An ecosystem is an area where all the plants, animals, and other organisms live and work together to generate life on earth. There are three types of ecosystems, i.e., Terrestrial, Aquatic, and Freshwater. Every ecosystem has different characteristics, and each ecosystem is further subdivided into several categories.
All the organisms in an ecosystem work to develop a food chain in the environment in which they live. To start, let’s understand what a food chain is.
What Is A Food Chain?
It refers to transferring energy and nutrients from one organism to another when one organism eats the other at different trophic levels. Such a chain starts with producer organisms who feed on plants and end with decomposer animals.
A simple example of a food chain is as follows: A grasshopper feeds on plants. A mouse eats grasshoppers. Then the mouse is swallowed by snakes, which eagles eat, and when the eagle dies, the nutrients are broken down, which is essential for the land and the soil.
Hence decomposers, in the above example, eagles complete the life cycle process and further provide energy to autotrophs or producers, starting a new food chain.
What Is A Food Web?
An organism at the producer level is eaten by many other animals, and each result in a new food chain. For example, a grasshopper is eaten by rats, birds, or frogs. Bundles of food chains form a food web.
Disruptions in Food Chain or Food Web
A specie may become extinct due to changes in climate change, increased global warming, pollution, or due to some other artificial factors.
Recently, it was observed that many species are becoming endangered or extinct. The increased rate of extinct animals raises the possibility of a specie being completely wiped out from the ecosystem.
What would happen then? Species have started to become extinct at a much faster rate than was expected, and it will lead to ecological destruction. The vegetation, flora, and fauna will start getting disrupted. If a specie is completely wiped out, it will create a complete imbalance in the ecosystem. It will cause biodiversity loss.
A domino effect is when something bad happens and starts affecting all the other things similarly. A domino effect is created when one specie becomes extinct.
It affects all the rest of the animals feeding on them. When a specie goes extinct, it is not only the animals that are affected, but plants are also affected when a fruit-eating animal goes extinct.
Different kinds of birds, reptiles, and mammals eat fruit from plants containing seeds. Over time these seeds land somewhere else where the same plant grows again, and it is ensured that they grow in a good spot.
Extinction affects animals and forms the main cause of destructive situations for humans and plants. But suppose if one or more of these animals becomes extinct, there would be no animal to eat these seeds, and plants lose their function of relocating roots which leads to the extinction of plants as well. It is the kind of domino effect we talked about.
Similarly, if a plant-eating insect is wiped out from the ecosystem, the plant would grow tremendously and be harmful to other vegetation. All the organisms in an ecosystem completely depend on each other as they work together.
What if All the Snakes are Wiped Out?
Snakes are a part of an ecosystem. They play a major role in controlling diseases and providing other animals with energy. What happens when such a dominant reptile is removed from an ecosystem?
For instance, if snakes eat mice, and a situation arises wherein all the snakes disappear, then the mice population will increase dramatically. It will cause a rodent problem which might lead to epidemics like black fever or plaque. It will also lead to a rise in Lyme disease.
Rats and mice carry ticks and lice with them; when snakes eat them, it solves the problem of Lyme disease. However, imagine a situation with no snakes; this would result in the breakout of many issues for society.
Venom is used to make life-saving medicines; every chemical has a different effect on the human body. According to a study, a rattlesnake can eat up to 2000 ticks. Thus, the extinction of snakes leads to the loss of venom.
In the case of a food web, frogs are also eaten by snakes which increases the population of frogs if snakes are extinct. Hence extinction of species will affect all the interrelated food webs, and people of overpopulation will arise.
Additionally, species at higher trophic levels that feed on snakes will also be affected as they lose their energy source. They would starve, which might even lead to the extinction of these species.
It is not a hypothetical situation. According to a recent survey, many species of snakes have started to become extinct. A main and important species such as snakes or polar bears becoming extinct threatens the environment.
Harmful Effects Of Ecological Imbalance
If we wipe out a single species from an ecosystem, it will lead to ecological destruction. It is an actual problem faced in today’s world.
Ecological imbalance leads to the following problems:
• Flooding due to land and soil erosion.
• Deforestation causes habitat loss.
• Loss of rainforest helps prevent droughts, fires, and floods.
• Interference in the food chain and web leads to overpopulation or the domino effect.
• Global warming and increased temperatures.
• Shortage of fresh drinking water.
• Shortage of food for tribals living in some of the rainforests.
• Melting of glaciers.
• Loss of renewable resources, which becomes difficult to renew in the future.
• Greenhouse effect
• Depletion of the ozone layer.
Problem Creators Can be Problem Solvers
Many species are on the verge of extinction due to humans’ unethical use of forest land for their own purposes. Overfarming, overgrazing, overharvesting, overfishing, and overutilization of land are some of the main reasons for biodiversity loss.
Sometimes a specie goes extinct naturally, whereas sometimes, it is caused by human exploitation; it is difficult to find out the reason for extinction, which leads to biodiversity loss. Many species have already started to wipe out; hence it is the need of the hour to protect them at any cost. The government or other officials create many acts and policies to protect these species.
The US Endangered Species Act is an initiative started by the government aiming to protect our species worldwide. Many wildlife sanctuaries, National Parks, and other reserves are developed where they take good care of endangered species. In India, many tiger reserve funds have been gathered to watch them.
The Wildlife (Protection) Act of 1972 aims to punish those who do not follow the rules stated in this act. This act also contains confiscation of any tool used to harm any animal for selfish purposes.
One of the basic tasks humans can do to protect endangered species is to cause less pollution, prevent hunting of animals for selfish purposes, create a cleaner and greener environment, afforestation, and protect animals from mining or construction or any developing activities.
Such changes cannot occur in a day. They need a lot of effort from each individual. It requires building an ecosystem beneficial to every organism living in it. It is becoming difficult for our ecosystem to adjust to the overutilization of natural resources. If we continue to harm our environment, it may become difficult to recover it.
Adjusting To New Normal
Even if a specie were to become extinct, people start adjusting to the new normal. It will cause a lot of inconveniences in the average daily life of an individual, but they become used to it.
Take the example of COVID -19; although, in the beginning, it was a huge trouble for people, with time, people have started adjusting to this new normal. Wearing masks and using sanitizers daily have become a part of our lives.
Before COVID-19, influenza was spreading all around the world. Hundreds of people were dying, but that did not stop the world from functioning. After a while, the world beat this disease, and things returned to normal.
Similarly, the wiping of specie is threatening to life on earth, but it is not the end of it. Countries like New Zealand, Greenland, Iceland, and Antarctica are free of snakes, but lives continue to go on in these countries just fine. It does not mean we should eliminate species from all nations, as this will cause a global problem. We still must protect species on the verge of becoming extinct.
There will be many harmful implications if even one specie is removed from the ecosystem. This goes to show how interconnected our world is and how delicate yet powerful the balance is.