Habitats and Ecosystems
A habitat can be defined as an ecological area or natural environment inhabited by a particular group of species, whether they be animals, plants or some other type of organism. In addition to living elements, a habitat is defined by physical factors such as soil, moisture, temperature and availability of light. It encompasses both the natural environment in which organisms live and the physical environment that surrounds and influences a species population.
An ecosystem can be defined as a community of living organisms, which in conjunction with non-living elements such as water, land and air, interact in the same area of the environment. Whilst some ecosystems such as the Amazon rainforest are very large, others may be as small as a single tree or a pond. When an ecosystem is said to be healthy, it is sustainable; that is, all the separate components of the ecosystem are in equilibrium and are able to maintain themselves over future generations. Therefore, it can be said that by protecting an ecosystem, this will also help to maintain its biodiversity. Whilst an ecosystem will often have its own biodiversity interest, the species and habitats that make an ecosystem what it is can often be found in others too i.e. they are not exclusive to a particular ecosystem type.
Unfortunately, largely due to the impacts of humans, our ecosystems and the habitats and species they support, are being put under increasing strain. Human population growth, and the associated consequences, means we are putting increasing pressure on our natural resources; we are living unsustainably. Along with climate change, reversing the current trend of unsustainable living is one of the biggest challenges facing humans in the 21st century.