Ecosystems are communities of living things (animals, plants, and microorganisms) that not only interact amongst themselves, but also with the physical environment (sun, soil, climate, and atmosphere). Ecosystems are often described in the context of a defined space, which can vary considerably in size. Biomes are areas that include many ecosystems. There are five major biome categories on earth: desert, aquatic, forest, grassland, and tundra. Interestingly, aquatic biomes are the largest, taking up 73% of the Earth’s surface.
Ecosystems are dynamic, which allows them adapt to changes in the environment. However, too much stress can disrupt, or even destroy, an ecosystem. Stress caused by human activity is impacting ecosystems worldwide. For example, marine ecosystems are losing biodiversity and fish behaviour is changing. Overexploitation of natural resources is the primary threat to the structure and function of marine (and other) ecosystems. In the coming years, scientists believe that global warming will amplify these effects.
Understanding how biomes change in response to global warming requires the study of entire ecosystems. However, the study of complex ecosystems is very challenging, and many studies to date have focused on one species, or community, at a time, rather than a whole ecosystem. In this light, the article by Ullah et. al. is particularly exciting because it documents how a group of researchers got around the complex problem by building their own ecosystems. Ullah et. al. crafted indoor aquatic tanks that simulated the shallow temperate coastal ecosystems found in the waters around Australia. This “ecosystem-in-a-lab” mimicked global warming by controlling temperature and CO2, and measured the impact on living inhabitants. In their model, global warming disrupted ecosystems by reducing the available energy in the system.
By designing their own custom ecosystem, Ullah et. al. were able to model how ecosystems will change as a result of global warming. In the future, other ecologists can adapt this model to study different ecosystems around the world.
Summary written by: Emma Finlayson-Trick
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