Biomes As Groups Of Ecosystems

Biomes, sometimes confused with ecosystems, are in reality composed of a number of similar ecosystems that work together to maintain the critical balance of the environment. The Earth itself is a biome, as are the Great Basin, the High Plains, and the Kalahari Desert. Through global warming and climate change, human behaviors are altering vital ecosystems throughout the world, including those that make up the food chain, the carbon cycle, the nitrogen cycle, and the water cycle. The critical nature of this dilemma is evident in the well-documented loss of species, their habitats, and ecosystems as a result of human pollution and overexploitation of resources. Particular attention is being paid to the ecosystems of Antarctica, the Arctic, the Bering Sea, and the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem. In the Arctic, scientists have identified two major climate and ecosystem changes during the past 50 years, in part as a response to warming temperatures, that have precipitated a transition from primarily cold Arctic ecosystems of the pre-1970 period to the to sub-Arctic conditions during 1970-2000. The Bering Sea provides the vast opportunities for studying the ecosystems of various bird and marine mammal populations.

In 1992, at the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro, member nations negotiated the Convention on Biological Diversity, popularly known as the Biodiversity Treaty. The treaty, which was signed by 196 countries, became international law on December 29, 1993. The treaty formally recognizes the interrelationship between human life and various ecosystems and encourages universal commitment to conserving biological diversity and using all biological resources responsibly. It also calls for equitable sharing of genetic resources among developed and developing countries.

In 2001, 1,300 scientists from 95 nations began working on the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment (MA) under the auspices of the United Nations. The assessment team is charged with identifying the effects of global warming and climate change on various ecosystems and determining ways to employ conservation and sustainable development to check the pace of ecosystem failure and environmental degradation, while improving human well-being. Between 2001 and 2005, the MA published five technical volumes and six summary reports. Scientists involved in the MA have concluded that 60 percent of the 24 ecosystems under investigation are being degraded as a result of human behavior. MA scientists have learned that this degradation is leading to the emergence of new and old diseases, abrupt alternations in water quality, the presence of dead zones in coastal waters, the collapse of fisheries in many sections of the world, and shifts in regional climate. While agreeing that the ecosystems of tropical forests and coral reefs are particularly vulnerable to global warming and climate change, the MA has identified degrading dryland ecosystems as the most significant threat to human health because of these are the areas where poverty is greatest.

sEE ALso: Arctic Ocean; Carbon Cycle; Climate Change, Effects; Deserts.

bibliography. Joseph Alcamo, Ecosystems and Human Well-Being: A Framework for Assessment (Island Press, 2003); Convention on Biological Diversity, www.cbd. int (cited October 2007); G.A. De Leo and S. Levin, "The Multifaceted Aspects of Ecosystem Integrity," Ecology and Society (v.11/1, 1997); Millennium Ecosystem Assessment, (cited October 2007); Public Broadcasting System, (cited October 2007); R.B. Philp, Ecosystems and Human Health: Toxicology and Environmental Hazards (Lewis, 2001).

Elizabeth R. Purdy Independent Scholar

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Renewable Energy 101

Renewable Energy 101

Renewable energy is energy that is generated from sunlight, rain, tides, geothermal heat and wind. These sources are naturally and constantly replenished, which is why they are deemed as renewable. The usage of renewable energy sources is very important when considering the sustainability of the existing energy usage of the world. While there is currently an abundance of non-renewable energy sources, such as nuclear fuels, these energy sources are depleting. In addition to being a non-renewable supply, the non-renewable energy sources release emissions into the air, which has an adverse effect on the environment.

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