Biology Blog

Maggie Maas

Sustainable Living

Definition: A lifestyle that attempts to reduce an individual's or society's use of the Earth's natural resources and personal resources.

How could someone achieve this lifestyle?

It takes a lifelong commitment. Learning, experimenting, exploring, committing to increasingly sustainable practices and, above all, loving; because beyond all of the negativity, you can always choose to live you life in fear or with love. The fear route feels defeat and helpless and frustrating. The love route feels grounded, purposeful, and hopeful. This way of living requires a complete shift in how we live our lives. We do things for others all day long through the clothes we buy, the energy we use, and the food we eat. You may not ever know or see the people you are impacting, but you believe they are out there suffering based on the choices you make. Choosing this life requires a lot of work, rethinking, and soul searching. You have to decide how much love do you want to give and how inclusive do you want to be.

Do I personally think I could reach sustainable living?

I personally feel as though I could possibly live this way if I was grown up with this is my life on a regular basis, but stopping everything I know now, and changing it completely would be difficult. I would love to help benefit people like I stated above, but I don't necessarily how much I would be able to give ALL OF THE TIME. That is just my honest opinion.

Fossil Fuels vs Renewable Energy

Fossil Fuels

These provide a valuable service, but it’s the side effects of using them that causes all of the problems. Burning fossil fuels creates carbon dioxide, the number one greenhouse gas contributing to global warming. The impact of global warming on the environment is extensive and affects many areas such as the Arctic and Antarctica, causing the ice to melt which will increase sea level. Air pollution is also a direct result of the use of fossil fuels, causing great dangers posed to natural ecosystems that result from collecting fossil fuels, particularly coal and oil. Oil spills have devastated ecosystems and coal mining has stripped lands of their vitality.

Renewable Energy

Sun, wind and water are perfect energy sources…depending on where you are. They are non-polluting, renewable and efficient. They are simple: all you need is sunlight, running water and/or wind. Not only do the use of renewable energy sources help reduce global carbon dioxide emissions, but they also add some much-needed flexibility to the energy resource mix by decreasing our dependence on limited reserves of fossil fuels. There’s more than enough renewable energy sources to supply all of the world’s energy needs forever.


Definition: converting waste into usable material

5 Reasons Why People Should Recycle

1. “Recycling saves energy.”

Recycling saves energy because the manufacturer doesn’t have to produce something new from raw natural resources. By using recycled materials we save on energy consumption, which keeps production costs down.

2. “Recycling reduces landfills.”
Recycling reduces the need for more landfills. No one wants to live next to a landfill.

3. “Recycling preserves our resources and protects wildlife.”
By recycling, we reduce the need to destroy habitats for animals. Paper recycling alone saves millions of trees.

4. “Recycling is good for the economy.”
Recycling and purchasing recycled products creates a greater demand for more recycled goods. Goods made from recycled materials use less water, creates less pollution and uses less energy.

5. “Recycling helps our climate problems.”
Recycling produces considerably less carbon, which reduces the amount of unhealthy greenhouse gas omissions.

How long does it take for these to decompose?

Tin Can: About 50 years

Glass Bottle: 1,000,000 years

Disposable Diaper: 500-800 years

Wood: Small twigs that are a 5th of a inch in diameter: 3-5 months

Branches that are 1 inch in diameter: 3 years

Logs that are a foot in diameter: 10 years

Logs that have a diameter of 4 feet across: 50 years

Paper: 2-5 months

Plastic Grocery Bag: 500-1,000 years

Styrofoam Cup: 500 years or more

Aluminum Can: 200 years

Cotton T-shirt: 1-5 months

Apple Core: 2 months

Are any of these surprising?

I did a project over this in 4th grade and was very surprised by these. I didn't know it took so long for these to decompose.

Great Pacific Garbage Patch

What is this?

The Great Pacific Garbage Patch is a collection of marine debris (litter) in the North Pacific Ocean.

What can we do here in Iowa to help decrease it, is it even possible?

We in Iowa cannot DECREASE it, but we can PREVENT it! If we pick up trash and make sure that our trash is in the garbage, then it won't be able to be blown around, eventually making its way to the Pacific Ocean.

Two Biomes


Definition: A grassy plain in tropical and subtropical regions with few trees

Ecosystem: A tropical grassland with warm temperatures year-round and with its highest seasonal rainfall in the summer. The savanna is characterized by grasses and small or dispersed trees that do not form a closed canopy, allowing sunlight to reach the ground. The African savanna contains a diverse community of organisms that interact to form a complex food web

Biotic Factors: The tropical grassland is home to several species of large grazing herbivores, large carnivorous cats , and other meat eating creatures. Each have a specific niche and have key roles in the savanna’s food-web. The tropical grassland is unique because of the many animals found exclusively here. The savanna is what many “stereotype” the entire continent of Africa as being. There are also several species of large trees found only in the savanna such as the Jackal berry Tree.

Abiotic Factors: The average day during the winter-dry season is cool, but never gets cold. The summer-rainy season is humid and very wet. This biome does not receive enough rainfall to be classified as a rain forest, it is not dry enough to be a desert. There are 2 distinct seasons, the wet season and the dry season. Anywhere from 15 to 25 inches of rain falls during the summer(wet season). Summers are humid and extremely hot. Winters are very dry, but still warm. The average temperature is about 70 ° F. In the summer-wet season, the soil in the tropical grassland tends to be very fertile due to constant grazing of large herbivores. Water is scarce during the winter-dry season, however in the summer months water is somewhat plentiful which allows small shrubs and grasses to thrive.

Taiga (Shown in Picture)

Definition: The sometimes swampy coniferous forest of high northern latitudes. Located between the tundra and steppes of Siberia and North America

Ecosystem: It's one of the three main forest biomes. (The other two are the temperate forest and the tropical rainforest.) Driest and coldest of the three, sometimes called the boreal forest or the coniferous forest, largest of all the land biomes

Biotic Factors: doesn't have as many plant and animal species as the tropical or the deciduous forest biomes. It does have millions of insects in the summertime. Birds migrate there every year to nest and feed. There are not a lot of species of plants in the taiga because of the harsh conditions. Not many plants can survive the extreme cold of the taiga winter. There are some lichens and mosses, but most plants are coniferous trees like pine, white spruce, hemlock and Douglas fir.

Abiotic Factors: The average temperature is below freezing for six months out of the year. The winter temperature range is -65 to 30° F. The winters, as you can see, are really cold, with lots of snow. Temperature range in the summer gets as low as 20° F. The high in summer can be 70° F. The summers are mostly warm, rainy and humid. They are also very short with about 50 to 100 frost free days. The total precipitation in a year is 12 - 33 in. The forms the precipitation comes in are rain, snow and dew. Most of the precipitation in the taiga falls as rain in the summer. The main seasons in the taiga are winter and summer. The spring and autumn are so short, you hardly know they exist. It is either hot and humid or very cold in the taiga.

The African Savanna Biome Food Chain

Producer: Grasses, Trees, Shrubs, etc.

Primary consumer: Elephants, Wildebeest, Giraffe, etc.

Secondary consumer: Leopard, etc.

Tertiary/Quaternary Consumer: Cheetah, Lion, etc.

Herbivore: Antelope, Gazelle, Zebra, etc.

Carnivore: Jackal, etc.

Omnivore: Hyena, Wild Dogs, etc.

Scavenger: Vultures, Marabou Stork

Decomposer: Bacteria, Fungi, Termites, etc.

Dead Zones in the Gulf of Mexico

What is it?

Areas of large bodies of water—typically in the ocean but also occasionally in lakes and even rivers—that do not have enough oxygen to support marine life

What causes it?

Primarily near areas where heavy agricultural and industrial activity spill nutrients into the water and compromise its quality accordingly

How can we stop them?

We can prevent this by using more eco-friendly energy producers.

Keystone Species

Definition: a species on which other species in an ecosystem largely depend, such that is it were removed the ecosystem would change drastically

Top Predator: Mountain Lion

Non-top Predator: Rabbit

How would their absence affect the ecosystem?

The mountain loin eats the rabbit and keeps the population from growing rapidly, so if it were to disappear, the rabbit population would soar. If the rabbits were to disappear, the mountain lion would still have a food source, but not as much as it did before, and if the other sources were to disappear, eventually the mountain lion species would die off completely.

Competitive Exclusion

Definition: the inevitable elimination from a habitat of one of two species with identical needs for resources

Examples: Deer, Bears


Definition: exist at the same time or in the same place

Examples: two plants in the same vase, twins


Definition: an organism that lives in or on another organism (its host) and benefits by deriving nutrient at the host's expense

Examples: Ticks, Mosquito


Definition: the action or art of imitating someone or something, typically to entertain or ridicule

Examples: Butterflies (Viceroy and Monarch), Bees (Hoverfly, Honeybee)


Definition: the doctrine that mutual dependence is necessary to social well-being

Examples: Oxpecker and Rhino, Bees and Flowers


Definition: an association between two organisms in which one benefits and the other derives neither benefit nor harm

Examples: Anemone and Clownfish, Barnacles and Whales

The Carbon Cycle

What is it?

It is the circulation and transformation of carbon back and forth between living things and the environment

How do humans affect it?

Actions by humans have resulted in the removal of carbon from carbon sinks (such as the oil and coal deposits mentioned above), directly adding it to the atmosphere. This has been most notable since the Industrial Revolution in the 18th and 19th Century.

Global Dimming

What is it?

This is the decrease in the amounts of solar radiation reaching the surface of the Earth

Where does it usually affect?

Scientists believe that since 1950, the sun’s energy reaching Earth has dropped by 9% in Antarctica, 10% in the USA, 16% in parts of Europe and 30% in Russia – putting the overall average drop to be at an enormous 22%

Why is it a problem?

Aerosols have been found to be the major cause of global dimming. The burning of fossil fuels by industry and internal combustion engines emits by-products such as sulfur dioxide, soot and ash. These together form particulate pollution—primarily called aerosols. Vapors emitted from the planes flying high in the sky called contrails are another cause of heat reflection and related global dimming. It causes changes in rainfall patterns, but scientists believe that despite the cooling effect created by global dimming, the earth’s temperature has increased by more than 1 deg. in last century. If global dimming wouldn’t have happened, the temperature of this planet would be much higher and could have posed a serious effect o the lives of humans, plants and animals

Greenhouse Effect

Definition: the trapping of the sun's earth 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.

How are the carbon cycle and the greenhouse effect similar?

The carbon cycle is just the process of carbon moving around us in different ways and never leaving the atmosphere. Global warming has the same effect as to keeping gasses in more than releasing them and letting more sunlight in than needed.

Endangered Species

Definition: a species of animal or plant that is seriously at risk of extinction

Example: Tiger

How do species become endangered?

Animals and plants that are at risk of becoming extinct because of threats from changing environments or predators.

What if this species was a keystone species?

The animals the tiger usually eats would probably reproduce more than being eaten and start to over populate if the tiger were to disappear.

What would happen to the current ecosystem?

Eventually the little animals would scatter and be eaten by other big animals, or if they were to disappear as week, the earth would be taken over with smaller animals.

Why should humans care about the endangered species?

It seems as though the animals of the endangered species are the ones we like the most for some special feature, such as their fur, so if we would stop killing them so we can put that special thing in our houses, they wouldn't be as at risk as they are now.

Invasive Species

Definition: These are the plants, animals, or pathogens that are non-native (or alien) to the ecosystem under consideration and whose introduction causes or is likely to cause harm

Examples of how they affect the ecosystem they are now invasive to:

Invasive species cause harm to wildlife in many ways. When a new and aggressive species is introduced into an ecosystem, it might not have any natural predators or controls. It can breed and spread quickly, taking over an area. Native wildlife may not have evolved defenses against the invader or they cannot compete with a species that has no predators.

Direct Threats:

The direct threats of invasive species consist of preying on native species, out-competing native species for food or other resources, causing or carrying disease, and preventing native species from reproducing or killing their young

Indirect Threats:

The indirect threats of invasive species include: changing food webs, decreasing biodiversity, and altering ecosystem conditions

How did the invasive species arrive to their new ecosystem?

Invasive species are primarily spread by human activities, often unintentionally. People, and the goods we use, travel around the world very quickly, and they often carry uninvited species with them. Some examples are through ships, wood products, ornamental plants, and pet trade.


At one time rainforest covered 14% of the Earth’s land surface. Today rainforest only cover 6% today. Why should a person care about the lost rainforest ground?

Rainforests have evolved over millions of years to turn into the incredibly complex environments they are today. Rainforests represent a store of living and breathing renewable natural resources that for eons, by virtue of their richness in both animal and plant species, have contributed a wealth of resources for the survival and well-being of humankind. These resources have included basic food supplies, clothing, shelter, fuel, spices, industrial raw materials, and medicine for all those who have lived in the majesty of the forest. However, the inner dynamics of a tropical rainforest is an intricate and fragile system. Everything is so interdependent that upsetting one part can lead to unknown damage or even destruction of the whole.

Why are the rainforest being cut down?

Rainforests are being destroyed because the value of rainforest land is perceived as only the value of its timber by short-sighted governments, multi-national logging companies, and land owners.

What would happen if they all disappeared?

Experts estimate that the last remaining rainforests could be consumed in less than 40 years. They also believe that we are losing 137 plant, animal and insect species every single day due to rainforest deforestation. That equates to 50,000 species a year. As the rainforest species disappear, so do many possible cures for life-threatening diseases.

Human Over Population

Why is it a concern?

Human overpopulation is among the most pressing environmental issues, silently aggravating the forces behind global warming, environmental pollution, habitat loss, the sixth mass extinction, intensive farming practices and the consumption of finite natural resources, such as fresh water, arable land, and fossil fuels, at speeds faster than their rate of regeneration

Resources needed for a human to sustain life:

> Air

> Water

> Food

> Shelter

> Sanitation

> Sleep

> Space

> Touch


What are these?

It is a substance used for destroying insects or other organisms harmful to cultivated plants or to animals

How do they adversely affect the environment?

They are the only toxic substances released intentionally into our environment to kill living things

How does this create problems with the genetic diversity in crop production?

It is particularly threatening because of the way Green Revolution crops have changed the world's agriculture. Scientists agree that the prospect of losing the genetic capital would be alarming under any conditions.

The Life of the Bee by Maurice Maeterlinck

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

To me this quote says something big. Bees pollinate all of our flowers, trees, plants, etc. If they were to disappear that would stop; and we are more dependent on bees than people want to believe. If they stopped pollinating, the vegetation would eventually die away and the human race wouldn't be too far behind.

The future

It is the year 2070 and you are having a conversation with your grandchildren about how the environment has changed since you were young- give a prediction of how the Earth would look to them.

My prediction of the Earth in 2070 goes two different directions. Either someone found a discovery to make the would a better place and we begin to see a turn around to getting the Earth back to its beautiful self, or we keep doing what we're doing and we'll live in a huge pile of waste.

If it is my first prediction, I would tell my grandchild how the Earth used to be much dirtier and tell them how everything used to work; but if it's my second prediction, I will show them pictures of how the Earth looked right now and how beautiful it is in this moment. No, it isn't the cleanest it could be, but it's also better than what I'm predicting for that time.