Fossil Fuels

Fossil fuels are organic substances that are removed from the Earth’s crust and used for energy. The remnants of decomposing biota (mostly plants and animals) 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.

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 contributes to ocean acidification, air pollution and water pollution.

Fossil Fuels Definition


The phrase ‘fossil fuels’ generically refers to hydrocarbon-containing materials formed by the burial of 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 release 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.

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 fossil compounds become buried deeper and deeper underground, they are exposed to increasing amounts of pressure and heat, which transform them 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.

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.

Fossil Fuels Examples

Here are a few examples of fossil fuels, and products that contain them:

  • Propane
  • Butane
  • Peat products
  • Refinery feedstocks
  • Phones
  • Lubricants
  • Insulation
  • Solvents
  • Ink
  • Antifreeze
  • Diesel fuel
  • Motor Oil
  • Gasoline
  • Roofing materials
  • Detergents
  • Clothes made of synthetic fibers; including polyester, polyurethane, acrylic and nylon
  • CDs/computer disks
  • Glue
  • Petroleum Jelly
  • Fertilizers
  • Pesticides
  • Prosthetic limbs
  • Solar Panels
  • Asphalt
  • Cosmetics containing paraffin wax
  • Computer keyboards and monitors
  • Paints

Can Plastic Pollution Cause Climate Change?

An interesting review titled, “The Fundamental Links Between Climate Change and Marine Plastic Pollution”, describes the interactive relationship between climate change and marine plastic pollution. The review’s authors claim that climate change and marine plastic pollution are linked in three ways: a) the production of plastic relies on fossil fuel extraction and is thus a greenhouse gas contributor b) climate and weather influence the distribution and spread of plastic pollution across environments c) marine ecosystems and species are presently vulnerable to both climate change and plastic pollution.

plastic bottle in water

Greenhouse Gas Emissions from Plastic Production

The rise in plastic demand is likely due to its reputation as an inexpensive and lightweight material that has a wide range of uses. Plastic is used for packaging, electronics, toys, utensils, safety gear and infrastructure. Even so, plastic drives greenhouse gas emissions throughout multiple stages of its so-called “lifecycle”, from extraction and refining to transportation, incineration and recycling.

As common plastics degrade, they continue to emit greenhouse gases like methane or ethylene, which intensify ocean warming. Bio-based plastics, plastics made from biomass, are no exception. While bio-based plastics do produce fewer greenhouse gases than conventional plastics, they still release heat trapping molecules during their lifecycles. Degrading plastic products fragment into microplastics and smaller constituents parts that can be toxic to humans and marine organisms.

How Does Plastic Move Around the World?

Climate inevitably influences the movement of plastics between environments. Plastics are circulated by the flow of water and wind. Extreme weather, like floods and windy storms, can move plastics from one system to another. Flooding riverine systems can transport plastics into the ocean; tropical storms from oceans can push plastics into onto terrestrial surfaces. Releasing plastic into the ocean or onto landfills is not the end of that plastic’s life cycle. Plastic and microplastics continue to impact the ecosystems long after they have been disposed of by humans.

How Does Plastic Affect Marine Ecosystems?

Climate change is altering the distribution of many species by subjecting them to novel thermal conditions. When marine habitats heat up, the species within them are usually forced to move to new regions to find more suitable temperatures. Heating oceans also contribute to hypoxic zone and coral bleaching. Plastic, on the other hand, can is ingested by marine species, which can low survival odds. In some cases, marine animals become entangled by plastic products or have their feeding pathways obstructed.

Plastic also potentially facilitates species migrations because plastic debris attracts encrusting organisms and microbial communities. Therefore both climate change and plastic pollution can contribute to species movement between ocean regions. Increased species mobility can bring about invasive species risks.

How Does Plastic In the Ocean Affect Climate Change?

Authors of the review, “The Fundamental Links Between Climate Change and Marine Plastic Pollution”, reason that climate change and plastic pollution are fundamentally linked to one another. Plastic production is heavily dependent on fossil fuel use and the release of greenhouse gases as it degrades in oceans, both of which enhance ocean heating and climate change. Plastic dispersal across environments influenced by climate change-driven extreme weather. Marine ecosystems and species are vulnerable to these threats.

How Has Climate Change Affected Yellowstone Amphibians?

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 continue to heat up and dry out under the influence of climate change, certain amphibians that move across the park are expected to experience 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.

How Has Climate Change Affected Yellowstone National Park Amphibians?

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.

How Did Amphibians Adapt to Their Changing Environment?

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 were 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 expect 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.

Are Amphibians Sensitive to Climate Change?

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 Impacts on Seabirds and Marine Mammals

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 increased with study duration”.

In other words, detecting the influence of climate change on certain species requires long-term observations. Furthermore, the analysis posits that species which had more limited temperature tolerance ranges and relatively longer 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).

Seabird species: Australian Pelican (Pelecanus conspicillatus)

How Does Climate Change Affect Marine Life?

From the 484 peer-reviewed studies that matched 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 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.

What Marine Life Is Most Affected by Climate Change?

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. Reproductive success and adult survival were the most common response variables studied on both taxonomic groups (60% for seabirds and 34% for marine mammals). 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 for all the response classes”. Response classes include demography, distribution, condition, phenology, behavior and diet.

How Does Climate Change Affect Marine Biodiversity?

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).

Ecology of Fungi

Fungi- (singular; fungus) have a true nucleus, meaning that they are eukaryotic organisms and reproduce (both sexually and asexually) by spores. Fungal spores are primarily disseminated through wind. Fungi have crucial ecological roles in transporting nutrients through underground fungal hyphae networks, decomposing dead biomass material and serving as food for some mammals, including us humans. Although, some fungi are poisonous and can cause disease, this serves as a consequence of their vast biological diversity. Fungi come in numerous species and have been found in marine, terrestrial and freshwater environments.

gang of mushrooms growing from soil
gang of mushrooms growing from soil

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.

Is Fungi A Plant or Animal?

Fungi were once thought to be entirely immobile, however, some species have mobile phases. Motility has long been conceptualized as a characteristic inherent to plants. Plants are also known to produce their own food. Fungi are similar to animals in that they don’t produce their own food. Like animals, fungi are heterotrophs; in other words use digestive enzymes to dissolve and integrate nutrients. Also fungi do not share the cellulose found plant cells, instead, fungal cell walls contain chitin, which are polycarbohydrates made from chains of glucose. As counter intuitive as it seems, fungi appear to have striking resemblances to animal organisms rather than plants.

Importance of Mushrooms | What Are The Ecological Benefits of Fungi?

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.

Ecological Community: Networks of Interacting Species

An ecological community is defined as a group 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. The ways in which 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 disadvantage 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 to the other. Other interactions can produce mutual benefits for both species, (+,+). In cases like these, its 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 to 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.

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.

Parasatism

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.

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 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, 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.

bee pollinating white flowers
bee pollinating white flowers

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What Environmental DNA (eDNA) Reveals About Migration From The Ocean Twilight Zone

So-called twilight zones, also known as disphotic zones or mesopelagic zones, house vast populations of unexploited fish and unexplored habitats, which make these aquatic regions extraordinarily interesting to marine researchers and conservationists. Environmental DNA metabarcoding may prove useful for learning about organisms that live down in ocean twilight zones and how these species travel. Equally as important, using environmental DNA for sampling can preserve the ecological processes and fragile species that inhabit these middle ocean zones.

What Is The Twilight Zone?

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.

EDNA Metabarcoding Animal Samples In The Mesopelagic Zone

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

DNA double helix molecule strands
DNA double helix

More On Conservation

There is still much to learn about the carbon sequestration potential, ecological processes and biological diversity profiles of middle ocean twilight zones. Here at eco Treatise, we are quite vocal about the need to protect ecosystems during sampling missions, ultimately disturbing them as little as possible. Sampling techniques like trawling, bait camera trapping and other forms capture carry ethical concerns which could hamper further research.

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

A new study published in Nature sheds light on the roles whales play in marine ecosystems. 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.

whale tail protruding from ocean's surface

Prey Consumption and Nutrient Cycling

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 stomachs of whales (Mysticeti). Once krill has been digested, their iron contents are released back out into the aquatic ecosystem where it floats towards 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.

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 almost infamous 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.

Implications For Restoration

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?

Ecosystems services are benefits to human welfare made possible by processes of the natural world. Modern livelihoods depend on nature for various services, materials and ingredients. Micro-bacteria in marine ecosystems produce oxygen. Plants and soils regulate our climate through capturing and storing carbon dioxide in the air. Wetlands curb flooding for coastal territories. Medicines are pulled from various kinds of plants like sage, ginger, turmeric and aloe vera. Ecosystems play a critical role in managing biological diversity, and supporting the food webs, species abundance and habitat variety which produce ecosystem services.

What then, are ecosystem services? They are natural capital, the biotic and abiotic benefits that people obtain from natural environments, plants, microscopic bacteria and animals. The 2006 Millennium Ecosystem Assessment (MA) outlined four distinct categories of ecosystem services to help map the different kinds of benefits provided by habitats and natural environments. The categories are useful for identifying how an ecosystem service is beneficial, and perhaps hint at the value of the service.

Though it is impossible to put a price figure on nature’s contributions, we may determine the value of an ecosystem service by its utility, either for humanity, other species or the ecological system itself. Categorizing these services is useful for policy and research purposes. Which may be the reason that conservation efforts are usually designed to manage, protect or enhance an environment because human welfare-interests or economic motives. Overuse of an ecosystem’s resources is characterized by accelerated rates of species loss, habitat destruction, deforestation, changes in climate and pollution.

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 qualities made possible by ecological systems. A single ecosystem may encompass multiple types of services or it may offer only one.

managed park garden
managed ecosystem; garden

Provisioning Services

Provisioning ecosystem services are the substantive, or material benefits that humanity derives from ecosystems. This type of service includes raw materials like wood, fresh water, metals and medicinal herbs. Foods too are provisioning services, as they supply communities of people with the nutrients they need. Most human foods are grown on farms, synthesized from natural ingredients or extracted from animal stores. In any case, our foods and medicines are sourced from nature’s processes in some capacity or another.

Regulating Services

Regulating ecosystem services are sometime known as managing services. Services of this type governs various cycles and processes of the ecosystem. Regulating services play essential roles in managing the water cycle, the carbon cycle, soil quality, crop pollination and water purification. Regulating services also moderates 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, health and maturity. As ecosystems mature, they grow more complex, supporting greater profiles of species richness and allow more interactions between organisms. Supporting services refer to an ecosystem’s capacity to sustain various forms of life and the operations that keep the ecosystem functioning.

Cultural Services

Our art, architecture, knowledge, religions, tourism and recreational practices are all influenced by cultural services. Cultural services are the non material contributions that we derive from the natural world.

Environmental DNA Sampling In Conservation

Environmental deoxyribonucleic acid, also known as environmental DNA or EDNA, 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.

tiny frog on forest woods floor
tiny frog in vast woods

Advantages of EDNA in Conservation

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; biological diversity 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 us basic information about occurrence, distribution and abundance of the observed species. The EDNA technique aims to avoid putting unnecessary stress on the environment and species involved. Conservationists, then, can use eDNA to survey species and habitats while doing their part to keep ecosystems intact.

Accuracy and Limitations For eDNA Sampling

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