An ecosystem is generally understood to be the combination of biological, physical and chemical factors that makes up a particular locality and can be anything from a pond to a rainforest to a desert.
There are two components in an ecosystem, the abiotic components, such as sunlight, temperature, temperature, water or moisture and the soil chemistry, and the biotic, the living organisms from plants to insects, animals to people, all of which interact together.
Ecology is a way of describing how the the various component parts of an ecosystem interact and function whether it is the amount of energy produced by photosynthesis or how energy and materials flow along the food chain.
Energy transfers in a continuous cycle from growth to decay and back throughout an ecosystem and the rate at which it does so depends on a number of factors. However, energy transfer through the food chain becomes more inefficient as it develops from what is called primary producer level (plants) through herbivore primary consumer level and on to carnivore level.
This is all fine when the various elements of an ecosystem are in balance and functioning well together but it doesn’t take much to destabilise it.
Climate changes, such as prolonged drought or rainfall, can affect the balance or a change in the animal population so that perhaps there are too many predators that can be supported in a given area.
Human activity has arguably one of the most significant impacts on an ecosystem in a variety of ways. Once an area of land is being used for a specific purpose, such as farming, it can lead to several problems.
Once populations begin to collect in communities and the economic system depends more and more on urbanised living, along with greater scientific understanding of public health and medicine, the death rate declines and the population begins to grow.
This puts more pressure on those working the land to produce food to become more efficient and again innovations like farming machinery – and eventually methods such as chemical and mineral-based pesticides and fertilisers have to be used to control pests and crop diseases and increase the yield from the land.
Meanwhile ever newer and more “efficient” farming methods create a hostile environment for wildlife, including pests and for their natural predators, perhaps because the areas where they live and shelter such as hedges have been removed to allow for larger farm vehicles to operate efficiently.
Equally too intensive farming means that there is no time for the land to recover and restore nutrients naturally through the cycle of growth and decay. The human population continues to grow as life expectancy and birth rates increase and add to the stress on the ecosystem.
It is the result of many centuries of such “improvements” in food production and in population survival and growth that has led to current worries about food scarcity and the need for farmers to increase food production.
But it has also become clear that increasing food production has to be done in a sustainable way as the drawbacks of previous farming methods have become evident, not only because of the effects of the residues of some of the old generation of fertilisers on human health but also because of the damage that has been caused to the ecosystems in which they have been used.
Hence the current emphasis on sustainable farming methods and integrated pest management but if the world is to support a population expected to reach more than 9 billion by 2050 without further damage to the world’s ecosystems something has to change.
Biopesticides developers have been in the forefront of the search for solutions, researching more natural (aka low-chem) agricultural products – using natural ingredients to create biopesticides and yield enhancers that will both protect the land and help increase yields from the finite amount of land available by minimising the waste caused by crops lost to diseases and predators.
It is the work of such innovators that will hold the key to providing enough food and protecting the land and its vulnerable ecosystems for the future.