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Station 4: Ecological Balance


General Information

Balance is an important factor for both mankind and his natural environment. It is only through balance and stability that a viable and healthy forest can develop. Massive encroachments from outside forces can have unforeseen and grave consequences that can bring the forest habitat out of its ecological balance. Significant intrusions into the forest, such as, for example, deforestation resulting from the commercial production of lumber, or the clearing of entire woodlands to make way for agricultural use, deprive animals of the basis of their existence. This can be so extreme as to threaten certain species with extinction.

Funkctionality of the Station

Test your equation while you're balancing above the obstacles. It's really tough! The way, that you lose your balance, the forest can even lose its balance by human influences.

1. General informations

Ecology is a sub-discipline of biology; it seeks to explore the interrelationships between species and their environment. Environment, as defined in the field of ecology, refers to the totality of all factors that affect a life-form and are significant to its existence [].

2. Ecological Balance

There are diverse interrelationships between an organism and its own intraspecific community as well as between it and other species. Consumers of the first, second and third level (herbivores, carnivores), that is to say, members of the higher levels of a food chain, can only exist when their species-specific diet is generated or supported by other members.

The ecosystem of the forest is an assembly of diverse constituent habitats. There are many connections between the existing food chain and the food webs of the constituent habitats that make up the forest. The complex relationships between primary producers, consumers and decomposers (organisms that break down organic substances, e.g. bacteria and mushrooms) run parallel to one another.

Ecological balance is the result of many simultaneous processes taking place within the constituent habitats. These processes are continually placed under pressure from disturbances, such as, for example, the falling of old and rotten trees or the occurrence of a flood. These events invariably commence chain reactions.  In many constituent habitats there is relative stability, which is the result of continuous fluctuation of abiotic and biotic factors. This relative stability of an ecosystem can also be called ecological balance.

Ecological balance is based on the fundamental principle of self-regulation. The more species-rich the community or ecosystem is, the more stable the community or ecosystem will likely be. Natural processes such as natural disasters can disturb the stability of an ecosystem, but above all, today it is the repercussions of human activity that are most disruptive. Through these human disturbances an entire ecosystem can break down entirely. Because of this grave danger, the preservation and protection of ecosystems is a decidedly important task, both on the national and international level [].

3. Ecological Pyramid

Feeding Relationships

In an ecosystem there are a great number of various dependencies and interrelations at play between individual factors. Disturbances of these relations can severely impair the entire ecosystem. Feeding relationships are especially meaningful in this regard.

Feeding relationships can be sub-divided into food chains and food webs. A food chain is a linear arrangement of organisms, nutritionally dependent on each other. In food webs individuals from certain species feed on individuals from a variety of other species. A food web is composed of various interrelated and interconnected food chains assembled together [].

4. Primary Producers, Consumers, Decomposers

Organisms that are in part made up of chlorophyll (such as certain types of bacteria, algae, moss, ferns and seed plants) are generally placed at the beginning of feeding relationships. These life-forms can produce organic materials (for example glucose) from inorganic materials. Through this process they give off oxygen. For this reason they are given the name primary producer.

Life-forms that do not contain chlorophyll are nutritionally dependent on the organic materials provided by the primary producers. Life-forms that consume this organic material (amongst others humans, mushrooms and animals) are referred to as consumers.

The consumer group is sub-divided into three main types. Herbivores are known as primary consumers, as they derive their nutrition directly from the producers (plant matter). Animals that subsist on the herbivores themselves are called secondary consumers or carnivores. Tertiary consumers are those that sustain themselves through feeding on other carnivores (secondary consumers).

Organisms that can convert organic materials into inorganic materials are known as decomposers. The foundation of their nutrition is provided by dead organisms or excretions of living organisms. The dead remains of all organism types are processed by decomposers, and converted into inorganic materials such as water, carbon dioxide, mineral substances, etc. These substances are released into the ground and water, and can be subsequently used by producers for nutrition. The diverse vital activity of the decomposers is enormously significant for an ecosystem [].