Ecologists group together the living things in an ecosystem by their feeding habits. Producers use photosynthesis to make food by harnessing the energy of sunlight. Consumers eat plants and each other. All organisms produce waste that is recycled by decomposers. The interactions of these organisms create a food web.
Humans often disturb ecosystems for their own benefit, either harvesting ecosystem resources or removing unwanted pests. Examples include logging in a tropical rainforest, hunting sea otters for their fur in Monterey Bay, exterminating prairie dogs in South Dakota or eradicating wolves in Wyoming. These disruptions disturb the food web, and they can have unforeseen consequences to abiotic and biotic components of the ecosystem.
Watch this video to see the changes in Yellowstone National Park with the reintroduction of wolves to the food web: Yellowstone National Park: Wolf Cascade.
Recommended: Click on the following links to review materials to enhance your knowledge of ecosystems, disturbance, and recovery:
- Yellowstone Ecosystem Needs Wolves and Willows, Elk and…Beavers?
- Urchins and Kelp Forests on the West Coast of America
- Soil Erosion Due to Rainforest Deforestation
- To Aid Ferrets, Vaccine Treats Planned for Prairie Dogs
Design an imaginary food web or describe a real one. Include at least 4 living organisms that interact in your ecosystem.
Answer the following questions about the food web you designed/described:
- Explain what would happen to the other members of the food web within your ecosystem (choose a, b, or c):
- if a top predator were removed
- if a key producer disappeared
- if a primary consumer were exterminated
- Explain possible effects to the abiotic components that result from the disruption of your ecosystem.
- How can the damage or change to your ecosystem be repaired?