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Chapter 54 - Ecosystems

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Chapter 54 Ecosystems
Lecture Outline

Overview: Ecosystems, Energy, and Matter

  • An ecosystem consists of all the organisms living in a community as well as all the abiotic factors with which they interact.
  • The dynamics of an ecosystem involve two processes that cannot be fully described by population or community processes and phenomena: energy flow and chemical cycling.
  • Energy enters most ecosystems in the form of sunlight.
    • It is converted to chemical energy by autotrophs, passed to heterotrophs in the organic compounds of food, and dissipated as heat.
  • Chemical elements are cycled among abiotic and biotic components of the ecosystem.
  • Energy, unlike matter, cannot be recycled.
    • An ecosystem must be powered by a continuous influx of energy from an external source, usually the sun.
  • Energy flows through ecosystems, while matter cycles within them.

Concept 54.1 Ecosystem ecology emphasizes energy flow and chemical cycling

  • Ecosystem ecologists view ecosystems as transformers of energy and processors of matter.
  • We can follow the transformation of energy by grouping the species in a community into trophic levels of feeding relationships.

    Ecosystems obey physical laws.

  • The law of conservation of energy states that energy cannot be created or destroyed but only transformed.
    • Plants and other photosynthetic organisms convert solar energy to chemical energy, but the total amount of energy does not change.
    • The total amount of energy stored in organic molecules plus the amounts reflected and dissipated as heat must equal the total solar energy intercepted by the plant.
  • The second law of thermodynamics states that some energy is lost as heat in any conversion process.
    • We can measure the efficiency of ecological energy conversions.
  • Chemical elements are continually recycled.
    • A carbon or nitrogen atom moves from one trophic level to another and eventually to the decomposers and back again.

    Trophic relationships determine the routes of energy flow and chemical cycling in ecosystems.

  • Autotrophs, the primary producers of the ecosystem, ultimately support all other organisms.
    • Most autotrophs are photosynthetic plants, algae or bacteria that use light energy to synthesize sugars and other organic compounds.
    • Chemosynthetic prokaryotes are the primary producers in deep-sea hydrothermal vents.
  • Heterotrophs are at trophic levels above the primary producers and depend on their photosynthetic output.
    • Herbivores that eat primary producers are called primary consumers.
    • Carnivores that eat herbivores are called secondary consumers.
    • Carnivores that eat secondary producers are called tertiary consumers.
  • Another important group of heterotrophs is the detritivores, or decomposers.
    • They get energy from detritus, nonliving organic material such as the remains of dead organisms, feces, fallen leaves, and wood.
    • Detritivores play an important role in material cycling.

    Decomposition connects all trophic levels.

  • The organisms that feed as detritivores form a major link between the primary producers and the consumers in an ecosystem.
  • Detritivores play an important role in making chemical elements available to producers.
    • Detritivores decompose organic material and transfer chemical elements in inorganic forms to abiotic reservoirs such as soil, water, and air.
  • Producers then recycle these elements into organic compounds.
  • An ecosystem’s main decomposers are fungi and prokaryotes.

Concept 54.2 Physical and chemical factors limit primary production in ecosystems

  • The amount of light energy converted to chemical energy by an ecosystem’s autotrophs in a given time period is an ecosystem’s primary production.

    An ecosystem’s energy budget depends on primary production.

  • Most primary producers use light energy to synthesize organic molecules, which can be broken down to produce ATP.
  • The amount of photosynthetic production sets the spending limit of the entire ecosystem.
  • A global energy budget can be analyzed.
    • Every day, Earth is bombarded by approximately 1023 joules of solar radiation.
      • The intensity of solar energy striking Earth varies with latitude, with the tropics receiving the greatest input.
      • Most of this radiation is scattered, absorbed, or reflected by the atmosphere.
      • Much of the solar radiation that reaches Earth’s surface lands on bare ground or bodies of water that either absorb or reflect the energy.
      • Only a small fraction actually strikes algae, photosynthetic prokaryotes, or plants, and only some of this is of wavelengths suitable for photosynthesis.
      • Of the visible light that reaches photosynthetic organisms, only about 1% is converted to chemical energy.
    • Although this is a small amount, primary producers produce about 170 billion tons of organic material per year.
  • Total primary production in an ecosystem is known as gross primary production (GPP).
    • This is the amount of light energy that is converted into chemical energy per unit time.
  • Plants use some of these molecules as fuel in their own cellular respiration.
  • Net primary production (NPP) is equal to gross primary production minus the energy used by the primary producers for respiration (R):
      NPP = GPP - R
  • To ecologists, net primary production is the key measurement, because it represents the storage of chemical energy that is available to consumers in the ecosystem.
  • Primary production can be expressed as energy per unit area per unit time, or as biomass of vegetation added to the ecosystem per unit area per unit time.
    • This should not be confused with the total biomass of photosynthetic autotrophs present in a given time, which is called the standing crop.
    • Primary production is the amount of new biomass added in a given period of time.
    • Although a forest has a large standing cross biomass, its primary production may actually be less than that of some grasslands, which do not accumulate vegetation because animals consume the plants rapidly.
  • Different ecosystems differ greatly in their production as well as in their contribution to the total production of the Earth.
    • Tropical rain forests are among the most productive terrestrial ecosystems.
    • Estuaries and coral reefs also are very productive, but they cover only a small area compared to that covered by tropical rain forests.
    • The open ocean has a relatively low production per unit area but contributes more net primary production than any other single ecosystem because of its very large size.
  • Overall, terrestrial ecosystems contribute two-thirds of global net primary production, and marine ecosystems contribute approximately one-third.

    In aquatic ecosystems, light and nutrients limit primary production.

  • Light is a key variable controlling primary production in oceans, since solar radiation can only penetrate to a certain depth known as the photic zone.
    • The first meter of water absorbs more than half of the solar radiation.
  • If light were the main variable limiting primary production in the ocean, we would expect production to increase along a gradient from the poles toward the equator, which receives the greatest intensity of light.
    • There is no such gradient.
    • There are parts of the ocean in the tropics and subtropics that exhibit low primary production, while some high-latitude ocean regions are relatively productive.
  • More than light, nutrients limit primary production in aquatic ecosystems.
  • A limiting nutrient is an element that must be added for production to increase in a particular area.
  • The nutrient most often limiting marine production is either nitrogen or phosphorus.
    • In the open ocean, nitrogen and phosphorous levels are very low in the photic zone but are higher in deeper water where light does not penetrate.
  • Nitrogen is the nutrient that limits phytoplankton growth in many parts of the ocean.
    • This knowledge can be used to prevent algal blooms by limiting pollution that fertilizes phytoplankton.
  • Some areas of the ocean have low phytoplankton density despite their relatively high nitrogen concentrations.
    • For example, the Sargasso Sea has a very low density of phytoplankton.
    • Nutrient-enrichment experiments showed that iron availability limits primary production in this area.
  • Marine ecologists carried out large-scale field experiments in the Pacific Ocean, spreading low concentrations of dissolved iron over 72 km2 of ocean.
    • A massive phytoplankton bloom occurred, with a 27-fold increase in chlorophyll concentration in water samples from test sites.
  • Why are iron concentrations naturally low in certain oceanic areas?
    • Windblown dust from the land delivers iron to the ocean, and relatively little dust reaches the central Pacific and Atlantic Oceans.
  • The iron factor in marine ecosystems is related to the nitrogen factor.
  • When iron is limiting, adding iron stimulates the growth of cyanobacteria that fix nitrogen.
  • Phytoplankton proliferate, once released from nitrogen limitation.
    • Iron --> cyanobacteria --> nitrogen fixation--> phytoplankton production
  • In areas of upwelling, nutrient-rich deep waters circulate to the ocean surface.
    • These areas have exceptionally high primary production, supporting the hypothesis that nutrient availability determines marine primary production.
    • Areas of upwelling are prime fishing locations.
  • Nutrient limitation is also common in freshwater lakes.
  • Sewage and fertilizer pollution can add nutrients to lakes.
  • Additional nutrients shifted many lakes from phytoplankton communities dominated by diatoms and green algae to communities dominated by cyanobacteria.
    • This process is called eutrophication and has a wide range of ecological impacts, including the loss of most fish species.
  • David Schindler of the University of Alberta conducted a series of whole lake experiments that identified phosphorus as the nutrient that limited cyanobacteria growth.
    • His research led to the use of phosphate-free detergents and other water quality reforms.

    In terrestrial ecosystems, temperature and moisture are the key factors limiting primary production.

  • Tropical rain forests, with their warm, wet conditions, are the most productive of all terrestrial ecosystems.
  • By contrast, low-productivity ecosystems are generally dry (deserts) or dry and cold (arctic tundra).
  • Between these extremes lie temperate forest and grassland ecosystems with moderate climates and intermediate productivity.
  • These contrasts in climate can be represented by a measure called actual evapotranspiration, which is the amount of water annually transpired by plants and evaporated from a landscape.
    • Actual evapotranspiration increases with precipitation and with the amount of solar energy available to drive evaporation and transpiration.
  • On a more local scale, mineral nutrients in the soil can play a key role in limiting primary production in terrestrial ecosystems.
  • Primary production removes soil nutrients.
  • A single nutrient deficiency may cause plant growth to slow and cease.
  • Nitrogen and phosphorus are the soil nutrients that most commonly limit terrestrial production.
  • Scientific studies relating nutrients to terrestrial primary production have practical applications in agriculture.
    • Farmers can maximize crop yields with the right balance of nutrients for the local soil and type of crop.

Concept 54.3 Energy transfer between trophic levels is usually less than 20% efficient

  • The amount of chemical energy in consumers’ food that is converted to their own new biomass during a given time period is called the secondary production of an ecosystem.
  • We can measure the efficiency of animals as energy transformers using the following equation:
    • production efficiency = net secondary production / assimilation of primary production
  • Net secondary production is the energy stored in biomass represented by growth and reproduction.
  • Assimilation consists of the total energy taken in and used for growth, reproduction, and respiration.
  • Production efficiency is thus the fraction of food energy that is not used for respiration.
    • This differs among organisms.
      • Birds and mammals generally have low production efficiencies of between 1% and 3% because they use so much energy to maintain a constant body temperature.
      • Fishes have production efficiencies of around 10%.
      • Insects are even more efficient, with production efficiencies averaging 40%.
  • Trophic efficiency is the percentage of production transferred from one trophic level to the next.
    • Trophic efficiencies must always be less than production efficiencies because they take into account not only the energy lost through respiration and contained in feces, but also the energy in organic material at lower trophic levels that is not consumed.
    • Trophic efficiencies usually range from 5% to 20%.
    • In other words, 80–95% of the energy available at one trophic level is not transferred to the next.
  • This loss is multiplied over the length of a food chain.
    • If 10% of energy is transferred from primary producers to primary consumers, and 10% of that energy is transferred to secondary consumers, then only 1% of net primary production is available to secondary consumers.
  • Pyramids of net production represent the multiplicative loss of energy in a food chain.
    • The size of each block in the pyramid is proportional to the new production of each trophic level, expressed in energy units.
  • Biomass pyramids represent the ecological consequences of low trophic efficiencies.
    • Most biomass pyramids narrow sharply from primary producers to top-level carnivores because energy transfers are so inefficient.
    • In some aquatic ecosystems, the pyramid is inverted and primary consumers outweigh producers.
    • Such inverted biomass pyramids occur because the producers—phytoplankton—grow, reproduce, and are consumed by zooplankton so rapidly that they never develop a large standing crop.
    • They have a short turnover time, which means they have a small standing crop biomass compared to their production.
      • turnover time = standing crop biomass (mg/m2) / production (mg/m2/day)
    • Because the phytoplankton replace their biomass at such a rapid rate, they can support a biomass of zooplankton much greater than their own biomass.
  • Because of the progressive loss of energy along a food chain, any ecosystem cannot support a large biomass of top-level carnivores.
    • With some exceptions, predators are usually larger than the prey they eat.
    • Top-level predators tend to be fairly large animals.
    • As a result, the limited biomass at the top of an ecological pyramid is concentrated in a small number of large individuals.
  • In a pyramid of numbers, the size of each block is proportional to the number of individuals present in each trophic level.
  • The dynamics of energy through ecosystems have important implications for the human population.
    • Eating meat is an inefficient way of tapping photosynthetic production.
    • Worldwide agriculture could feed many more people if humans all fed as primary consumers, eating only plant material.

    Herbivores consume a small percentage of vegetation: the green world hypothesis.

  • According to the green world hypothesis, herbivores consume relatively little plant biomass because they are held in check by a variety of factors, including predators, parasites, and disease.
  • How green is our world?
    • 83 × 1010 metric tons of carbon are stored in the plant biomass of terrestrial ecosystems.
    • Herbivores annually consume less than 17% of the total net primary production.
  • The green world hypothesis proposes several factors that keep herbivores in check:
    • Plants have defenses against herbivores.
    • Nutrients, not energy supply, usually limit herbivores.
      • Animals need certain nutrients that plants tend to supply in relatively small amounts.
      • The growth and reproduction of many herbivores are limited by availability of essential nutrients.
    • Abiotic factors limit herbivores.
      • Temperature and moisture may restrict carrying capacities for herbivores below the level that would strip vegetation.
    • Intraspecific competition can limit herbivore numbers.
      • Territorial behavior and competitive behaviors may reduce herbivore population density.
    • Interspecific interactions check herbivore densities.
      • Parasites, predators, and disease limit the growth of herbivore populations.
      • This applies the top-down model of community structure.

Concept 54.4 Biological and geochemical processes move nutrients between organic and inorganic parts of the ecosystem

  • Chemical elements are available to ecosystems only in limited amounts.
    • Life on Earth depends on the recycling of essential chemical elements.
  • Nutrient circuits involve both biotic and abiotic components of ecosystems and are called biogeochemical cycles.
  • There are two general categories of biogeochemical cycles: global and regional.
    • Gaseous forms of carbon, oxygen, sulfur, and nitrogen occur in the atmosphere, and cycles of these elements are global.
    • Elements that are less mobile in the environment, such as phosphorus, potassium, calcium, and trace elements generally cycle on a more localized scale in the short term.
      • Soil is the main abiotic reservoir for these elements.
  • We will consider a general model of chemical cycling that includes the main reservoirs of elements and the processes that transfer elements between reservoirs.
    • Each reservoir is defined by two characteristics: whether it contains organic or inorganic materials and whether or not the materials are directly available for use by organisms.
  • Reservoir a. The nutrients in living organisms and in detritus are available to other organisms when consumers feed and when detritivores consume nonliving organic material.
  • Reservoir b. Some materials move to the fossilized organic reservoir as dead organisms and are buried by sedimentation over millions of years. Nutrients in fossilized deposits cannot be assimilated directly.
  • Reservoir c. Inorganic elements and compounds that are dissolved in water or present in soil or air are available for use by organisms.
  • Reservoir d. Inorganic elements present in rocks are not directly available for use by organisms. These nutrients may gradually become available through erosion and weathering.
  • Describing biogeochemical cycles in general terms is much simpler than trying to trace elements through these cycles.
    • Ecologists study chemical cycling by adding tiny amounts of radioactive isotopes to the elements they are tracing.

    There are a number of important biogeochemical cycles.

  • We will consider the cycling of water, carbon, nitrogen, and phosphorus.

    The water cycle

  • Biological importance
    • Water is essential to all organisms and its availability influences rates of ecosystem processes.
  • Biologically available forms
    • Liquid water is the primary form in which water is used.
  • Reservoirs
    • The oceans contain 97% of the water in the biosphere.
    • 2% is bound as ice, and 1% is in lakes, rivers, and groundwater.
    • A negligible amount is in the atmosphere.
  • Key processes
    • The main processes driving the water cycle are evaporation of liquid water by solar energy, condensation of water vapor into clouds, and precipitation.
    • Transpiration by terrestrial plants moves significant amounts of water.
    • Surface and groundwater flow returns water to the oceans.

    The carbon cycle

  • Biological importance
    • Organic molecules have a carbon framework.
  • Biologically available forms
    • Autotrophs convert carbon dioxide to organic molecules that are used by heterotrophs.
  • Reservoirs
    • The major reservoirs of carbon include fossil fuels, soils, aquatic sediments, the oceans, plant and animal biomass, and the atmosphere (CO2).
  • Key processes
    • Photosynthesis by plants and phytoplankton fixes atmospheric CO2.
    • CO2 is added to the atmosphere by cellular respiration of producers and consumers.
    • Volcanoes and the burning of fossil fuels add CO2 to the atmosphere.

    The nitrogen cycle

  • Biological importance
    • Nitrogen is a component of amino acids, proteins, and nucleic acids.
    • It may be a limiting plant nutrient.
  • Biologically available forms
    • Plants and algae can use ammonium (NH4+) or nitrate (NO3?).
    • Various bacteria can also use NH4+, NO3?, or NO2.
    • Animals can use only organic forms of nitrogen.
  • Reservoirs
    • The major reservoir of nitrogen is the atmosphere, which is 80% nitrogen gas (N2).
    • Nitrogen is also bound in soils and the sediments of lakes, rivers, and oceans.
    • Some nitrogen is dissolved in surface water and groundwater.
    • Nitrogen is stored in living biomass.
  • Key processes
    • Nitrogen enters ecosystems primarily through bacterial nitrogen fixation.
      • Some nitrogen is fixed by lightning and industrial fertilizer production.
    • Ammonification by bacteria decomposes organic nitrogen.
    • In nitrification, bacteria convert NH4+ to NO3?.
    • In denitrification, bacteria use NO3? for metabolism instead of O2, releasing N2.

    The phosphorus cycle

  • Biological importance
    • Phosphorus is a component of nucleic acids, phospholipids, and ATP and other energy-storing molecules.
    • It is a mineral constituent of bones and teeth.
  • Biologically available forms
    • The only biologically important inorganic form of phosphorus is phosphate (PO43?), which plants absorb and use to synthesize organic compounds.
  • Reservoirs
    • The major reservoir of phosphorus is sedimentary rocks of marine origin.
    • There are also large quantities of phosphorus in soils, dissolved in the oceans, and in organisms.
  • Key processes
    • Weathering of rocks gradually adds phosphate to soil.
    • Some phosphate leaches into groundwater and surface water and moves to the sea.
    • Phosphate may be taken up by producers and incorporated into organic material.
    • It is returned to soil or water through decomposition of biomass or excretion by consumers.

    Decomposition rates largely determine the rates of nutrient cycling.

  • The rates at which nutrients cycle in different ecosystems are extremely variable as a result of variable rates of decomposition.
    • Decomposition takes an average of four to six years in temperate forests, while in a tropical rain forest, most organic material decomposes in a few months to a few years.
    • The difference is largely the result of warmer temperatures and more abundant precipitation in tropical rain forests.
  • Like net primary production, the rate of decomposition increases with actual evapotranspiration.
  • In tropical rain forests, relatively little organic material accumulates as leaf litter on the forest floor.
    • 75% of the nutrients in the ecosystem are present in the woody trunks of trees.
    • 10% of the nutrients are concentrated in the soil.
  • In temperate forests, where decomposition is slower, the soil may contain 50% of the organic material.
  • In aquatic ecosystems, decomposition in anaerobic mud of bottom sediments can take 50 years or more.
    • However, algae and aquatic plants usually assimilate nutrients directly from the water.
    • Aquatic sediments may constitute a nutrient sink.

    Nutrient cycling is strongly regulated by vegetation.

  • Long-term ecological research (LTER) monitors the dynamics of ecosystems over long periods of time.
    • The Hubbard Brook Experimental Forest has been studied since 1963.
    • The study site is a deciduous forest with several valleys, each drained by a small creek that is a tributary of Hubbard Brook.
  • Preliminary studies confirmed that internal cycling within a terrestrial ecosystem conserves most of the mineral nutrients.
  • Some areas were completely logged and then sprayed with herbicides for three years to prevent regrowth of plants.
    • All the original plant material was left in place to decompose.
  • Water runoff from the altered watershed increased by 30–40%, apparently because there were no plants to absorb and transpire water from the soil.
    • The concentration of Ca2+ in the creek increased four-fold, while concentration of K+ increased by a factor of 15.
    • Nitrate loss was increased by a factor of 60.
  • This study demonstrates that the amount of nutrients leaving an intact forest ecosystem is controlled by the plants.
  • Results of the Hubbard Brook studies assess natural ecosystem dynamics and provide insight into the mechanisms by which human activities affect ecosystem processes.

Concept 54.5 The human population is disrupting chemical cycles throughout the biosphere

  • Human activities and technologies have disrupted the trophic structure, energy flow, and chemical cycling of ecosystems worldwide.

    The human population moves nutrients from one part of the biosphere to another.

  • Human activity intrudes in nutrient cycles.
    • Nutrients from farm soil may run off into streams and lakes, depleting nutrients in one area, causing excesses in another, and disrupting chemical cycles in both places.
    • Humans also add entirely new materials—many toxic—to ecosystems.
  • In agricultural ecosystems, a large amount of nutrients are removed from the area as crop biomass.
    • After a while, the natural store of nutrients can become exhausted.
    • The soil cannot be used to grow crops without nutrient supplementation.
  • Nitrogen is the main nutrient lost through agriculture.
    • Plowing and mixing the soil increase the decomposition rate of organic matter, releasing usable nitrogen that is then removed from the ecosystem when crops are harvested.
  • Recent studies indicate that human activities have approximately doubled the worldwide supply of fixed nitrogen, due to the use of fertilizers, cultivation of legumes, and burning.
    • This may increase the amount of nitrogen oxides in the atmosphere and contribute to atmospheric warming, depletion of ozone, and possibly acid precipitation.
  • The key problem with excess nitrogen seems to be critical load, the amount of added nitrogen that can be absorbed by plants without damaging the ecosystem.
    • Nitrogenous minerals in the soil that exceed the critical load eventually leach into groundwater or run off into freshwater and marine ecosystems, contaminating water supplies, choking waterways, and killing fish.
  • Lakes are classified by nutrient availability as oligotrophic or eutrophic.
    • In an oligotrophic lake, primary productivity is relatively low because the mineral nutrients required by phytoplankton are scarce.
    • Overall productivity is higher in eutrophic lakes.
  • Human intrusion has disrupted freshwater ecosystems by cultural eutrophication.
    • Sewage and factory wastes and runoff of animal wastes from pastures and stockyards have overloaded many freshwater streams and lakes with nitrogen.
    • This results in an explosive increase in the density of photosynthetic organisms, released from nutrient limitation.
    • Shallow areas become choked with weeds and algae.
    • As photosynthetic organisms die and organic materials accumulate at the lake bottom, detritivores use all the available oxygen in the deeper waters.
    • This can eliminate fish species.

    Combustion of fossil fuels is the main cause of acid precipitation.

  • The burning of fossil fuels releases oxides of sulfur and nitrogen that react with water in the atmosphere to produce sulfuric and nitric acids.
  • These acids fall back to earth as acid precipitation—rain, snow, sleet or fog with a pH less than 5.6.
  • Acid precipitation is a regional or global problem, rather than a local one.
    • The tall exhaust stacks built for smelters and generating plans export the problem far downwind.
  • Acid precipitation lowers the pH of soil and water and affects the soil chemistry of terrestrial ecosystems.
    • With decreased pH, calcium and other nutrients leach from the soil.
    • The resulting nutrient deficiencies affect the health of plants and limit their growth.
  • Freshwater ecosystems are very sensitive to acid precipitation.
    • Lakes underlain by granite bedrock have poor buffering capacity because of low bicarbonate levels.
    • Fish populations have declined in many lakes in Norway, Sweden, and Canada as pH levels fall.
      • Lake trout are keystone predators in many Canadian lakes.
      • When they are replaced by acid-tolerant species, the dynamics of food webs in the lakes change dramatically.
  • Environmental regulations and new industrial technologies have led to reduced sulfur dioxide emissions in many developed countries.
    • The water chemistry of many streams and freshwater lakes is slowly improving as a result.
    • Ecologists estimate that it will take another 10 to 20 years for these ecosystems to recover, even if emissions continue to decline.
  • Massive emissions of sulfur dioxide and acid precipitation continue in parts of central and eastern Europe.

    Toxins can become concentrated in successive trophic levels of food webs.

  • Humans introduce many toxic chemicals into ecosystems.
    • These substances are ingested and metabolized by organisms and can accumulate in the fatty tissues of animals.
    • These toxins become more concentrated in successive trophic levels of a food web, a process called biological magnification.
      • Magnification occurs because the biomass at any given trophic level is produced from a much larger biomass ingested from the level below.
      • Thus, top-level carnivores tend to be the organisms most severely affected by toxic compounds in the environment.
    • Many toxins cannot be degraded by microbes and persist in the environment for years or decades.
    • Other chemicals may be converted to more toxic products by reaction with other substances or by the metabolism of microbes.
      • For example, mercury was routinely expelled into rivers and oceans in an insoluble form.
      • Bacteria in the bottom mud converted it to methyl mercury, an extremely toxic soluble compound that accumulated in the tissues of organisms, including humans who fished in contaminated waters.

    Human activities may be causing climate change by increasing atmospheric carbon dioxide.

  • Since the Industrial Revolution, the concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere has increased greatly as a result of burning fossil fuels and wood removed by deforestation.
    • The average CO2 concentration in the environment was 274 ppm before 1850.
    • Measurements in 1958 read 316 ppm and have increased to 370 ppm today.
  • If CO2 emissions continue to increase at the present rate, the atmospheric concentration of this gas will be double what it was at the start of the Industrial Revolution by the year 2075.
  • Increased productivity by vegetation is one consequence of increasing CO2 levels.
  • Because C3 plants are more limited than C4 plants by CO2 availability, one effect of increasing CO2 levels may be the spread of C3 species into terrestrial habitats previously favoring C4 plants.
    • For example, corn may be replaced on farms by wheat and soybeans.
  • To assess the effect of rising levels of atmospheric CO2 on temperate forests, scientists at Duke University began the Forest-Atmosphere Carbon Transfer and Storage (FACTS-1) experiment.
    • The FACTS-1 study is testing how elevated CO2 influences tree growth, carbon concentration in soils, insect populations, soil moisture, understory plant growth, and other factors over a ten-year period.
  • Rising atmospheric CO2 levels may have an impact on Earth’s heat budget.
    • When light energy hits the Earth, much of it is reflected off the surface.
      • CO2 causes the Earth to retain some of the energy that would ordinarily escape the atmosphere.
        • This phenomenon is called the greenhouse effect.
        • If it were not for this effect, the average air temperature on Earth would be ?18°C.
        • A number of studies predict that by the end of the 21st century, atmospheric CO2 concentration will have doubled and average global temperature will rise by 2°C.
  • An increase of only 1.3°C would make the world warmer than at any time in the past 100,000 years.
    • If increased temperatures caused the polar ice caps to melt, sea levels would rise by an estimated 100 m, flooding coastal areas 150 km inland from current coastlines.
    • A warming trend would also alter geographic distribution of precipitation, making major U.S. agricultural areas much drier.
  • Scientists continue to construct models to predict how increasing levels of CO2 in the atmosphere will affect Earth.
  • Global warming is a problem of uncertain consequences and no certain solutions.
  • Stabilizing CO2 emissions will require concerted international effort and the acceptance of dramatic changes in personal lifestyles and industrial processes.
  • Many ecologists think that this effort suffered a major setback in 2001, when the United States pulled out of the Kyoto Protocol, a 1997 pledge by industrialized nations to reduce their CO2 output by 5% over a ten-year period.

    Human activities are depleting atmospheric ozone.

  • Life on earth is protected from the damaging affects of ultraviolet radiation (UV) by a layer of O3, or ozone, that is present in the lower stratosphere.
  • Studies suggest that the ozone layer has been gradually “thinning” since 1975.
  • The destruction of ozone probably results from the accumulation of CFCs, or chlorofluorocarbons—chemicals used in refrigeration, as propellant in aerosol cans, and for certain manufacturing processes.
    • The breakdown products from these chemicals rise to the stratosphere, where the chlorine they contain reacts with ozone to reduce it to O2.
      • Subsequent reactions liberate the chlorine, allowing it to react with other ozone molecules in a catalytic chain reaction.
      • At middle latitudes, ozone levels have decreased by 2–10% during the past 20 years.
    • The result of a reduction in the ozone layer may be increased levels of UV radiation that reach the surface of the Earth.
      • Some scientists expect increases in skin cancer and cataracts, as well as unpredictable effects on crops and natural communities.
      • Even if all chlorofluorocarbons were banned globally today, chlorine molecules already present in the atmosphere will continue to reduce ozone levels for at least a century.
  • The impact of human activity on the ozone layer is one more example of how much we are able to disrupt ecosystems and the entire biosphere.

    Lecture Outline for Campbell/Reece Biology, 7th Edition, © Pearson Education, Inc. 54-9

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