Select your language

Suggested languages for you:
Log In Start studying!
StudySmarter - The all-in-one study app.
4.8 • +11k Ratings
More than 3 Million Downloads
Free
|
|

All-in-one learning app

  • Flashcards
  • NotesNotes
  • ExplanationsExplanations
  • Study Planner
  • Textbook solutions
Start studying

Human Impact on Ecosystems

Save Save
Print Print
Edit Edit
Sign up to use all features for free. Sign up now
Human Impact on Ecosystems

Humans (Homo sapiens) are a species that walks upright and has a large, complex brain with a capacity for the use of tools, language, symbolic expression, and culture. Since the evolution of our species, we have been creating environmental changes through subsistence and, within the past 10,000 years, agricultural practices (such as clearing land and selective breeding).

However, most of the significant changes and alterations to ecosystems have occurred within the past century. At present, we continue to change our environment through rapid urbanization, industrialized production, and global trade.

Here we will discuss the impact of human activities on ecosystems: what these activities are, how ecosystems are negatively affected, and what practices are being done to mitigate these negative effects.

positive and negative human impacts on ecosystems

Human activities have a significant impact on ecosystems, affecting biotic and abiotic factors alike.

An ecosystem is a biological community composed of all living organisms (biotic factors) and their interaction with the physical environment (abiotic factors).

Biotic factors are living organisms such as animals, plants, and fungi that exist within an ecosystem.

Abiotic factors are non-living chemical and physical environmental conditions such as temperature, water, wind, light, and chemical composition that exist within an ecosystem.

By affecting both biotic and abiotic factors, human activities can significantly alter or compromise the function and balance of ecosystems. Let’s discuss a few examples of things that humans do that put tremendous pressure on the environment.

What are the negative impacts humans have on ecosystems?

Human overpopulation

Humans use natural resources –whether for subsistence, trade, or other social, economic, and cultural activities. The exploitation of natural resources can put pressure on the species that depend on these natural resources for their survival.

For example, the extraction of timber in forest ecosystems can deprive organisms that live in trees of their food and shelter.

With the growth of the human population, these impacts are amplified. The widespread loss of species diversity in the past centuries can be attributed to the explosive growth in the human population: from approximately 1 billion in 1850 to over 7.8 billion in 2020. The world's population is projected to grow to 10 billion by 2050.

Additionally, while our technology has advanced such that our food and medicine can increase the lifespan of humans, the challenges caused by human overpopulation increased as well.

Pollution

Many human activities–especially when not properly regulated or managed–create pollution.

Pollution is the introduction of pollutants into the environment. Pollutants are substances that cause undesirable changes in the environment.

Pollutants can be natural or man-made. Natural pollutants include volcanic ash, soot, salt spray, and natural gas. These come from natural activities such as volcanic eruptions, petroleum seeps, and forest fires. Man-made pollutants include garbage, agricultural runoffs, and industrial waste.

Pollution can cause undesirable changes in the air, water, and land alike, which generally harm organisms by altering environmental conditions, to which species respond differently.

Agriculture and fishing

Early agriculture enabled our ancestors to settle in one area and cultivate their own food. This involved clearing tracts of land, domesticating plants and animals, and introducing non-native species to new areas. Clearing land has led to habitat loss, grazing animals has led to the decline in native grasses, and breeding cattle has led to changes in the composition of atmospheric gasses.

On the other hand, the introduction of species where they do not naturally occur (whether deliberately or by accident) can cause competition with the native species. Although the introduction of non-native speciesdoes not necessarily cause harm, it can be a problem if it causes damage to the ecosystem by outcompeting native species for resources necessary for survival, carrying parasites or diseases, or altering abiotic factors such as soil chemistry in the ecosystem.

Such non-native species that cause harm are called invasive species.

Fishing is also a vital source of food and livelihood for humans. However, fishing can be unsustainable and can destroy marine ecosystems. Overfishing has depleted fish populations all over the world.

Besides the extraction of fish itself, fishing can also indirectly affect fish and other marine life. Lost or abandoned fishing gear can cause seabirds (Fig. 1) and marine animals to get entangled and deep-sea corals to get damaged. The discharge of ballast water (water contained in the cargo holds and ballast tanks of ships that are used to stabilize ships during a voyage) can also unintentionally introduce invasive species. Additionally, some fishing methods such as bottom trawling and dredging can destroy natural seafloor habitats.

Human Impact on Ecosystems, Albatross chick entangled in abandoned fishing net, StudySmarter

Figure 1. This albatross chick sits on a small abandoned fishing net. Many sea birds like this albatross chick and other marine life can get entangled in abandoned nets. Source: NOAA/National Marine Sanctuaries, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

Examples of human impact on ecosystems

We have discussed some human activities that cause a significant impact on ecosystems. This time, let’s discuss how specific ecosystems are affected by different human activities. We will discuss forest, aquatic, and mountain ecosystems as our examples.

Human impact on forest ecosystems

Many forest ecosystems are affected by human settlements and logging.

Tropical forests which are one of the most diverse habitats on the planet– have long been used by humans for settlement and the extraction of natural resources. In modern times, many tropical forests are subject to land conversion for use as farmland, urban settlements, industrial production, and other human activities.

Land use has caused massive habitat loss and fragmentation (where a large habitat is divided into smaller, isolated habitats). In fact, over half of the tropical forests that existed in the early 1900s have already been destroyed. The destruction of tropical forests generally causes a decline in the abundance and diversity of species that inhabit them.

In addition to tropical forests, temperate broadleaf forests which are found in temperate climates have also been heavily settled on by humans. Almost all of the original deciduous forests in North America have been affected by logging and land clearing for agriculture and urbanization.

Likewise, northern coniferous or boreal forests which are forests that contain cone-bearing evergreens have not been heavily settled by humans but they are affected by logging (Fig. 2), mining, and hydroelectric development projects.

Human Impact on Ecosystems, Logging causes habitat loss, StudySmarter

Figure 2. Habitats like this old-growth forest in Armenia are destroyed by human activities. Source: Serouj (courtesy of Hrayr Savzyan), CC0, via Wikimedia Commons.

Human impact on aquatic (freshwater and marine) ecosystems

Aquatic ecosystems include freshwater habitats like rivers, wetlands, lakes, and swamps as well as marine habitats like oceans, coral reefs, and marine benthic zones.

Lakes have been impacted by agricultural runoff and the dumping of waste.

Agricultural runoff is the surplus water from farms that contains or picks up natural and man-made pollutants such as pesticides, fertilizers, and sediments as it travels toward bodies of water. Both can cause algal blooms, the overgrowth of algae that depletes water of oxygen and potentially kills fish.

Coral reefs have been affected by overfishing and the collection of coral skeletons; such activities have caused an alarming decline in coral and reef fish populations. Global warming and pollution which can cause changes in the temperature, salinity and chemical composition of water have also been contributing to the death of many corals. This is because when water temperatures get too high or when there are other changes that put stress on the symbiotic relationship between corals and microscopic algae, the microscopic algae leave the coral tissue and the coral slowly dies.

Human impact on mountain ecosystem

Mountain ecosystems consist of living organisms that can be found on the slopes of mountains. Mountains provide a wide range of habitats that vary with the gradation of mountain slopes: from harsh environmental conditions at higher altitudes to forests, savannas, deserts, or other habitats at lower altitudes.

Human activities that have caused a significant impact on mountain ecosystems include logging, mining, livestock grazing, and energy production. Human activities that use high mountains such as skiing can also cause physical disturbance to the ecosystem.

What are the positive impacts humans have on ecosystems?

In the previous sections, we have discussed various negative impacts of humans on ecosystems. This time, let’s discuss a few human activities that have a positive impact on ecosystems.

Conservation refers to the efforts done to manage natural resources and prevent the loss of biodiversity. Conservation practices include waste management as well as the protection of threatened species and habitats.

Waste management refers to the systematic collection, treatment, and disposal of waste.

Waste management can contribute to conservation by preventing pollution and reducing waste that ends up in landfills and water systems. This includes strategies such as reusing, recycling and composting.

The protection of threatened species and habitats is done by preventing or regulating potentially destructive human activities such as hunting, mining, and logging and by promoting sustainable activities such as reforestation, ecotourism, and community-based resource management.

Human Impact on Ecosystems - Key takeaways

  • By affecting both biotic and abiotic factors, human activities can significantly alter or compromise the function and balance of ecosystems.
  • While humans have been creating environmental changes since the emergence of our species, most of the significant changes and alterations occurred within the past century.
  • Some examples of things that humans do that put tremendous pressure on the environment are human overpopulation, pollution, agriculture, and fishing.
  • Conservation refers to the efforts done to manage natural resources and prevent the loss of biodiversity.
  • Conservation practices include waste management and the protection of threatened species and habitats.

References

  1. https://www.bbc.co.uk/bitesize/guides/z3y9frd/revision/1
  2. https://www.nhm.ac.uk/our-science/our-work/biodiversity/human-impacts-biodiversity.html
  3. https://onlinedegrees.kent.edu/geography/geographic-information-science/community/human-impact-on-the-environment
  4. https://www.nationalgeographic.org/encyclopedia/pollution/
  5. Campbell Biology Eleventh Edition

Frequently Asked Questions about Human Impact on Ecosystems

By affecting both biotic and abiotic factors, human activities can significantly alter or compromise the function and balance of ecosystems.

Human activities that interfere with ecosystems include agriculture, fishing, logging, and land conversion.

An example of human impact on the ecosystem is the decline in coral and reef populations due to overfishing, global warming, and climate change.

The human activities with the largest impact on forest ecosystems are land conversion for settlement and agriculture, as well as logging.

Humans can positively affect ecosystems through conservation practices such as waste management and the protection of threatened species and habitats.

Final Human Impact on Ecosystems Quiz

Question

What is the impact of human overpopulation on ecosystems?

Show answer

Answer

Humans use natural resources–whether for subsistence, trade, or other social, economic, and cultural activities. The exploitation of natural resources can put pressure on the species that depend on these natural resources for their survival.  With the growth of the human population, these impacts are amplified.  

Show question

Question

What are pollutants?

Show answer

Answer

Pollutants are substances that cause undesirable changes in the environment. 

Show question

Question

Is pollution always caused by humans?

Show answer

Answer

No, pollution can be natural or man-made.

Show question

Question

What impact does agriculture have on ecosystems?

Show answer

Answer

All of the above

Show question

Question

How does livestock production negatively impact ecosystems?

Show answer

Answer

Breeding cattle causes pollution by changing the composition of atmospheric gasses. Grazing animals also cause a decline in native grasses.

Show question

Question

What is agricultural runoff?

Show answer

Answer

he surplus water from farms that contains or picks up natural and man-made pollutants such as pesticides, fertilizers, and sediments as it travels toward bodies of water.  

Show question

Question

What is the impact of agricultural runoff on ecosystems?

Show answer

Answer

Agricultural runoff is considered a form of water pollution as it can cause algal blooms, the overgrowth of algae that depletes water of oxygen and potentially kills fish.  

Show question

Question

What is the impact of the introduction of non-native species on ecosystems?

Show answer

Answer

The introduction of non-native species does not necessarily cause harm, but it can be a problem if it causes damage to the ecosystem by outcompeting native species for resources necessary for survival, carrying parasites or diseases, or altering abiotic factors such as soil chemistry in the ecosystem.

Show question

Question

What do we call non-native species that cause damage to ecosystems?

Show answer

Answer

Invasive species

Show question

Question

What is the impact of fishing on ecosystems?

Show answer

Answer

Fishing can be unsustainable and can destroy marine ecosystems. Overfishing has depleted fish populations all over the world. 


Lost or abandoned fishing gear can cause seabirds and marine animals to get entangled and deep-sea corals to get damaged. The discharge of ballast water can also unintentionally introduce invasive species. Some fishing methods such as bottom trawling and dredging can also destroy natural seafloor habitats.

Show question

Question

What is habitat fragmentation?

Show answer

Answer

Habitat fragmentation is where a large habitat is divided into smaller, isolated habitats.

Show question

Question

How do global warming and pollution cause coral bleaching?

Show answer

Answer

When water temperatures get too high or when there are other changes that put stress on the symbiotic relationship between corals and microscopic algae, the microscopic algae leave the coral tissue and the coral slowly dies. 

Show question

Question

What is conservation?

Show answer

Answer

Conservation refers to the efforts done to manage natural resources and prevent the loss of biodiversity. 

Show question

Question

How can we protect threatened species and habitats?

Show answer

Answer

The protection of threatened species and habitats is done by preventing or regulating potentially destructive human activities such as hunting, mining, and logging and by promoting sustainable activities such as reforestation, ecotourism, and community-based resource management. 

Show question

Question

How can waste management contribute to conservation?

Show answer

Answer

Waste management can contribute to conservation by preventing pollution and reducing waste that ends up in landfills and water systems. This includes strategies such as reusing, recycling and composting.

Show question

Question

What is climate change?

Show answer

Answer

Climate change refers to the changes that alter global weather patterns.  

Show question

Question

What do we call long-term weather patterns in a specific area?

Show answer

Answer

Climate

Show question

Question

What do we call short-term atmospheric conditions of a specific area?

Show answer

Answer

Weather

Show question

Question

What is NOT one of the primary drivers of climate change prior to the Industrial Revolution?

Show answer

Answer

Human activity

Show question

Question

What are the Milankovitch cycles?

Show answer

Answer

The Milankovitch cycles are the effects of small changes in the Earth’s orbit around the sun on global climate.

Show question

Question

How do variations in solar intensity cause climate change?

Show answer

Answer

An increase in solar intensity corresponds to an increase in the Earth’s temperature. Likewise, a decrease in solar intensity corresponds to a decrease in the Earth’s temperature.  

Show question

Question

How do volcanic eruptions cause climate change?

Show answer

Answer

Volcanic eruptions–while these may last only a few days–release solids and gasses that can cause changes in the climate over several years, which are considered short-term climate changes. These solids and gasses include carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide, hydrogen, water vapor, sulfur dioxide, and hydrogen sulfide. 


Volcanic eruptions usually cause a decrease in temperature. 

Show question

Question

How do greenhouse gases cause climate change?

Show answer

Answer

Greenhouse gases trap heat energy from the sun as it strikes the Earth.

Show question

Question

How do human activities cause climate change?

Show answer

Answer

Much of our day-to-day activities that require energy rely on fossil fuels: from heating our homes and running our vehicles to operating large industries and manufacturing sites. Additionally, methane emissions can be attributed to livestock production, the decay of organic waste in landfills, and the burning of natural gas. All of these contribute to the emission of greenhouse gases which trap heat energy in the atmosphere.

Show question

Question

What is glacier recession?

Show answer

Answer

Glacier recession is the shrinking or retreat of glaciers.

Show question

Question

What happens when sea levels rise?

Show answer

Answer

The rise in sea levels will cause shorelines to be engulfed, which will in turn cause islands to shrink and affect the distribution of species that inhabit these areas. Some islands may even disappear entirely.

Show question

Question

What is range shift?

Show answer

Answer

Range shift is a phenomenon where species change the geographic areas that they occupy due to climate change.

Show question

Question

How does climate change cause range shift?

Show answer

Answer

Climate change alters precipitation patterns, making habitats potentially unsuitable for the species that inhabit them. Because of the rise in global temperatures, colder climates will be shifted closer to the poles, forcing species to change the geographic areas that they occupy.

Show question

Question

How does climate change affect human health?

Show answer

Answer

Climate change has serious effects on humans too. Climate change can increase the frequency of extreme weather events such as wildfires, storms, flooding, and drought. These extreme weather events can affect human health by causing shortages in food supplies, contaminating bodies of water (whether for consumption, livelihood, or recreational use), and damaging vital infrastructures. Climate change can also increase the geographic range of vector-borne diseases.

Show question

Question

Can we lessen or reverse the harmful effects of climate change?

Show answer

Answer

While we cannot reverse the harmful effects of climate change overnight, we can lessen the rate of climate change by reducing the emission of greenhouse gasses. 

Show question

Question

True or False: Habitat destruction is not as great a threat as overhunting is to most species in the 21st Century.

Show answer

Answer

False

Show question

Question

True or False: Habitat destruction only has negative effects on wildlife populations, not human populations.

Show answer

Answer

False

Show question

Question

In addition to reasons that habitat destruction affects all species, why are populations of large predators particularly affected?

Show answer

Answer

Large predators may come into greater conflict with humans when habitat is lost, including attacks and predation.

Show question

Question

How might humans be negatively affected by habitat destruction?

Show answer

Answer

Relocation of communities

Show question

Question

Which part of the planet suffers greatest from habitat destruction?

Show answer

Answer

The developing tropics

Show question

Question

What are some natural causes of habitat destruction in modern times?

Show answer

Answer

Hurricanes

Show question

Question

What does the term "anthropogenic habitat destruction" mean?

Show answer

Answer

Man-made habitat destruction

Show question

Question

Why is Botum Sakor National Park experiencing habitat loss?

Show answer

Answer

Foreign companies purchased large areas of land for development.

Show question

Question

What are some of the causes of the fragmentation of the Southern Californian mountain lion population?

Show answer

Answer

Extensive freeway systems.

Show question

Question

What anthropogenic modification threatens the reestablishment of the jaguar in the United States?

Show answer

Answer

The border wall between Mexico and the United States.

Show question

Question

What is vital to the success of solutions to habitat destruction?

Show answer

Answer

Effective enforcement

Show question

Question

How did the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami affect North Reef Island?

Show answer

Answer

It caused the land to become elevated and dry, thus destroying freshwater swamp.

Show question

Question

What is the major cause of mountain lion mortality related to habitat destruction in Southern California?

Show answer

Answer

Roadkill deaths on freeways.

Show question

Question

Why is the region in southern Arizona and New Mexico so ecologically important?

Show answer

Answer

It is an important transition zone between North American and Central/South American wildlife.

Show question

Question

How might agricultural and industrial practices be compatible with wildlife habitat?

Show answer

Answer

Through the use of more sustainable and eco-friendly practices that allow the industries to function as part of the habitat, rather than destroying it.

Show question

Question

Are all introduced species considered invasive species?

Show answer

Answer

No, introduced species must cause or have the potential to cause harm to other species for them to be considered as invasive species.

Show question

Question

What are invasive species?

Show answer

Answer

An invasive species is one which has found reproductive and ecological success in an ecosystem it didn’t evolve in, potentially causing biological and economic harm in the area it has invaded.

Show question

Question

Why are domesticated pigs and cows not considered invasive species?

Show answer

Answer

Because domesticated pigs and cows are intentionally bred under controlled circumstances instead of becoming part of local ecosystems. 

Show question

Question

Species must be __ to be considered invasive.

Show answer

Answer

from a different ecosystem

Show question

Question

Explain how ballast water has unintentionally introduced invasive species to new ecosystems.

Show answer

Answer

Ballast water typically contains thousands of different marine species. When discharged, it can unintentionally introduced species to new ecosystems.

Show question

60%

of the users don't pass the Human Impact on Ecosystems quiz! Will you pass the quiz?

Start Quiz

Discover the right content for your subjects

No need to cheat if you have everything you need to succeed! Packed into one app!

Study Plan

Be perfectly prepared on time with an individual plan.

Quizzes

Test your knowledge with gamified quizzes.

Flashcards

Create and find flashcards in record time.

Notes

Create beautiful notes faster than ever before.

Study Sets

Have all your study materials in one place.

Documents

Upload unlimited documents and save them online.

Study Analytics

Identify your study strength and weaknesses.

Weekly Goals

Set individual study goals and earn points reaching them.

Smart Reminders

Stop procrastinating with our study reminders.

Rewards

Earn points, unlock badges and level up while studying.

Magic Marker

Create flashcards in notes completely automatically.

Smart Formatting

Create the most beautiful study materials using our templates.

Sign up to highlight and take notes. It’s 100% free.