Essay on Ecological Balance
The emergence of life on Earth and its maintenance is the result of converting a small part of the solar energy in other forms. What are the processes that ensure this converting?
The main group of organisms on the Earth can be considered phototrophic, i.e., bacteria and plants able to photosynthesize. They receive the energy they need directly from the solar radiation and convert it into a form that can be consumed by other organisms. For heterotrophs (many bacteria, fungi, and animals) such form is presented by various organic compounds. Our share of the energy, coming from the sun, comes to us with our food.
Mechanisms that ensure the existence of chemotrophs are more complex. Consider, for example, biocenosis of a “black smoker,” the place at the bottom of the ocean where hot water containing hydrogen sulfide comes out of the depths.
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Where the hydrogen sulfide containing water from the depths mixes with the ocean water containing oxygen, is inhabited by chemotrophic bacteria that get energy by oxidizing hydrogen sulfide. They live not only in water but also inhabit the bodies of large clam and worm-like animals from the type pogonophores, Rift. These and other animals are eaten by crustaceans and even fish. Can we come to the conclusion that such an ecosystem can exist independently of solar energy?
Of course not. The “black smoker” ecosystem uses oxygen dissolved in water, which is the result of photosynthesis. Using solar energy, phototrophs have created a difference of redox potentials between the atmosphere and the subsurface oxygen, which are restorative in nature. That in this difference in chemical potential where chemotrophs derive their energy from. It turns out that somehow phototrophs “are feeding” chemotrophs!
No matter how amazing this relationship between the two groups of organisms is, the most familiar relationship may seem even stranger. Our planet is inhabited by two groups of living creatures.
Each of this group use as resources waste products of the other group. Here, we are talking about autotrophs as a whole (including the phototrophs) and heterotrophs, which correspond to each other, like two halves of a broken plate. Of course, this correspondence cannot be accidental: it reflects an important pattern in the functioning of the biosphere.
Since autotrophs and heterotrophs are inextricably linked, the most important characteristic of the biosphere is the ratio between their main functions: the creation and destruction of organic matter. This ratio is called the ecological balance.
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