The prefix eco- simply means ‘relating to the environment’. So, we can say that in a basic sense an ecosystem is an environmental system. However, there is much more to the definition of ecosystem, and we can go deeper and deeper in the way that we describe it.
Definition: “An ecosystem can be defined as an interdependent community of organisms. These organisms include animals, humans, plants, fish, and insects. In addition, some definitions will include the weather or climate of an ecosystem”.
Another important element of the definition of ecosystems is the fact that they are self contained. Though there may be physical barriers (such as the edge of the ocean for a marine ecosystem) to an ecosystem, sometimes, there are not. This means that an ecosystem can also be described “as its own little microclimate, with differences in temperature, soil nutrients, climate, organisms and more”.
- The plants and animals that live in a given ecosystem (particularly those that live in a given ecosystem at a particular time) are known as its flora and fauna.
- We can have a sunny desert ecosystem which is hot, dry, and characterised by hardy plant and insect life and not much animal life.
- Or, we can have a marine ecosystem which consists of a particular ocean and all of the plants, animals, and other organisms that live in it.
Ecosystems are delicately balanced. Even a small change in an ecosystem, such as the introduction of a new plant or insect species, can completely disrupt the whole ecosystem, from the top to the bottom of the food chain. This is why human pollution of the environment is so dangerous and harmful because it can totally disrupt the balance of ecosystems all over the world. All of the organisms in an ecosystem live in tandem with each other, interacting and sustaining and supporting each other with their ways of life. They have evolved over millions of years to do so, and they are still developing and evolving as you read these words – however, the way in which they do so is so slow as to be pretty much imperceptible over a human life time. Organisms need a long time to adapt to changes in the environment and this is why huge and devastating changes such as climate change are so harmful to ecosystems.
We can also substantially broaden our definition of what an ecosystem is. This is because we can also define the environment of our entire planet earth as one big ecosystem, and all of the smaller ecosystems are part of it. This is completely true, because there is a real interdependence between all of the ecosystems on the planet.
So, we can see that there are various ways to explain the definition of an ecosystem, some of them are more basic than others and some are more complex, whilst others are very wide ranging. However we specifically define ecosystem, however, one thing is clear: we need to work hard to protect all ecosystems on earth.