Ecosystems and the Web of Life

Forests, streams, deserts, and oceans are examples of ecosystems. An ecosystem is the relationship between living creatures and the places they live. For example, some plants, insects, and birds live in the cool pine forests of Maine. Other species live in the desert in southern Arizona. One frog might live in trees while another lives its whole life under a rotting log. Earth is home to an incredibly diverse community of life, with a huge variety of ecosystems. Few of these species would survive by switching homes with another.

Healthy ecosystems provide the world with clean air and water. They also provide us with food, medicine, and shelter. Ecosystems need lots of diversity to do these important jobs. For example, humans depend upon agricultural crops such as wheat to make bread. The crops need water and soil to grow. Healthy soil is alive with microorganisms, bugs, and worms. Soil feeds the plants that eventually feed the humans. The plants also produce oxygen so all life's creatures can breathe. Worms eat the microorganisms. Birds eat the worms. Bird droppings fertilize the soil with microorganisms. There are many more interconnections even in this simple example.

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