Ecosystem Diversity and Classification

Ecosystem diversity encompasses the broad differences between ecosystem types, and the diversity of habitats and ecological processes occurring within each ecosystem type.

It is harder to define ecosystem diversity than species or genetic diversity because the ‘boundaries’ of communities (associations of species) and ecosystems are more fluid.

Since the ecosystem concept is dynamic and thus variable, it can be applied at different scales, though for management purposes it is generally used to group broadly similar assemblages of communities, such as temperate rainforests or coral reefs.

A key element in the consideration of ecosystems is that in the natural state, ecological processes such as energy flows and water cycles are conserved.

Ecosystem Diversity

The classification of the Earth’s immense variety of ecosystems into a manageable system is a major scientific challenge, and is important for management and conservation of the biosphere.

At the global level, most classification systems have attempted to steer a middle course between the complexities of community ecology and the oversimplified terms of a general habitat classification.

Generally these systems use a combination of a habitat type definition with a climatic descriptor; for example, tropical moist forest, or temperate grassland. Some systems also incorporate global biogeography to account for differences in biota between regions of the world which may have very similar climate and physical characteristics.

Australia and its territories encompass an enormous range of terrestrial and aquatic environments, from polar ice-caps to arid grasslands and tropical rainforests, from coral reefs to the deep sea.

Each of these comprises a great variety of habitats and interactions between and within biotic and abiotic components. For example, the spinifex grasslands of the arid zone encompass both treed and treeless communities.

Within each spinifex tussock itself there are a range of microhabitats. Different species involved in a range of ecological processes such as seed dispersal (for example, by ant species) and nutrient recycling occur within each microhabitat.

The measurement of ecosystem diversity is still in its infancy. Nevertheless, ecosystem diversity is an essential element of total biodiversity and accordingly should be reflected in any biodiversity assessment.

Figure2: Composition and level of Biodiversity

Ecosystem Diversity and Classification

In summary, ecosystem diversity comprises the broad differences between ecosystem types, and the diversity of habitats and ecological processes occurring within each ecosystem type.

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It can be applied at different scales, though for management purposes it is generally used to group broadly similar assemblages of communities, such as temperate rainforests or coral reefs.

A key element in the consideration of ecosystems is that ecological processes are conserved in the natural state.

The classification of the Earth’s immense variety of ecosystems into a manageable system is a major scientific challenge, and is important for management and conservation of the biosphere.

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