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

Living Environment

Save Save
Print Print
Edit Edit
Sign up to use all features for free. Sign up now

Want to get better grades?

Nope, I’m not ready yet

Get free, full access to:

  • Flashcards
  • Notes
  • Explanations
  • Study Planner
  • Textbook solutions

Turn your head to the nearest window and take a moment to analyze the movement of the leaves or the creatures that fly by. As it happens, yourself and everything you see are part of a Living Environment.

The Living Environment can be seen as biotic and the Physical Environment abiotic. Despite this, they are very much interlinked.

This area of study falls under Environmental Science and touches upon Ecology. It looks at the interaction of living organisms as well as how an understanding of this informs how we as humans can be more sustainable.

The Living Environment (Definition)

The living environment is represented by the space in which organisms (biota) live and interact with each other or with the non-living environment (the abiota).

Plants, animals, protozoa, and other organisms are known as the biota. In order to survive, they interact with non-living elements that support life, known as the abiota, such as air, water, and soil. The living environment is synonymous with “the global ecosystem”, but can be broken down into smaller ecosystems or environments.

Examples of Living Environments (on Earth)

  • Soils, rocks, etc., as the lithosphere.

  • Seas, groundwater, etc., as the hydrosphere.

  • Air, as the atmosphere.

  • Animals, plants, etc., as the biosphere.

  • Glaciers, ice caps, etc., as the cryosphere, which is sometimes included in the hydrosphere.

  • Grasslands, deserts, artificial floating islands, etc., which combine any or all of the above.

Our living environments have been separated into:

  • The Atmosphere: the gas mixture surrounding the planet
  • The Lithosphere: the crust and upper mantle, thus, the rocky layer of the planet
  • The Hydrosphere: the water present on our planet in all its forms, including the Cryosphere
  • The Biosphere: all living things

The Living Environment Role and Function

The roles and functions of our living environment are multifaceted. The presence of life on Earth has not only brought modifications to the climate but has also enabled our evolution. Many environments have now become plagioclimax communities or are facing degradation due to human intervention, but they continue to offer important services and resources.

It is essential to conserve natural areas and encourage biodiversity to ensure continued habitation for all organisms on Earth.

FunctionsExamples
Unique resources Timber (pinewood), fuel (biological oils), food (edible mushrooms), fibres (wool), medicine (peppermint), gene banks, etc.
Ecosystem services Planetary homeostasis through the mediation of biogeochemical cycles, freshwater filtration through soil and sediments, interspecies relationships such as pollination and seed dispersal, soil quality maintenance such as through detritivorous earthworms, pest control with positive effects on human life quality, etc.
Life-enabling Our planet’s living environment is the only one that we know can harbour life, for now.
Cultural, spiritual, recreational

New methods of intra-species communication, such as speech and writing, inspired by other species, trophy-hunting when used to fund ecology projects, etc.

Plagioclimax communities are human-altered ecosystems that have been prevented from developing further, or which have reached a natural climax prior to human intervention but then developed new species after the interventions. Plagioclimaxes can form when humans suppress fires, for example, leading to an accumulation of fuel and a build-up of heat; or when shrub grassland is prevented from forming, by grazing.

Planetary homeostasis refers to the regulation of a planet's environment by its natural systems. This includes the moderation of a planet's temperature, keeping its atmosphere in balance, and helping renew its resources.

How the Living Environment Came to Be

Several hypotheses have been used to explain the origins of life.

According to the panspermia hypothesis, life may have been caused by extraterrestrial microscopic life carried onto Earth through falling space debris and meteorites.

Another theory is that life originated exclusively from the chemical reactions during the primordial exhalation of the Earth, which led to the production of amino acids and other organic compounds.

There is no universally accepted theory for how life on Earth first appeared. Life on Earth developing from non-living matter is known as abiogenesis. It is possible that both panspermia and abiogenesis led to life on Earth. Space itself (interplanetary, interstellar, etc.) is an environment. Some people believe it is a yet undiscovered living environment, but it would be one of the most extreme we know of.

No matter how life originated, we know that all of Earth’s systems have contributed to it. Let us have a more detailed look at each system below.

The Lithosphere as a Living Environment

Let's start with the Big Rock - the Earth's beginnings. Some 5 billion years ago, the earth began accumulating stellar materials and debris in its orbit. These include elements such as iron and nickel.

Skip to 0.5 billion years later and the intense surface heat causes heavy metals to melt and aggregate into a core, which also sustains the magnetosphere. This produces a very geologically and tectonically active planet.

We think that the Earth remained abiotic for another 0.7 billion years, until the first signs of life appeared in the form of bacterial communities. These communities were discovered in 3.7 billion year old rocks. At this point, the key was turned: Earth had become a living environment.

Future discoveries could change our definition and perception of what constitutes life and a living environment, and how we can identify them.

One way in which we learned about the first signs of life on Earth (biosignatures) was through the use of sophisticated technology (spectroscopy instruments) that interpreted a type of carbon molecule (isotope) left by living matter (cyanobacteria) in rock formations (stromatolites).

The Atmosphere as a Living Environment

Up to about 2.2 billion years ago, the major atmospheric gases were carbon dioxide (CO2), water vapour, and nitrogen (N2). The first two were produced by volcanoes plus evaporation from the oceans with the help of solar radiation (insolation). At the same time, water was maintained liquid by the atmospheric pressure of around 1 bar. This is about the same as on Earth today, which is approximately 1.013 bar.

As life developed, photosynthetic bacteria, followed by algae and plants, started to consume CO2, sequestered or locked it in their cells, and then released oxygen (O2) as a by-product1.

In the past few centuries, the biggest gas-emitting sources have come from anthropogenic activities, especially from the utilization and burning of fossil fuels. This predominantly releases CO2, CH4, and nitrous oxides (NOx) into the atmosphere, as well as particulate matter (PM).

The anthropogenic activities causing atmospheric changes include coal and oil burning, as well as the combustion of crops, trees or grasslands. Driving on surfaces like tarmac also raises the PM count significantly as the weight of vehicles and high temperatures slowly erode the materials beneath the wheels. Tyre dust particles also contribute to climate change.

Several flying species may exploit the atmosphere and its air currents more than others. Some spend most of their life in mid-air, such as the common swift (lat. Apus apus), while others such as Rüppell's griffon vulture (lat. Gyps rueppelli) have been seen flying in the lower stratosphere.

The Hydrosphere as a Living Environment

Meteorites are often formed of or contain ice, and it is believed that their entering into the atmosphere has brought significant amounts of water over Earth’s history.

The Earth's orbital sphere is just the right distance from the sun to allow for liquid water, which is essential for all known life forms. Without liquid water, early life would have not been able to develop and survive on our planet. It is also an ideal medium for dissolved minerals and gases. Water on Earth absorbs vast quantities of heat and heat-trapping gases like CO2, helping keep global temperatures in check.

The hydrosphere can be defined by water acidity (pH), temperature, and cyclicity, and is also affected by anthropogenic activities such as introduced species, deliberate eradication or chemical runoff.

Water is abundant but uneven across the globe. This makes water resources highly valuable to industry (paint and coating manufacturers), agriculture (irrigation), domestic life (washing water) as well as wildlife (potable sources).

Coral polyps are long-lived organisms (invertebrates) that remain sensitive to climate change (indicator species). A colony of black coral (Leiopathes annosa) found in Hawaii was estimated to be about 4,265 years old2. Even small but definite changes in water pH and turbidity can cause deep-sea corals colonies to die in a few months, when on average they could live up to a few hundred years.

Living Environment Health, Ecology and Energy Flow

Other elements contribute to the living characteristic of our environment. Energy in the form of chemicals flows constantly between producers (e.g. plants), consumers (e.g. plant-eaters) and decomposers. This is called a food chain, system, or web.

Sometimes, chemicals can accumulate in nature, through processes known as:

  • bioaccumulation: usually accumulating in one organism over time through absorption

  • biomagnification: usually accumulating in multiple organisms after predation

Mercury is a toxic metal, known to bioaccumulate and biomagnify in marine organisms. Economic tuna species are prone to accumulating high levels of mercury in their tissues, which they cannot easily excrete. Being a staple food choice in different parts of the world, such as Japan, the problem of mercury bioaccumulation in fish has also been the target of human medical research.

Humans recognize the negative aspects of these processes, and institute laws to protect fauna, flora, fungi, etc. from harmful human activities or natural disasters. These can be summed up as:

  • Conservation and management: IUCN Red List, The Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981

  • Climate change adaptation: The Great Green Wall of Sahel3, Climate Adaptation Scilly4

  • Climate change mitigation: BNG UK 20215, the phasing-out of fossil fuel vehicles

The following two can be part of general conservation and management, or listed on their own:

  • Breeding and releasing programmes: Bison Rewilding Plan

  • Habitat creation: Endangered Landscapes Programme in the Southern Carpathians

All of this can be a lot to take in! Why not test your knowledge on some of the questions below:

If you were to go to a forest or woodland and pick up a rotting piece of wood, how many biotic and abiotic elements would you be able to identify?

You may be surprised to know that in the UK, a single rotting oak log can accommodate more than 900 individual invertebrates from forty different species6. And that’s without counting lichens, mosses, fungi, amphibians or other organisms!

As humans, we depend on the living environment to survive. The food we eat, the air we breathe and the water we drink all come from the living environment. The quality of our food, water, and air have a direct impact on our health and quality of life. Our food supply depends on healthy ecosystems. Our built environment has the capacity to influence life. Let’s see if you can answer the following question:

Would you be able to create a list of the effects that a hydroelectric dam can have on the living environment?

The commissioning and placement of a hydroelectric dam on a river can influence the following abiotic factors in a living environment: alluvial deposits quantity, soil compaction degree, the volume and speed of river water flowing, usually expressed in cubic meters per second (m3/s). The living environment’s biota influenced by this type of construction can consist of migratory fish species, crustacean diversity, or humans living downstream from the hydro central.

In its geologic history, both rapid and slow changes have occurred in the living environment. Rapid changes are typically correlated with extinction events, as they occur at rates faster than species can adapt. Species affected by such events can be grouped into:

  • Keystone species: their disappearance affects the whole food web of a region, e.g. European rabbit O. cuniculus.

  • Endemic species: found only in specific geographical areas, e.g. red grouse L. lagopus scotica.

  • Highly distinct species or of commercial interest: often needing strong regulations to avoid over-exploitation, e.g. South African abalone H. midae.

Living environment standards

How or why would species be affected by a changing living environment and climate, one might ask?

There are certain environmental standards that need to be met for the biota to successfully reproduce (reach sexual maturity), thus ensuring species continuation, and for the Earth's systems to maintain certain temperature, atmospheric, pressure, or humidity thresholds, or bring a cyclical quality to them. Some of the most important standards for life on Earth are:

  • Water quality and availability (ex, impacted by human drainage)
  • Light levels (ex. impacted by vegetation clearance)
  • Gas levels, especially of oxygen and carbon dioxide (ex. impacted by eutrophication)
  • Nutrient availability (ex. impacted by agricultural practices)
  • Temperature (ex. impacted by concrete-covered ground)
  • Natural disaster occurrence (ex. volcanism)

Hopefully you now have a greater understanding of the living environment and why it is so important for us to understand it!

The living environment - Key takeaways

  • Highly specific intra- and extraplanetary conditions in the formative stages of Earth's development allowed life to develop and survive.
  • Physical and chemical exchanges between the major earth systems which are the land, water and atmosphere sustain the living environment.
  • Human interactions with their environment are significant enough to produce measurable changes in Earth's systems.
  • Research, critique, data collection, spatial analysis, observations and knowledge progress allow for measures to be taken to conserve, protect or enhance the living environment's characteristics.
  • We are part of a distinct global ecosystem that constantly tries to achieve homeostasis.

References

  1. Animal Origins on Earth. https://naturalhistory.si.edu/education/teaching-resources/life-science/early-life-earth-animal-origins. Accessed 26.05.2022
  2. Roark, E. Brendan, et al. “Radiocarbon-Based Ages and Growth Rates of Hawaiian Deep-Sea Corals.” Marine Ecology Progress Series, vol. 327, 2006, pp. 1–14. JSTOR. Accessed 27 May 2022.
  3. Goffner, D., et al. The Great Green Wall for the Sahara and the Sahel Initiative as an opportunity to enhance resilience in Sahelian landscapes and livelihoods. Reg Environ Change 19, 1417–1428 (2019). Accessed 27.05.2022
  4. Climate Adaptation Scilly. https://www.scilly.gov.uk/environment-transport/climate-emergency/climate-adaptation-scilly/climate-adaptation-scilly-faq. Accessed 27.05.2022
  5. Biodiversity Net Gain, gov.uk. https://www.local.gov.uk/pas/topics/environment/biodiversity-net-gain. Accessed 27.05.2022
  6. Fager, Edward W. “The Community of Invertebrates in Decaying Oak Wood.” Journal of Animal Ecology, vol. 37, no. 1, 1968, pp. 121–42. JSTOR. Accessed 27 May 2022.

Frequently Asked Questions about Living Environment

No. Environmental science studies everything that has to do with the environment, such as ecology, and including the non-living parts, such as physical geography. In Biology, on the other hand, a lot of focus would be given, for example, to cell structure and function.  

The living environment is represented by the space in which organisms (biota) live and interact with each other or with the non-living environment (the abiota).

A non-living environment represents the abiota such as water, soils, air, etc. summarized as the lithosphere, hydrosphere and atmosphere.

A good living environment can be summarized as one in which a rich variety of species can grow and multiply or pass on their genes. A more specific definition of a good living environment depends on the species/frame of reference. 

The living environment is an environmental science sub-discipline that teaches us about its role and functions, examples of earth systems, its creation and homeostasis, its ecology and energy flow, and how it influences our development as a species.

Final Living Environment Quiz

Question

Show answer

Answer

The range of species of living organisms interacting in a community.

Show question

Question

Show answer

Answer

It allows ecosystems to thrive through maintenance of important biogeochemical cycles as well as providing food security and resources.

Show question

Question

Show answer

Answer

Climate change, deforestation, habitat destruction, farming and agriculture, urbanisation, hunting, over-farming and over-population.

Show question

Question

Show answer

Answer

Government legislation, habitat restoration, sustainable food production, reduction in global warming, nature reserves.

Show question

Question

Show answer

Answer

The design of materials, structures and systems through modelling processes seen in nature.

Show question

Question

Show answer

Answer

Because the inventions are based on the diversity of nature.

Show question

Question

Show answer

Answer

Many medical treatments are created from natural resources.

Show question

Question

Show answer

Answer

The number of different species in an ecosystem.

Show question

Question

Show answer

Answer

The variety of different habitats within an ecosystem.

Show question

Question

Show answer

Answer

The extent to which individuals are genetically different within a species.

Show question

Question

Show answer

Answer

  • Coordinating global data on biodiversity conservation

  • Increasing understanding of the importance of biodiversity

  • Deploying nature-based solutions to global challenges in climate, food and sustainable

  • Development.

Show question

Question

What is the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981?


Show answer

Answer

This is the primary legislation which protects animals, plants and habitats in the UK.

Show question

Question

Show answer

Answer

  • Timber from wood

  • Plant and animal fibres

  • Fuel

  • Oil

  • Commercial cultivation

  • New medicines

  • Genetic resources

Show question

Question

Show answer

Answer

SSSI, NNR, SAC, SPA, Ramsar sites, MPA, MNR, LNR.

Show question

Question

Show answer

Answer

Cultural services are the non-material benefits people get from ecosystems. They include aesthetic inspiration, tourism, recreation and the more spiritual side of nature and the environment.


Show question

Question

Show answer

Answer

The highest level of organisation and the sum of all earth's ecosystems. It is the thin layer of earth that all living organisms exist within.

Show question

Question

Show answer

Answer

All the biotic and abiotic components that interact within an area at once.

Show question

Question

Show answer

Answer

All the populations that live in the same place at the same time.

Show question

Question

Show answer

Answer

A group of organisms of the same species living together in the same area at the same time.

Show question

Question

Show answer

Answer

The place that an organism lives.

Show question

Question

Show answer

Answer

Non living things (eg. soil, water, air, light, nutrients).

Show question

Question

Show answer

Answer

Living things (e.g. plants and animals.)

Show question

Question

Show answer

Answer

An organism that maintains its body temperature by internal heat production.

Show question

Question

Show answer

Answer

An organism that has a body temperature primarily determined by external thermal conditions.

Show question

Question

Show answer

Answer

An organism that produces organic material from inorganic chemicals and an energy source eg. plants through photosynthesis,

Show question

Question

Show answer

Answer

A species that is restricted to one geographical region.

Show question

Question

Show answer

Answer

The biological community which, through the process of ecological succession have reached a steady state

Show question

Question

Show answer

Answer

The dry weight of living material per unit area.

Show question

Question

Show answer

Answer

The ability to survive to reproductive age, find a mate, and produce offspring.

Show question

Question

Show answer

Answer

The ability to conceive offspring.

Show question

Question

What is coppicing?

Show answer

Answer

Coppicing involves cutting young tree stems to near ground level to form a stool. New growth emerges and after a number of years, the coppiced tree is harvested, and the cycle begins again.

Show question

Question

What is pollarding?

Show answer

Answer

Pollarding is a pruning system that is carried out once trees and shrubs reach a certain height. It  involves the removal of the upper branches of a tree, which promotes the growth of a dense foliage and branches.

Show question

Question

What is grazing?

Show answer

Answer

In agriculture, grazing is a method of allowing domestic livestock to roam around outdoors and consume wild vegetation that is unsuitable for farming on.

Show question

Question

What is a plagioclimax community?

Show answer

Answer

An area or habitat in which the human's influence has prevented the ecosystem from expanding any further.

Show question

Question

How is heather moorland maintained?

Show answer

Answer

grazing and burning

Show question

Question

Why is it sometimes necessary to halt succession?

Show answer

Answer

Often there is a lot more diversity at earlier stages of succession. An ecosystem may support species that are important to conserve and that would die off if the climax community was reached.

Show question

Question

Deflected succession occurs when……

Show answer

Answer

A community remains stable due to human activity preventing further succession.

Show question

Question

Psammosere occurs….

Show answer

Answer

In sand dunes where pants colonise the surface and change the ecosystem.

Show question

Question

What is Ecological succession?

Show answer

Answer

The process of change in species structure of an ecological community over time.

Show question

Question

What is a pioneer species?

Show answer

Answer

Species which are adapted to colonise in inhospitable environments and start an ecological community.

Show question

Question

What is a Halosere?

Show answer

Answer

Salt water (eg lagoons, saltmarshes or tidal mudflats).

Show question

Question

What is a polyclimax?

Show answer

Answer

When many climax communities exist within the same climate.

Show question

Question

What is the simple process of secondary succession?

Show answer

Answer

  • Bare soil is colonised by pioneer plants.

  • Over time, grasses begin to dominate.

  • Shrubs replace grasses.

  • Fast-growing trees begin to appear.

  • Slow growing trees form the climax community.

Show question

Question

In order for organisms to colonise an area, they must be adapted to….. 

Show answer

Answer

severe abiotic conditions.

Show question

Question

Why are pioneer species important?

Show answer

Answer

Pioneer species modify the habitat over time and make the conditions less severe which allows other species to colonise and potentially out-compete the pioneer species which slowly die out. 


Show question

Question

Can key species also be endemic and of high commercial interest at the same time?

Show answer

Answer

Yes. 

Show question

Question

What does biotic mean?

Show answer

Answer

Biotic refers to the lifelike quality of the subject, usually defined by the presence of an organism made of organic matter.

Show question

Question

What does abotic mean?

Show answer

Answer

Abiotic refers to the object-like (non-living, devoid of life) characteristic of the subject.

Show question

Question

How many individual invertebrates & species were found on a rotting oak log in a 1968 study?

Show answer

Answer

900 individuals of over 40 different species.

Show question

Question

Give a local, regional, national or international project example of Wildlife Conservation.

Show answer

Answer

ex. IUCN Red List (International), The Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 (UK)

Show question

60%

of the users don't pass the Living Environment 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.