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Protecting Ecosystems

Protecting Ecosystems

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What do Mount Everest (about 30,000 feet high) and the Mariana trench (about 36, 000 feet deep) have in common? Shockingly, it's the plastic waste has been found in both.

The presence of plastic pollution joins the ranks of deforestation, overuse of resources, and climate change as ways that humans are disrupting thriving ecosystems. This global disruption comes at the hefty cost of threatening the lives of many species (including our own!), which is why protecting ecosystems is so significant.

Protecting ecosystems refers to the action of protecting, preserving, and, if possible, restoring ecosystems from the harmful effects of human activity. We will explore the facts and solutions to ecosystem impacts!

  • First, we will look at facts about protecting ecosystems.
  • Then, we will review what ecosystems are and talk about the importance of protecting ecosystems.
  • After, we will give some solutions to help protect and restore ecosystems.
  • Lastly, we will look at the guidelines to protecting ecosystems.

Protecting Ecosystems Facts

Did you know that only 3% of ecosystems across the globe remain undisturbed by human activity, with over 50% of terrestrial ecosystems under moderate pressure from humans? Or what about the fact that 78% of marine life is at risk of choking on plastic, which is sure to rise in 2050 when it is estimated plastic will outnumber the fish in the ocean?

These numbers may not be surprising, given that plastic bags can be found at both the highest and lowest points on earth, but they should open our eyes to the dire need to protect our ecosystems.

Reviewing Ecosystems

Before we can understand how to protect our ecosystems, we must review the basics of what an ecosystem is!

Ecosystem refers to all interactions between biotic (living organisms) and abiotic (nonliving) factors in a particular area.

It can be easy to get habitat, ecosystem, and niche confused. You can think of it like this ecosystem < habitat < niche. An ecosystem is like a city and its people living together, habitat is a specific location within the city, and niche is how a specific person lives within that specific location.

There are two main types of ecosystems: terrestrial and marine. Terrestrial ecosystems are those found on land, while marine ecosystems are those found in the water. Ecosystems can be further studied through the lens of biomes which are geographical locations defined by consistent climates and plant and animal life. Some examples of biomes are grasslands, deserts, and rainforests.

The different parts of an ecosystem interact with each other, so if something happens to one part of the ecosystem, other parts can be affected as well. For example, looking at a food chain can tell us what organisms eat what. If one part of that chain is harmed, you can bet it will have some effect on the rest of the chain.

Let's say on a normal day, grasshoppers eat grass, and rats eats grasshoppers, and birds eat rats. What would happen if the grasshoppers in a specific area are wiped out? As you can imagine, rats might have to move to a different location where there are rats. Then the birds, too, will have less food available and might have to hunt down other prey or, like the rats, move to another location.

This doesn't apply to just the living parts of the ecosystem; changes in abiotic factors can also affect living organisms.

For example, without enough nutrients in the soil, the growth, and development of plants can be affected.

For this reason, we also look at interactions like the nutrient cycle, which describes how energy and nutrients move from living organisms to non-living parts of the environment.

As these examples show us, it is important for balance to be maintained in the biotic and abiotic factors of an ecosystem. Unfortunately, many human activities can disturb this balance. Such activities include:

  • Pollution including water and air;

  • Habitat loss due to deforestation and urbanization;

  • Resource exploitation such as overfishing, overhunting and over mining coal; and

  • Introducing invasive species into ecosystems that cause imbalance and disruption.

Check out "Human Impacts on Ecosystems" to learn about each of these in more depth!

An ecosystem can be described as damaged, degraded or destroyed, depending on the extent of harm done:

  • Damaged means that there is a rapid, short-term harm done to a part of an ecosystem.

  • Degraded means that there is a long-term decline in biodiversity.

  • Destroyed means that there is an unchecked decline that has led to a total or near-total loss of biodiversity.

Protecting Ecosystems Importance

There are countless reasons why protecting the ecosystem is of utmost importance. We will briefly cover three of them and then examine how we can protect ecosystems.

Utilitarian Value of Ecosystem

If you have drunk freshwater today or consumed any food, you already know one of the most important reasons to protect ecosystems….our survival! This is formerly known as the utilitarian value of ecosystems.

Utilitarian values refer to the human-centered view that protecting ecosystems is important because of the benefits and necessities they provide to society. The benefits derived from ecosystems are called ecosystem services.

An easy way to think about this is that we are protecting ecosystems from us for our own sake.

Solutions to Ecosystem Impacts Figure 1: Utilitarian Value of Ecosystems | StudySmarterFigure 1. This diagram summarizes the utilitarian value of ecosystems.

Just like every other living thing, we need ecosystems to survive!

What are examples of ecosystem services? Well, some of the most apparent services are, of course, the ones necessary for life: purification of water, clean air, and pollination for the production of crops. Ecosystems also provide materials and natural resources such as food, timber for buildings, and medicine.

Maintaining Biodiversity

Maintaining biodiversity is perhaps one of the most ecological reasons to protect the environment.

Biodiversity refers to the number and variety of different organisms within an ecosystem.

There are different components of biodiversity: genetic, species, and ecological diversity. All levels are crucial to the development and perseverance of a healthy ecosystem.

  1. Genetic diversity refers to the variability of genetics among individuals within a species. High genetic diversity increases a species' chances of long-term survival, especially in the face of climate change, disease, or any ecosystem disruption.

  2. Species diversity refers to the number and relative abundance of species in a particular area.

  3. Ecological diversity refers to the number of variations of ecosystems in a particular area.

An increase in biodiversity leads to an increase in ecosystem productivity because of a mechanism called functional complementarity.

Functional complementarity means that when there are more species, more niches are occupied.

So the ecosystem becomes more productive. Of course, the opposite is true: a decrease in biodiversity results in lower ecosystem productivity.

That is why for us to continue benefiting from ecosystem services, we must preserve biodiversity that establishes them.

The Intrinsic Value of Ecosystems

Another reason many argue that ecosystems are important is simply because of the intrinsic value they have.

The intrinsic value of ecosystems argues that regardless of the benefits ecosystems give humans, they have value simply because they exist.

Rather than being human-focused, this reason places the environment at the center of its own importance.

Protecting Ecosystem Solution

So, we know why protecting our ecosystems is important, but what are some possible solutions? The typical solution to protecting ecosystems is conservation!

Conservation of ecosystems refers to the protection of and sustainable use of resources within ecosystems.

Common examples of conservation include:

  • creation of wildlife sanctuaries, national parks, and protected areas;

  • restrictions on areas, seasons, and amount of hunting to reduce wildlife killed each year; and

  • government regulations on the use of natural resources and disposal of waste.

Protecting and Restoring Ecosystems

If conservation efforts don't work and significant damage to an ecosystem occurs, there is a shift from conservation to restoration efforts. What’s the difference between the two, you ask?

Restoration efforts aim to halt and reverse the damage to ecosystems by restoring them to their previous condition and increasing biodiversity.

Whereas conservation is an effort to prevent ongoing damage, restoration is an active effort to reverse and restore the damage already done to ecosystems. It can be helpful to think of conservation as implementing safety protocols, while restoration efforts are like administering first aid.

Some examples of restoration efforts include

  • reforestation;

  • removing human infrastructures such as roads and bridges;

  • properly treating sewage in our oceans; and

  • removing invasive species from a habitat.

Solutions to Ecosystem Impacts Figure 2: Conservation Area | StudySmarterFigure 2. The San Pedro Riparian area was designated as a National Conservation Area to protect and enhance the desert riparian ecosystem, the remainder of what was once an extensive network of riparian systems in the Southwest.

Protecting Ecosystems Guidelines

For ecosystem protection and restoration efforts to be successful, here are some tips to keep in mind:

  • Knowledge should be integrated and efforts should cut across different disciplines including ecology, biology, and statistics.

  • The protection and restoration efforts should be tackled systematically. Goals should be measurable and efforts should include management and oversight.

  • Actions that lead to degradation such as deforestation and overuse of resources need to be addressed. This is because degradation is taking place at a much higher rate than restoration.

  • Engagements should take place on local, federal, national, and even international levels. It should also include both land and marine contexts. This is because ecosystem degradation takes place across different contexts.

Protecting Ecosystems - Key takeaways

  • Ecosystems refer to all interactions between biotic (living organisms) and abiotic (nonliving) factors in a particular area. Ecosystems are heavily impacted by human interactions and activities.
  • Protecting ecosystems are important because they play a vital role in the survival of not only humans but all of life
  • They provide necessary services, have intrinsic value, and cultivate genetic diversity
  • Solutions to protect ecosystems fall under two categories: conservation and restoration. Conservation aims to protect the ecosystem through promoting sustainable use of resources while restoration aims to restore ecosystems that have been damaged back to its previous stable condition


  1. Priyanka Chatterjee et al. "Benefits of Biodiversity to Humans," Mission 2015: Biodiversity, 2015.
  2. Beren Goguen. "What is Ecological Restoration and Why is it So Important?" Colorado State University Online. Dec 1, 2021.
  3. Figure 2: Conservation Area (https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:San_Pedro_Riparian_National_Conservation_Area_(26633459561).jpg) by Bureau of Land Management (BLM) Arizona (https://www.flickr.com/people/141771506@N07). Public domain.

Frequently Asked Questions about Protecting Ecosystems

We can protect ecosystems through conservation and restoration efforts. In order to be effective, these efforts should be done on a local, federal, and global level. Examples of conservation efforts include creating wildlife sanctuaries and national parks,  having regulations on the use of natural resources, and even something as simple as recycling. 

Protecting ecosystems is so important because they are not only crucial to our survival but also to the survival of all plants and animals on Earth. Ecosystems provide us with pure air, clean water, food, shelter, and countless other necessities. It is important to protect them because our wellbeing depends on it. 

We can restore ecosystems in various ways depending on the damage done.  We can focus on bringing back healthy vegetation by planting trees and native vegetation in the damaged habitat.  Other ways to restore ecosystems include removing invasive species and properly treating sewage run off.  

Humans can help the ecosystem through conservation, preservation, and restoration efforts. As individuals, we can focus on the basic reduce, reuse, and recycle in our lifestyles to minimize negative effects on the ecosystems. We can join together to create coalitions and organizations specifically aimed at managing ecosystems. 

An example of ecosystem restoration is the reforestation effort of forests.. Reforestation involves planting trees in areas heavily affected by deforestation.  These types of restoration projects are actively happening in places from the Amazon rainforest to local forests across the world. 

Final Protecting Ecosystems Quiz

Protecting Ecosystems Quiz - Teste dein Wissen


List at least three examples of impacts humans have on ecosystems? 

Show answer


  • deforestation
  •  habitat loss
  • pollution
  • overuse of resources
  • introducing invasive species 

Show question


An ecosystem is the interaction between all the ____ and ____ in a habitat. 

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abiotic, biotic

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Which of the following is a possible conservation effort to minimize exploitation of resources?

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 Government regulations restricting air pollution

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______ is a more preventative approach to protecting ecosystems while _______ is trying to bring back ecosystems after damage has been done. 

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Conservation, Preservation 

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High genetic diversity is important because it

Show answer


increases the number of genetically identical species in an ecosystem 

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What are the three reasons protecting ecosystems is important? 

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Utility Value, Maintaining genetic diversity, Intrinsic value 

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Which of the following is an example of an ecosystem service? 

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dispersal of seeds of fruit, flowers, etc. 

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Fighting to protect the ecosystem because of thier inherent right to exist is the ________ value of ecosystems. 

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In restoration ecology, _____ uses living organisms to remove harmful substances, while _____ uses organisms to add needed minerals. 

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Bio augmentation; bio-remediation  

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What is species diversity?

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Species diversity refers to the number and relative abundance of species in a particular area

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An ecosystem with rapid, short-term harm is ____.

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Show question


An ecosystem with long-term decline in biodiversity is ___. 

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Show question


______ values refer to the human-centered view that protecting ecosystems is important because of the benefits and necessities they provide to society. 

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Show question


Explain the concept of functional complementarity.

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Functional complementarity means that when there are more species, more niches are occupied, so the ecosystem becomes more productive. 

Show question


A decrease in biodiversity typically results in _____ ecosystem productivity.

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Show question

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