We are all connected
We are all connected by a global ecosystem which we all shape, and are shaped by.
Existing in this web of life makes us connected to, and mutually dependent upon our environment, and the species within it. We rely on the organisms around us to perform various functions within the ecosystem such as facilitating energy, nutrient and water cycles which keeps the environment healthy and resources stable. However, for as long as we think of ourselves as independent of the environment around us, it will affect the way in which we treat nature.
We are sometimes not aware of the impact a disappearing species evokes, and may not consider that these consequences will reach us. However, the decrease or loss of a single species can influence the entire ecosystem it is part of. This is because ecosystems exist on the various complex interactions between organisms and their environment, of which we are part of too. Food webs, which define the network and feeding relationships of organisms in different trophic levels, are one example of how everything within an ecosystem is connected, and linked together.
A predator at the top of a food chain for example, occupies a higher trophic level than its prey. As is the case for producing organisms at the base of the food chain, such as plants or decomposers which occupy the lowest trophic levels. Decomposers such as fungi fulfil critical roles in breaking down dead organic matter, once again transforming it into life giving nutrients. If the bottom of the food chain is disturbed, then species relying on it for resources such as food or habitat may be disturbed as well, and possibly go into decline. Hence their disappearance may also lead to the loss of food provision for predators higher up in the food chain.
These effects exist not only from the bottom to the top of the food chain, but also in reverse. This means that when a top predator decreases in numbers, the population control they exude on their prey is no longer as effective. If there are too many individuals of one species, they may overexploit resources they rely on, such as food, and further contribute to tipping over the balance of the ecosystem. One way or another, the ecosystem needs to be in balance in order to remain healthy and stable.
Change in ecosystem dynamics through human interference for example, can therefore easily interfere with species at any trophic level, and cause disturbance. There are various relationships between organisms in an ecosystem, many of them living in symbiosis – organisms may benefit from the company and cooperation of others. They adapt to their environment and to each other, with either both sides, or one side benefitting from the relationship, or one side being exploited by the other. So called “cleaning stations” are an example of a mutually beneficial relationship. These are specific locations that large marine organisms such as sea turtles come to, knowing they’ll find little helpers such as small fish who are willing to rid them of parasites or other debris, in exchange for a meal. The same principle applies to some examples of pollination and seed dispersal, which happen as a consequence of plants presenting animals with a tempting food source near, or enclosing pollen or seeds which are then dispersed when the animal moves onto the next treat. Even in case of parasitism where clearly only one organism benefits, such relationships can, believe it or not, still be beneficial to our environment.
Integral symbiotic relationships
These relationships can be found on many scales and can even be found within our own bodies. We carry friendly bacteria in our digestive tracts without which we couldn’t survive. While we provide a home to these tiny microbes, they help us break down our food and produce vitamins and minerals. Even on this scale, diversity of the species of bacteria matters. The more variety, the broader the range of benefits there are to having them in our system. Exposure to bacteria also allows our immune system to develop, enabling it to fight off diseases. The point is, no matter what life form, we rely on each other.