What Are Some Renewable Sources of Energy


solar panel in field

Renewable energy can be defined as energy that is replenished at a higher rate than it is used. Fossil fuels do not qualify as renewable energy sources under this definition because they are spent more quickly than they are naturally restored. Sunlight, wind, geothermal, and hydropower energies, though, are renewable. Sunlight, wind, geothermal, and hydropower sources are virtually inexhaustible; we will never deplete the global supply. Furthermore, these four energies have fewer related greenhouse gas emissions than traditional fossil fuels.

Solar Energy Renewable

Sunlight is the most abundant source of energy available on Earth. Sunlight can be cheaply acquired and has extremely low emissions outputs. Capturing energy from the sun is accomplished with solar panels. When sunlight impinges on a solar panel, the photovoltaic silicon cells convert light energy into usable electricity. Solar panels’ energy generation process is itself 100% greenhouse gas emissions free. Manufacturing solar panels are, however, associated with some carbon dioxide emissions; according to a study in Nature, solar panels produce emissions as low as 20g CO2 equivalent per kilowatt-hour over their lifetime.

The main disadvantage to solar power: it’s not consistently available at all times, in all places. Sunlight energy varies depending on the time of day, season and year, and geographic location. On the other hand, if installed in the right place and stored properly, the electric energy from solar panels can provide energy to people living in remote areas, without the need for larger energy networks. Therefore, purchasing solar panels could save your household money on its monthly energy bill!

Wind Energy Renewable

Wind energy comes from turbines. The force created by the motion of air turns the turbine’s blades around a rotor, which spins a generator to create electricity. Simply put, the kinetic energy from the wind is collected by wind turbines, converted to electricity, and then stored for later use. The wind is an inexhaustible resource, it will never run out. Though, like sunlight, the wind is not equally available at all times and in all places. The ideal locations for wind turbine installation are windy areas, that have little wildlife, and are far away from populations of people, as wind turbines can be noisy.

Wind turbines are usually hundreds of feet tall and are often installed in groups, referred to as wind farms. Turbines work better in groups so that sufficient amounts of wind energy can be captured over a large distance. For the most part, greenhouse gas emissions from wind energy are quite low, especially relative to those of fossil fuel combustion. The emissions associated with wind energy are a result of manufacturing their parts and materials.



Hydropower Renewable

Hydropower facilities come in four different forms: impoundment, diversion, offshore (seawater), and pump and storage. In each case, the principle is the same, water is energy created by the movement of flowing water which pushes against the blades of a turbine to spin a turbine. Hydropower plants operate similarly to wind farms, in that they convert kinetic energy to electric energy.

Renewable Geothermal

Geothermal energy is heat continuously produced inside Earth. Most of this internal heat is brought on by the spontaneous process of unstable atomic nuclei transitioning into more stable versions of themselves; radioactive decay. The decay of radioactive elements results in a release of heat and happens perpetually in the Earth’s core, meaning that this energy can never be exhausted.

Earth’s internal energy heats up underground sources of water, which rises up to the surface as underwater hydrothermal vents geysers, steam vents, and hot springs. This energy too can be made to turn a turbine generator and generate electricity.

Renewable Biomass

Biomass is an organic source of energy, that is, it’s the material of or from living organisms. Common biomass materials include agriculture feedstocks, grasses, wood, algae, animal manure, and human sewage. Organic material is consistently available and can, in theory, be used indefinitely. The energy contained in biomass comes partly from the carbohydrates that photosynthetic plants have synthesized using sunlight, carbon dioxide, and water. The carbohydrates from plants and animals can be transformed into usable energy when burned (direct combustion) or converted.

renewable biomass wood chips and bamboo

Biomass technically qualifies as a renewable source of energy, but when burned, biomass emits carbon dioxide at rates comparable to fossil fuels for the same amount of generated energy. Unlike burning fossil fuel burning, which releases carbon that’s been stored underground for millions of years or more, biomass burning releases carbon that’s been stored in living organisms, i.e plants, animals, and organic wastes. The carbon dioxide from burned biomass is not moved back into the biosphere as quickly as it is expelled, meaning that biomass combustion is not a carbon-neutral means of energy production.


What Is Weather for Today


Everyone on Earth experiences the effects of weather in some way or another—hot, cold, dry, humid, snowy, or sunny. So it’s worth considering why our planet has the weather that it does.

Weather is broadly defined as the short-term state of a region’s atmosphere. Changes in the atmosphere are influenced by interactions between air temperature, wind, cloud coverage, precipitation, air humidity, air pressure and radiation from the sun. The sun is the primary source of energy for Earth’s weather.

Albedo

Only a fraction of the energy radiated from the sun is absorbed by the Earth. Some of the sun’s energy is reflected back into space due to the Albedo effect. Albedo is the world’s reflectivity of sunlight (heat from the sun). Surfaces that appear white and lightly colored reflect much more sunlight than those that are darkly colored. So the Earth’s albedo is positively enhanced by ice, snow, and clouds.

Earth is estimated to reflect about 30 percent of incoming solar energy. As cloud cover and the total amount of ice and snow change, so too does the planet’s average albedo and temperature.

albedo diagram: sunlight being reflected off snow and cloud

Decreases in snow and ice cover result in decreased average Albedo for Earth and increased global surface temperature.

Greenhouse

Our atmosphere is made up of a thin layer of mixed gases loosely connected to Earth. The most abundant of these gases are nitrogen and oxygen, which are about 99% of the atmosphere’s gases. So-called greenhouse gases, however, are much less present and only appear in trace amounts. Greenhouse gases, including water vapor, methane, carbon dioxide, nitrous oxide, ozone and chlorofluorocarbons, are molecules that absorb and emit heat radiation.

It’s important to note that the greenhouse gases in the atmosphere are mostly heated by the Earth, not the sun. This is because solar radiation interacts with greenhouse gases differently than terrestrial radiation.

The sun’s energy contains visible, shortwave radiation that mostly passes through Earth’s atmosphere because greenhouse gases do not absorb shortwave radiation very well. Shortwave radiation that reaches Earth’s surface is reemitted by Earth as infrared, longwave radiation. Greenhouse gases are highly effective at absorbing longwave radiation. Some of the heat absorbed by greenhouse gases radiates out into space and some of it returns to further heat the Earth.

Of all greenhouse gases emitted by human activity, methane and carbon dioxide contribute most to global warming. Methane has the greatest warming potential, carbon dioxide stays in the atmosphere the longest (for an estimated 100 years). Greenhouse gases, like those produced from burning fossil fuels, reinforce heating in the atmosphere.



Wind

The wind is the movement of air and other particles in the atmosphere. The wind is caused by differences in air pressure. Air pressure, or air density, is the measure of force with which air molecules push on a surface.

Air pressure is closely correlated with temperature (elevation and air moisture are also relevant). Generally, warm air is less dense than cold air. As molecules of air are heated, the space between them expands and creates lower density. Inversely, as air molecules are cooled, they group together more tightly and exert more force on whatever is beneath. If one area heats up more than another, the warmer air will expand and rise, and cooler, more dense air, will rush in to take its place. The speed of the wind is largely determined by the differences between air pressures. Wind flow patterns form circular loops over land and water as temperatures fluctuate continuously between night and day and between seasons.

Precipitation

Precipitation is any water that is pulled down from clouds by gravity. Precipitation may fall as a liquid or a solid. Rain is an example of liquid water fall; hail and snow are examples of solid. Precipitation is a facet of the water cycle, which includes evaporation, condensation, and transpiration.

Standing water on the Earth evaporates because of solar heat and becomes water vapor. In most cases, water vapor in the air is invisible to us. Sometimes, however, we’re able to see air moisture in the form of mist or fog. At this level, water molecules are gaseous. Water molecules do not transition to liquids unless they accumulate in greater numbers on the surfaces of larger particles, such as dust or smoke. This is why dust and smoke particles are examples of cloud condensation nuclei, they allow for a sufficient build up of water molecules for cloud formation. Depending on the temperature of the cloud, precipitation may fall as a frozen solid, or liquid water, or a combination of both.

Liquid water also moves along the ground in rivers and run offs, which gets absorbed by plants and eventually passes back into the air as water vapor.

Temperature

Among other factors, a region’s temperature depends on its elevation and distance from the equator (the imaginary line that divides the Earth into northern hemisphere and southern hemisphere). Both of Earth’s poles (marked with red leading lines on the diagram below) are the furthest distances from the equator that one can go. These two extremes, each of the planet’s poles and the equator are the coldest and warmest places on Earth respectively.

The equatorial region is consistently hot year-round because the sun’s rays always impinge on it from overhead. In other words, sunlight strikes Earth most directly at the equator. At the poles, however, the sun’s ray strike Earth at more acute angles, therefore sunlight is spread over a larger distance, which lessens its heating effect. The greater the surface area energy is spread across, the lower the energy per unit area. This is why the sun’s heat is not fully felt at sunrise or sunset, but rather when the sun is most directly overhead.

Earth is vertically tilted 23.5 degrees relative to its plane of orbit around the sun. So for half the year, the northern hemisphere is tilted away from the sun, while the southern hemisphere is pointed toward the sun. For the remainder of the year, the reverse is true. The polar regions then, experience less direct sunlight due to their 6-month periods of “away-tilt”. The equator has no away tilt periods and instead is exposed to more direct sunlight year-round.

Temperature is also greatly influenced by the presence of region, vegetation, elevation, time of year, distance from the sea, and so on.


How Fossil Fuels Are Formed


Fossil fuels are formed by geological processes acting on the remains of living organisms from millions of years ago. As organic material from deceased plants and animals becomes buried deeper and deeper underground, that material is exposed to increasing amounts of pressure and heat. This heat and pressure transforms underground plant and animal material into coal, natural gas or oil. The form that the ancient remains take depends on the type of organic matter involved, the amount of time its been buried and the degree pressure and temperature. For example, plankton and algae can naturally transition from kerogen to petroleum if given enough time.

In the 21st century, fossil fuels are burned to meet most human energy needs. They also serve as the base for common plastic products, such as shopping bags, car parts, containers, electronics, and clothing. Our reliance on fossil fuels is increasing the net amount of heat energy in the planet’s atmosphere, causing global average temperatures to rise. The resultant greenhouse gases from burning these fuels also contribute to ocean acidification, air pollution, and water pollution.

Fossil Fuels Definition

Fossil fuels are organic substances that are removed from the Earth’s crust and used for energy. The remnants of decomposing organic material naturally create carbon- and hydrogen-plentiful compounds (also known as hydrocarbons) as they become buried, compressed and heated over millions of years. Hydrocarbon deposits are then extracted from underground sources by way of mining, hydraulic fracturing, and drilling. Burning hydrocarbons produces heat energy which powers engines, generates electricity and supports industrial processes.


The energy in fossil fuels comes from the hydrocarbon within them. Those hydrocarbons come from photosynthetic organisms (life forms that use sunlight to synthesize nutrients like oxygen and sugars from water and carbon dioxide). Hydrocarbons are molecules consisting of bonded hydrogen and carbon atoms. The stored energy in fossilized hydrocarbon compounds releases energy in the form of heat when burned. Hydrocarbon combustion, the chemical reaction in which hydrocarbons interact with oxygen, also produces water and carbon dioxide.

Fossil Fuels Used For

Fossil fuels have a diverse range of uses across sectors in civilization. Oil specifically, has byproducts that are used in pesticides and fertilizers. Natural gas is sometimes used to for refrigerating and cooling equipment, and to heat buildings. Coal, perhaps the most abundant fuel source, is critical for the generation of electricity. Fossil fuels may continue to dominate our energy economy because strategies and technologies for their extraction continue to improve.


Amphibians In Yellowstone


A new study published in the science journal Ecology Indicators highlights how environmental changes in Yellowstone National Park are leading to habitat loss for some amphibian species. As Yellowstone continues to heat up and dry out under the influence of climate change, certain amphibians that move across the park are expected to experience a loss of habitable zones. Authors of the study predict that continued climate change will “reduce snowpack, soil moisture, and forest cover” and diminish wetland habitats throughout Yellowstone National Park.

Will Amphibians Survive Climate Change?

Amphibians are ectothermic, meaning that they absorb heat from external sources in their environment to regulate their body temperatures. That being the case, hotter temperatures are potentially beneficial to amphibians in certain microclimates. Microclimates are small, restricted sections of an area that have different climatic states relative to the surrounding space. Warmer microclimates can help amphibians survive through the winter or forage for provisions during the day. However, warming temperatures that also drive dryer air and soils can limit amphibians’ ability to rehydrate while traveling cross stretches of land.

Amphibian hydroregulation is likewise dependent on factors in their environment, as they are unable to control water evaporation from their bodies. Amphibians require humidity and sufficient water availability to avoid dehydration. Terrestrial habitats that lack moist soils and forest cover from direct sun exposure can impede amphibians’ thermo-hydroregulation abilities.



Research Method and Design

Researchers of the amphibian-Yellowstone study mechanistically modeled the movement of amphibians within the park for the years 2000, 2050, and 2090 to gauge the “costs” (disadvantages) to amphibians under the influence of climate change. Model simulations included data relating to Yellowstone’s vegetation, weather, and details about animals’ morphology and physiology. Western Toads (Anaxyrus boreas) were used as the subject species for the model. Inferences were then made about other amphibians native to the park.

The results were mixed across the three “test areas” which were modeled; in one of the test areas, physiological movement costs increased, decreased in the second, and was mixed in the last. Authors of the study “predict that climate change will reduce the physiological costs for toads in some regions of YNP but increase them in others”. Snowpack loss and drying conditions throughout portions of Yellowstone may shrink wetlands, which could limit breeding sites for toads and make travel between breeding sites more costly. Other amphibian species are expected to experience worse consequences from warming and drying climates than toads. For example, Boreal Chorus Frogs (Pseudacris maculata), are less resistant to desiccation than toads because they are more dependent on wetlands for water and moisture.

Conclusion Drawing

Strictly speaking, warming conditions do not affect all amphibians in Yellowstone National Park the same. Variations in weather and vegetation cover brought on by climate change may make moving across the stretches of land that surround wetlands more costly for some amphibian species, particularly those less tolerant to dry habitats.


Climate Change Affecting Animals


Australian Pelican (Pelecanus conspicillatus)
Seabird species: Australian Pelican (Pelecanus conspicillatus)

A new review published in Ecology Letters, a peer-reviewed scientific journal, assessed seabird and marine mammals’ responses to climate change and climate variability. Researchers based their analysis on data from more than 480 preexisting studies and found that “the likelihood of concluding that climate change had an impact [on either marine mammals sea birds] increased with study duration”. In other words, studies that include data from longer lengths of time are going to be most useful for measuring climate change’s effects on the observed species.

Research Method and Design

From the 484 peer-reviewed studies that matched the researcher’s inclusion criterion, 2,215 observations were compiled into a database and mapped. This includes 1,685 observations for seabirds and 530 observations for marine mammals. 54% of observations for seabirds were distributed towards the northern hemisphere (39% of observations from temperate and polar regions). For marine mammals, 83% of observations were distributed toward the northern hemisphere (53% of observations from temperate and polar regions). For both seabirds and marine mammals, tropical and subtropical regions represented a mere 8% of total observations.

Authors of the preexisting studies found 38% of total observations to be related to climate change, 49% were attributed to climate variability, and 13% were attributed to both. Climate change refers to the long-term changes in weather patterns, typically over decades or longer, while climate variability is usually thought of as day-to-day shifts in weather.

According to the new review, “a significant majority of observations concluded that climate change had an effect on both the seabird and marine mammal groups across all the response classes”. Response classes include demography, distribution, condition, phenology, behavior, and diet. The analysis also states that species that had more limited temperature tolerance ranges and relatively long generation times were reported to be most affected by changes in climate. Generation times are temporal intervals between the birth of an individual organism and the birth of its offspring.

Conclusion Drawing

The longer the duration of the original studies, the more likely authors were to infer that the observed changes in taxonomic groups were due to climate change rather than climate variability. 189 of the preexisting studies (669 observations) that demonstrated climate change effects had a time span above the estimated average threshold of 19 years. Generally, studies on marine mammals were able to demonstrate climate change responses based on shorter time scales (17± 5 years) versus seabirds (22 ± 3 years).


Is Fungi Prokaryotic or Eukaryotic


gang of mushrooms growing from soil

As counter intuitive as it seems, fungi appear to have striking resemblances to animal organisms. Fungi have a true nucleus, meaning that their cell’s are encased in a membrane, as is the case with all eukaryotic cells. Prokaryotic organisms, on the other hand, have cells that lack a nucleus.

Fungi were once thought to be entirely immobile, however, some species have mobile phases. Mobility has long been a characteristic associated with animals. Fungi also do not produce their own food. Like animals, fungi are heterotrophs; meaning that they use digestive enzymes to dissolve and integrate nutrients. Finally fungi do not share the cellulose found plant cells, instead, fungal cell walls contain chitin, which are polycarbohydrates made from chains of glucose.

Fungi Evolution

According to a 2020 study from the Université libre de Bruxelles posits that the first mushrooms evolved on Earth between 715 and 810 million years ago, predating other estimates by roughly 300 million years. The fossilized remains of mycelium in sediments leads Steeve Bonneville, leader of the study and professor at the Université libre de Bruxelles to believe that microscopic mushrooms were associated with early plant predecessors.

However, the origin of fungi are still quite mysterious. Estimates range in the true number of mushroom species that exist, as very few of them have been identified. Recent research suggests that as many as 5 million or more fungal species may exist. John Todd, Canadian ecologist and author of “Healing Earth” asserts that fungi evolved from Protists – one of the six kingdoms of life – about 1 billion years ago. The long history of fungi are telling of their evolutionary adaptability throughout Earth’s climatological and biological changes.



What Are The Ecological Benefits of Fungi?

Fungi have crucial ecological roles in transporting nutrients through underground fungal hyphae networks, decomposing dead biomass material, and serving food for some mammals, including us humans.

The mutualistic symbiotic relationship between plants and photosynthetic organisms – a symbiosis known as mycorrhiza – is one of the most vital support systems for plant growth, including aquatic vegetation like algae. In a mycorrhizal interaction, the fungal mycelia extend a network of hyphae to channel water and nutrients like phosphorous and nitrogen to plant root systems underground. In exchange, mushrooms benefit by receiving sugars produced by plants.

Fungi in the saprophyte grouping are important because they act as decomposers in most ecosystems that they are part of and recycle organic matter. Many fungi draw nutrients from dead or decaying content (particularly carbon- and nitrogen-containing compounds) and use specialized enzymes to break down complex molecules, these nutrients are then released into soils and plants. In doing so, fungi accelerate the rate at which deceased organic material degrades and is reabsorbed into the ecosystem by plants and bacteria.


Types of Interactions Between Species


Competition

Competition (-,-) is an interaction in which organisms of two or more species use the same resource. Any given resource will be limited, and may have significant costs for either of the organisms involved.

Predation

Predation (+,-) is an interaction that involves one species eats (and in some cases also hunts) another (the latter species is often called prey). Some ecologist extend the term predation to include herbivorous consumption. This is because the general principle at play is one species is consuming another.

Commensalism

Commensalism (+/0) is an interaction in which organisms from one species are able to benefit at no cost to the other species that it is interacting with.

Parasitism

Parasitism (+,-) is characterized by the benefit of one species at some cost or harm to members of the a targeted species. Its common for parasitic organisms to live inside, or otherwise attach themselves to the targeted organisms (sometimes called hosts).

Mutualism

Mutualism (+,+) occurs when both of the involved species benefit from the interaction, which may motivate a long term association between them. We explore an example of this type of interspecific interaction below.



An ecological community is defined as a group of species that inhabit the same place and interact with each other in various combinations. In ecology, communities are the biotic components of an environment, including its Archaebacteria, Eubacteria, Fungi, Protista, Plantae, and Animalia, these are the six known kingdoms of Earth’s biosphere. The organisms that share a close genetic heritage and/or can potentially interbreed to create offspring are generally considered to be of the same species.

Groups of species that inhabit the same area are referred to as populations; ecological communities consist of all the interconnections among species populations. Just like the abiotic factors in an environment – like weather or availability of water – species interactions contribute to natural selection pressures. Natural selection determines which organisms live long enough to reproduce and which do not. Interactions shape the environment and the evolution of species through time.

Community ecology as a discipline seeks to answer questions about how species interact and what drives their patterns of diversity and distribution. How species interact can range greatly. Species exchange nutrients, consume one another, compete for resources like sunlight and space, and help each other out in some cases. There are five main types of interactions between species: competition, predationmutualismcommensalism, and parasitism. These labels are known as interspecific interactions, and they represent how species are affected by other species that they deal with.

Some interactions result in benefits for one species group and disadvantages for the other interacting species group. This interspecific interaction can fit into the parasitism category or the predation category. Interactions of this sort can be simplified as (+/-); the “+” represents the benefit for one species while “-” refers to the detriment of the other. Other interactions can produce mutual benefits for both species, (+,+). In cases like these, it’s not uncommon for there to be a sort of coevolution at work, where both species have evolved specific adaptations to facilitate the services that they provide while also benefiting themselves. We can apply + and – to further depict how species are affected or unaffected by their relationships with one another: competition (-/-), predation (+/-), mutualism, (+/+), parasitism (+/-), and commensalism (+/0). Commensalism is an example in which one species gains some benefit while the other species loses nothing but also gains nothing.


Ecological Community Interaction Example

The relationship between pollinators and plants is a classic example of a mutualistic relationship (+,+) that is rooted in a long and intimate coevolutionary relationship. Pollinators visit flow after flower to collect pollen and other nectars which the pollinator uses as food. Bees are a classic example of pollinators. Bees, like other pollinators, benefit by feeding on nectars and pollens for nutrients. Plants benefit by having their pollen efficiently distributed to other flowers of the same species, this is one way in which flowers pollinate, and another way is by wind-carrying pollens between male and female flowers. Pollination plays an essential role in plant reproduction. Once a female part of a flower (stigma) receives pollen from a male portion (anthers), fertilization can take place.

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The Ocean Twilight Zone


DNA double helix molecule strands
DNA double helix

The twilight zone is a layer of water depth that is penetrated by significantly less light than what can be found closer to the water’s surface. For this reason, the twilight zone is cold and quite dark, making it unsuitable for most photosynthetic plant species. Twilight zones can be found around the world and are not unique to any specific body of water. According to National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the twilight zone can be found at a depth of about 200 meters to 1000 meters (650 to 3,300 feet) beneath the water’s surface. This layer range is below the water’s photic layer- the sunlit area, and just above the midnight range.

While some species spend their lives in undisturbed depth range known as the twilight zone, many animals move in and out of it. Species of fish, squid and plankton likely swim in darkness to find food or to keep away from predators. These traveling organisms can potentially carry environmental DNA signatures with them.

A new study by researchers, Elizabeth Andruszkiewicz Allan, Michelle H. DiBenedetto, Andone C. Lavery, Annette F. Govindarajan , and Weifeng G. Zhang simulates the physical conditions that cause environmental DNA samples to move through the twilight zones.

Their conclusion: environmental conditions like currents, wind, and mixing do not significantly impact the vertical distribution of DNA samples. To be precise, their computer generated model demonstrates that eDNA samples didn’t move beyond a 20 meter range of where it was released into the environment. If this model reflects the actual conditions of marine ecosystems in twilight zones, perhaps changes eDNA concentrations can be used to determine which fish species are present at a sea depth or how long species spend at varying depths. This has groundbreaking implications for tracking marine species travel patterns and migration more generally in aquatic ecosystems.

Vast populations of unexploited fish and unexplored habitats can be found in twilight zones, also known as disphotic zones or mesopelagic zones, which make these aquatic regions extraordinarily interesting to marine researchers. Environmental DNA may prove useful for learning about organisms that live down in ocean twilight zones and how these species travel. Also, using environmental DNA for sampling can protect the ecological processes and species that inhabit these middle ocean zones.



Conclusion Drawing

There is still much to learn about the carbon sequestration potential, ecological processes and biological diversity profiles of middle ocean twilight zones. Ecosystems must be protected during sampling missions and disturbed as little as possible. Sampling techniques like trawling, bait camera trapping and other forms capture carry ethical concerns which could hamper further research efforts.

Twilight zones likely provide ecological services to the network of species that migrate in and out of them, and more permanent inhabitants. In order to preserve full ecological function and avoid disturbing species, researchers will have to prioritize more minimally invasive sampling techniques. Sampling approaches that are minimally invasive to species and ecosystems are more likely to win over public approval.


Whales As Ecosystem Engineers


whale tail protruding from ocean's surface

A new study published in Nature sheds light on the roles whales play in marine ecosystems. Baleen whales are the largest carnivorous marine mammals, so naturally, they feed on tremendous amounts of krill, zooplankton, and other prey. Krill is turned over in the stomachs of whales (Mysticeti). Once krill have been digested, their iron contents are released back out into ocean ecosystems, where it floats toward the water’s surface due to water pressure. Iron-rich excrement yields nutrients for phytoplankton, which are microscopic plants that use photosynthesis to make energy.

Phytoplankton are then consumed by other creatures in the environment, including krill! Krill feed on the phytoplankton that grow using the nutrients from recycled metabolized – recycled – krill. In other words, baleen whales populations perpetuate nutrient cycling. At one level, krill are consumed by whales. Subsequently, whale waste supplements phytoplankton growth, which helps sustains krill populations.

By comparing the prey consumption more than 300 tracked whales in this new study to per-capita consumption estimates from the early 20th century, researchers were able to reason that southern krill populations has to be considerably higher than they are today. Whales were found to eat up to three times more krill and other prey than previous assessments have supposed.

Research Method and Design

Researchers used metabolic models to estimate whale feeding volumes. Whale tagging and acoustic acoustic measurements were used to calculate whale prey densities in the Atlantic, Pacific, and Southern Oceans. Their results suggest that previous assessments greatly underestimated baleen whale prey consumption. Further, researchers reason that larger whale populations would add to the “productivity” of marine ecosystems by perpetuating iron recycling.



Researchers were able to determine how much whales eat by tagging individual whales by attaching electronic devices on their backs. These electronic devices carry cameras, microphones and of course, GPS locators. These electronic tags, in conjunction with acoustic measurements of prey biomass, informed researchers on whale eating cycles and intake volume. Of course, prey intake varies between different species of whale.

The Krill Paradox

The famous krill paradox refers to the mystery in marine ecosystems regarding the removal of large predators, like whales. When whales are hunted, and their populations consequently decrease, so do the population sizes of krill. This perplexes researchers because they intuitively expect krill populations to grow wildly in the absence of whales which eats thousands of tons of krill daily. Instead, the opposite is true: as whales are removed from the ecological system, krill populations shrink. The new study illuminates exactly why this phenomenon occurs. Krill depend on whales to produce nutrients for the microscopic plants that they eat. Declines in whale species members leads to fewer iron being sent toward the water’s surface in the form of whale excrement. Which ultimately contributes to less plentiful meals available for krill populations.

Conclusion Drawing

The conclusions of this study may have potential for marine ecosystem restoration efforts. Conserving or enhancing marine ecosystems will not only demand limits on whale hunting, but also for the deliberate effort of whales, and likely other influential species. Species like whales are evidently essential for the continued functionality of the ecosystem that they are enveloped in.


What Are Ecosystem Services?


managed park garden
managed garden ecosystem

Ecosystems are natural capital, the biotic and abiotic benefits that people obtain from their environment, animals, plants, soils, and micro-bacteria.

Micro-bacteria in marine ecosystems, for example, produces breathable oxygen. Plants and soils help regulate climate by capturing carbon dioxide in the air and storing it underground. Wetlands reduce flooding risks in coastal territories. Medicines are extracted from plants like sage, ginger, turmeric, and aloe vera. Animals are hunted for food.

The 2006 Millennium Ecosystem Assessment (MA) outlined four distinct categories of ecosystem services to help map the different kinds of benefits provided to human populations. The categories can help us identify what advantages are gained by people and suggest the value of the service. Though it can be difficult to put a price on nature’s contributions, estimates are somewhat determined by the service’s utility, either for humanity, other species, or the ecosystem itself. Categorizing ecosystem services can inform policy and be implemented in conservation research.

Four Types of Ecosystem Services

There are four main types of ecosystem services: provisioning, regulating, supporting, and cultural. Each one of these classifications describes unique outputs made possible by ecological systems. A single ecosystem may produce multiple types of services at once.

Provisioning Services

Provisioning ecosystem services are the substantive, or material benefits from an ecosystem. This type of service includes raw materials like wood, fresh water, metals, and medicinal herbs. Foods too are provisioning services that are grown on farms, synthesized from natural ingredients, or extracted from animals.

Regulating Services

Regulating ecosystem services are sometimes called managing services. These services govern the cycles within an ecosystem. Regulating services play essential roles in managing the water cycle, the carbon cycle, soil quality, crop pollination, and water purification. Regulating services are those that moderate climate and the intensity and frequency of weather events.

Supporting Services

The natural processes within ecosystems are part of the ecosystem’s own continued survival and maturity. As ecosystems mature, they can grow more complex, support greater profiles of species richness and allow novel interactions between organisms to develop. Supporting services refer to an ecosystem’s capacity to keep itself functioning over time.

Cultural Services

Cultural services are the nonmaterial contributions that we derive from the natural world. Around the world, people rely on nature for their sense of cultural identity, including art, architecture, and recreation.


Environmental DNA


EDNA (Environmental DNA) sampling is a method of surveying distribution patterns and population sizes for species within an ecological community. EDNA makes use of genetic deposits that organisms leave behind. Ecologists use hair, fecal matter, feathers, and any other forensic-like evidence that they can find in an environment. Using EDNA to sample populations is minimally invasive and does not involve extracting genetic material directly from the targeted organisms. Anthropogenic disturbances continue to plague ecosystems the world over, affecting species abundance, species variety, migratory patterns, and habitats.

Without biodiversity measurements, conservations can’t know how which species are being lost, or how species populations change over time. Measuring biodiversity is not as simple as measuring force or distance; biodiversity can be understood in a multitude of ways. For example, some researchers use species richness -the total number of different species – to quantify diversity. Others may count the number of individual organisms of each species in an area. What’s important is that the community being sampled gives researchers basic information about the occurrence, distribution, and abundance of the species being observed. Using environmental DNA can avoid putting unnecessary stress on the environment and species involved. Conservationists, then, can use environmental DNA to survey species and habitats while doing their part to keep ecosystems intact.

Sampling builds our knowledge of species and how they are distributed which informs conservation projects and environmental policy. Environmental DNA can carry information about the life of the organism involved, like other creatures it may have interacted with or what foods may be part of its diet. This may not always be possible by photographing species. While it may be possible by capturing and tagging animals, these methods present other limitations.

Some species are simply difficult to detect. This could be because the species itself may be incredibly small, or its population sizes are spread thin, making the targeted species too elusive to observe by conventional means. Sampling with EDNA can eliminate limitations associated with capturing species, photographing them, or tracking them. However, EDNA can not be used to determine population quality information such as bodily features and sex ratios. Therefore, DNA retrieved from environments must be used in conjunction with other detection techniques in some cases.


Mycorrhizae


Mycorrhiza is a term that refers to the mutually beneficial exchange between plants and fungi which takes place underground. The interconnections between fungal mycelium and plant roots is perhaps one the most vital symbiotic relationships for life on Earth. Once mycelium fills the tight spaces between plants roots, it can exchange nutrients like phosphorous and nitrogen in exchange for sugars that the plants produce. This relationship is advantages for both species.

What Is Mycelium?

Mycelium is the subgroup of bacteria that spreads in thin (thinner than plant roots) wiry branches underground. Mycelium has been likened to the underground root systems that connect communities of plants together. However, mycelium branches are made of groups of hyphae, which are the primary means of growth for fungal lifeforms. Hyphae allows nutrients to be assimilated from various sources.

Mycelium provides the protein glomalin which acts as a binding agent for soil, making its aggregate particles stick together and more resistant to rain or wind erosion. By enhancing soil health, glomalin makes plants more likely to grow through adverse conditions. Farmers often use glomalin to improve crop production and increase water retention in plant roots. As if that weren’t good enough, glomalin may also aid in carbon dioxide (CO2) absorption in soils and plants by enhancing overall water retention.