biosphere processes

basic ecosystem functions

Dung beetles and their effects on soil

Summary: Favored by managed grazing, dung beetles in Oklahoma buried about 1 ton of wet manure per acre per day (2 metric tons/ha). This increased water infiltration an average of 129% on studied plots. Each extra inch (25 mm) of water absorbed adds 27,225 gallons/acre (254,530 l/ha) of water to the soil, reducing both flooding and drought.

Ecosystem processes: community dynamics

Soil scientist Michael Crofoot has said, "Ecological processes are not only more complex than we think, they are more complex than we can ever think." An understanding and appreciation of the ecosystem as process or processes--water cycle, energy flow, mineral cycle, and community dynamics or succession--allows us to work with, rather than against, the complexity of the ecosystem (Allan Savory, Holistic Management: A New Framework for Decision Making).

Ecosystem processes: energy flow

Solar energy flow is not a cycle, but a flow from the sun to the biosphere. It is one of the four basic ecosystem processes or windows through which we can begin to perceive the ecosystem as a whole. The others are the water cycle, mineral cycles, and community dynamics or ecological succession. Biodiversity, the mass plus the diversity of life, depends on how all of these processes function.

Ecosystem processes: mineral cycles

Carbon makes up about half of the biomass on earth. Carbon is the dominant element in salmon, sheep, Douglas fir trees, and bluebunch wheatgrass.

Carbon cycles between the atmosphere--mainly in the form of carbon dioxide--and the plants and soil. Photosynthesis fixes carbon from atmospheric carbon dioxide in the form of standing plant matter. Respiration and decay at all levels (as well as combustion) release carbon dioxide back into the atmosphere.

Ecosystem processes: the water cycle

Much conventional thinking about the environment tends to separate "parts" of the same whole. In dealing with water problems, for example, we tend to focus on symptoms -- such as flooding, erosion, and riparian conditions -- rather than causes, which are almost always related to the function of the water cycle.

Allan Savory

Basic ecosystem processes--a short introduction

Even a simple ecosystem is very, very complex. In order to work with nature's complexity, we can focus on the fundamental processes that operate in any ecosystem.

Allan Savory
dry riverbed

Researcher sees key role for grasslands in carbon balance

Do plants and animals really work in harmony or are they at war for control of the Earth's climate?

Restoring perennial grasslands

Grazing management for healthy soils


Christine Jones
Fig. 1. A grass plant's roots are about the same size as its top.

Assessing landscape health, Part 2: diagnosis

You learned the basics of landscape assessment in Part 1 of this article. Here's your chance to test your knowledge. How healthy are these landscapes?

Kachana Pastoral Co.
bare ground
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