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In this lesson you will learn how humans have damaged various ecosystems on the planet and how a branch of ecology, restoration ecology, aims to restore these ecosystems.

You will discover the main goal of restoration ecology as well as some of the ways habitats are restored.

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Background

Human actions affect the environment every day. We clear land for buildings and agricultural use. Humans can alter habitats by breaking them into smaller chunks when we build a road. This is called habitat fragmentation. We overfish the oceans for high-demand food items and dam streams and rivers to redirect water flow.

All of these practices have damaged, degraded or destroyed natural habitats and ecosystems.Ecosystems are delicately balanced, and one small change will drastically affect the ecosystem as a whole. The actions of humans have changed the balance of numerous ecosystems to the point where they cannot survive without help. Examples of a few ecosystems that have been degraded by humans to the point where they could die off include coral reefs, wetlands and forests.Humans overfish large predators such as sharks, which change the population dynamics on the reef. Additionally, humans damage coral reefs by constantly hitting the reef with boat anchors and scuba fins as well as kill the reef with sediment from agricultural runoff.

Wetlands are filled in and forests are chopped down, a process called deforestation, for land to build on.

Definition

The practice of renewing and restoring an ecosystem or habitat in an environment that has been altered by humans is called restoration ecology. The goal is to help accelerate the recovery of an ecosystem so it no longer needs to be monitored.There are many different facets of restoration ecology, and they include practices such as erosion control, reforestation and revegetation (or replanting the native species of plants), removal of non-native species and reintroduction of native species.

The overall goal of restoration ecology is to restore an ecosystem to a point where it is self-sustaining, meaning that the ecosystem maintains itself with no outside help or influence.

Why Restore?

Natural ecosystems and habitats provide humans with an abundance of services and resources that you may not think about. The oceans give us food and the forests can give us wood to build with. Ecosystems also perform vital processes such as naturally cleaning the air and water, regulating the climate, pollinating crops and detoxifying and decomposing wastes.Additionally, habitat loss is the leading cause of species extinction, meaning they no longer exist anymore.

By eradicating numerous habitats, humans are causing species to go extinct at a rate that is estimated to be 1,000 to 10,000 times faster than a naturally occurring rate.Why should we care about species extinction? Simple. Recall from the beginning of the lesson that ecosystems are delicately balanced. If we eradicate one species in an ecosystem, the other species will eventually die off as well, which causes the ecosystem to die off entirely. In order to keep an ecosystem alive and thriving, we need to protect the organisms that reside within it!

Lesson Summary

Humans are directly responsible for the decline and decimation of many habitats and ecosystems on Earth. Humans chop down trees for land to build on, a process called deforestation, and alter natural populations by habitat fragmentation.

Destroying and/or damaging these ecosystems can have detrimental effects on the organisms that inhabit them. Restoration ecology is a science that aims to restore ecosystems that have been damaged by human actions by replanting native species of plant and trees, removing non-native species and reintroducing native species to their natural habitats.The overall goal of restoration ecology is to create a self-sustaining ecosystem, which remains healthy and repairs itself versus needing outside help. Ecosystems provide humans with food and building materials as well as help keep our environment clean and healthy.

Destroying these ecosystems not only harms the animals and plants that live within them but humans as well.

Learning Outcomes

After seeing this lesson, you may recognize that the destruction of many ecosystems is caused by human behavior such as overfishing and deforestation. You could identify some endangered ecosystems and point out the goal of restoration ecology as a result of studying this lesson’s information.

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