Aquatic Ecosystems & Abiotic Factors

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  • 0:00 Aquatic Ecosystems
  • 1:55 Abiotic Factors Of…
  • 4:56 How Abiotic Factors…
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: David Wood

David has taught Honors Physics, AP Physics, IB Physics and general science courses. He has a Masters in Education, and a Bachelors in Physics.

In this lesson, you will learn what aquatic ecosystems are. You will also learn about the abiotic factors that affect them, from light levels, to flow rate, to salinity.

Aquatic Ecosystems

When you look at the planet Earth from a distance, what do you see? The first thing an alien might notice while flying by our planet is its color: Earth is the blue planet because it's covered with water. In fact, 71% of Earth's surface is water, so the aquatic ecosystems found here are a big part of the cycle of life.

An aquatic ecosystem is an ecosystem that is found in water. There are many types of aquatic ecosystems: rivers, lakes, ponds, wetlands, shallow seas and deep oceans. There are marine ecosystems found in saltwater seas and oceans, and freshwater ecosystems found in rivers and lakes. Humans have a tendency to undervalue these ecosystems because we ourselves are land mammals. But we are intimately connected to aquatic ecosystems in ways that many people don't appreciate. For example, rivers and lakes give us fresh water to drink, provide fish for us to eat, prevent flooding, and support other ecosystems on land through complex food webs.

The biodiversity of aquatic ecosystems is one of Earth's greatest treasures. When you hear the word biodiversity, what comes to mind? One of the first things people think about is the rainforests. The rainforests contain huge amounts of biodiversity, and more species than we will probably ever be able to catalog. But did you know that similar biodiversity can be found in the oceans? For example, coral reefs have been described as the rainforests of the sea because they are home to a huge array of marine life. But coral reefs, like aquatic ecosystems, are easily affected by outside factors.

In this lesson, we'll talk about a few factors that impact aquatic ecosystems. Specifically, abiotic factors and how they affect aquatic life. These are the factors that cause a deep ocean to be totally different from a shallow lake.

Abiotic Factors of Aquatic Ecosystems

Abiotic factors are components of a natural environment that are not alive. In other words, physical or chemical parts of the environment that affect the organisms that are in that environment. For aquatic ecosystems, these factors include light levels, water flow rate, temperature, dissolved oxygen, acidity (pH), salinity and depth.

Light level is an important factor in aquatic ecosystems. Light is needed by plants for photosynthesis, the process where plants turn light into energy. Light can affect the success of predators at finding food, and directly affects how much life you find in a given area. In fact, when swimming and diving tourists stir up sediment as they explore, they can damage shallow water ecosystems simply by reducing the amount of light that reaches them.

Another important factor is the water flow rate. Many organisms can only survive at certain water flow rates, and struggle when rates are too high or too low. The flow of water is responsible for moving oxygen into some organisms' gills, and even helps food like plankton flow into the mouths of other aquatic animals.

Temperature is just as important for aquatic ecosystems as it is for land animals. Just like how humans don't operate as well when they are too cold or too hot, the metabolic rate of organisms under water is also affected by temperature. This is because organisms are adapted to survive in specific temperature ranges.

Oxygen content in water is something humans don't think about much because we can't breathe underwater. For aquatic ecosystems however, it is a very big deal. This is because aquatic organisms often breathe through gills and receive oxygen directly from the water. Faster flowing water in rivers and streams contains more oxygen because more air gets mixed in.

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