Land is a very valuable thing and is used for many different purposes. We will explore why land should be conserved and the criteria for evaluating land. We will also identify some of the most endangered ecosystems in the United States.
Agriculture and Land Conservation
What do you think would happen if all of the undeveloped land in the United States were converted for agricultural use? Some people might see this as a good thing because it would make it possible to produce more food to feed the growing human population, while other people would not be happy with this change.
Although producing food is an important act, it is also very important to conserve the natural, undisturbed land that surrounds agricultural fields. To conserve land means to protect the land from harm or destruction, and in this case, it is the harm caused by humans as they convert land for agriculture.
Although most people look at a farm field and a forest as two distinct environments, they are, in fact, extremely interconnected. It is important to conserve the natural forests around farm fields because the plants and animals of both ecosystems interact and depend on each other. Animals travel between the two ecosystems and might rely on the different ecosystems for different aspects of their life. For example, a mouse might live in the farm field, but travel to the forest next door to find food.
In addition, plants might rely on the interaction between the farm and natural habitat to spread seeds or for fertilization. You might see wild mustard in a forest and farmed mustard plants in a field. These two types of mustard are connected because they may rely on the same mechanism for pollination and they might cross-pollinate each other.
Criteria for Evaluating Ecosystems
When it is thought that an ecosystem is being harmed or threatened, there are several criteria that can be used to evaluate the ecosystem and determine if it is endangered. The criteria that are used to evaluate an ecosystem include the size of the ecosystem, location, connectivity, habitat quality, wildlife composition and the level of human activity. To remember the criteria, you could use the mnemonic 'Suzy's Lazy Cousin Always Cries Quickly.'
The size and location of the ecosystem is evaluated because this makes it possible for evaluators to determine how much land is being considered for conservation and also what is around the ecosystem and might influence it. Connectivity, which, in ecological terms, is the degree to which different habitats connect to each other, is also examined when evaluating an ecosystem.
Connectivity can be thought of as paths that connect two habitats, similar to sidewalks that connect houses. The level of connectivity is an important criterion because it demonstrates how the ecosystem interacts with other nearby habitats.
The previous criteria were related to the physical design of the ecosystem, but there are also several criteria that examine what is within the ecosystem. The habitat quality, which is often thought of as the soil quality, and the availability of food and shelter is another criterion for evaluating an ecosystem. It is important to examine habitat quality in order to determine if the ecosystem is healthy and is worth conserving. The wildlife composition, which is the types of species that live in the ecosystem and their ecological structure, is also an important criterion.
Ecosystems that have a varied wildlife composition and support a variety of organisms are more likely to be healthy. The final criterion for evaluating an ecosystem is the level of human activity, which can come in the form of recreation, building, farming or any other activity on the land. It is important to evaluate the level of human activity to determine the extent to which humans are influencing the ecosystem.
Most Endangered Ecosystems in the U.S.
There are many endangered ecosystems throughout the world, and in the United States, there are three ecosystems characterized as the most endangered. Prairies are the ecosystem in the United States that are the most endangered. This type of ecosystem is dominated by grasses, but has a wide variety of plant and animal species.
The prairie ecosystem is also known for having very rich soil. Prairies are also known for the animals that inhabit them, including prairie dogs, prairie chickens and very large bison. Over the past 150 years, the acreage of prairies has reduced significantly because it has been converted for farming due to the rich soil.
Behind prairies, the other most endangered ecosystems in the United States are wetlands and sagebrush. Wetlands are characterized by saturated land, are home to many endangered species and are commonly used by many species as a safe habitat to raise offspring. Wetlands are also a great place for humans to go canoeing, fishing and bird watching.
Sagebrush ecosystems are very unique and are often referred to as 'cold deserts.' This type of ecosystem is semi-arid, has cold winters and hot summers and limited precipitation. Despite the major differences in these two types of ecosystems, they are both highly endangered because they are being converted at high rates for human uses, such as housing, roads and agriculture.
Although it is important to have enough agricultural land, it is also as important to conserve land by protecting the land from harm or destruction. By maintaining natural ecosystems around agricultural land, it is possible to establish a healthy and collaborative relationship between the two types of habitats.
These natural habitats are often evaluated to determine the level of harm or destruction occurring and to determine whether the habitat should be listed as endangered. There are several criteria used to evaluate the health of an ecosystem, including size of the ecosystem, location, connectivity, habitat quality, wildlife composition and the level of human activity. It is important to investigate all of these criteria in order to determine if an ecosystem is in danger and needs to be protected.
In the United States, the three most endangered ecosystems are prairies, wetlands and sagebrush ecosystems. These three ecosystems are all homes to many species of plants and animals and are being harmed by humans. The destruction of parts of these ecosystems for human use, including agriculture, has resulted in the remaining land being protected. Hopefully, with the protection of endangered natural ecosystems, not only will the land survive, but the benefits of these healthy ecosystems will improve the quality of agricultural land.
After the lesson, you should be able to:
- Define land conversation
- Identify the evaluation process for natural habitats
- Recall the three most endangered ecosystems in the United States