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What Is Ecological Balance? - Definition & Importance

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  • 0:00 Definition of…
  • 1:28 Examples of Ecological Balance
  • 3:16 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Laura Nappi
In this lesson, we'll discuss what ecological balance is and how it's important for the function of an ecosystem. We'll also explore some examples of ecological balance.

Definition of Ecological Balance

In a society, there are many jobs that help keep it running smoothly. A doctor, mailman, garbage man, waitress, and farmer all play an important role in our society. Similar to a society, species in an ecosystem each have a role in keeping the ecosystem running smoothly. For example, predators keep the population of mice under control, insects pollinate flowers, and worms decompose leaf litter. All species are important and help keep the ecosystem balanced. Ecological balance is a term describing how ecosystems are organized in a state of stability where species coexist with other species and with their environment.

Even if an ecosystem is balanced, that does not mean that no changes ever occur. A windstorm might roll through wiping out a swath of trees, a predator might be overhunted, or a drought might reduce the availability of food resources. These ecological changes are called disturbances. A disturbance is any change that causes a disruption in the balance of an ecosystem.

You can think of ecosystems like a house of cards, with each card representing a species. Each card, or species, is necessary to keep the tower - the ecosystem - balanced, and removing one species can cause a chain reaction felt throughout the entire ecosystem. The good news is that an ecosystem will typically recover back to a balanced state after a disturbance occurs.

Examples of Ecological Balance

Let's take a look at some examples demonstrating the importance of ecological balance:

A great example of ecological balance is the predator-prey relationship between the Canadian lynx and snowshoe hare. When the snowshoe hare population increases, there is more food available for the Canadian lynx. Since there is more food available for the Canadian lynx, its population increases. Since there are more Canadian lynxes, they eat even more snowshoe hares and thereby cause the snowshoe hare population to decrease. When the snowshoe hare population drops, there is less food available for the Canadian lynx. This reduced food availability causes the lynx population to eventually drop. This cycle continues over and over with each species keeping the other species population in check.

A Canadian lynx waits for prey
lynx

A snowshoe hare hides from a predator
hare

Another great example demonstrating ecological balance is the gray wolf living near Yellowstone National Park. In the early 1900s the gray wolf was overhunted to the point of extinction. The wolf was an important thread keeping the ecosystem balanced. When this thread was broken, the entire ecosystem began to unravel.

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