will the problem of clean freshwater availability. Human population is causing a mass extinction due to climate change, habitat loss, pollution, acidifying oceans, invasive species, over-exploitation of natural resources, overfishing, poaching, and overpopulation. The rapid population growth has also caused a great increase in diseases.


Resources that humans need to survive are food, water, and shelter. While we don't need energy to sustain life, humans greatly rely on it. All of these resources are running out on earth. Food is running out. Clean, freshwater is running out. Space for humans is running out. Resources from fossil fuels are running out. We need to change the way we live if we don't want to go extinct.

Question Eighteen: Pesticides

A pesticide is a substance used for destroying insects or other organisms harmful to cultivated plants or to animals. Pesticides are toxic to living organisms. They may accumulate in water systems, pollute the air, and have other severe effects on the environment.


Pesticides cause plants to change in order to be resistant to the pesticide. When this happens to multiple plants, they will all become similar in the way that they must be resistant to the plant. This decreases genetic diversity in crops, which is needed to develop new crops.

Question Nineteen: Bees

“If the bee disappeared off the face of the Earth, man would only have 4 years left to live.”


One reason it seems that bees are dying so quickly is because of consumer honey production. A bee's source of food is honey. When honey is being harvested for consumers, much of that honey is replaced with high fructose corn syrup. Since their main food source is now high fructose corn syrup, which is terrible for both humans and bees, they are dying quicker than ever. Another reason the bees are dying is because of insecticides and climate change. All of these things are affected by what humans do, and we do have the ability to stop it.

Question Twenty: 2070

I hope that before 2070, the people of the world will have worked to save our planet so that it doesn't turn into a wasteland.


All of the air is clean and free of toxins. Trees haven't been cut down in years. Plastic and any material that isn't biodegradable is no longer used. All of our energy comes from renewable resources, like solar and wind energy. Fossil fuels are never used. Animal agriculture and eating animal by-products are a thing of the past. There are no longer any starving people and there is enough fresh, clean water for everyone. The polar bears aren't extinct, along with the rest of the previously endangered species. Global warming no longer exists and the atmosphere is slowly repairing itself. Human overpopulation was still a problem until laws were created on how many children people could have. Once the population is down to a safe amount, the ban will be removed. All species are safe and the world is clean.