Resource Depletion & Its Negative Effects on Ecosystems

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  • 0:04 What Is Resource Depletion?
  • 1:18 Deforestation
  • 3:13 Agriculture & Soil
  • 4:21 Overfishing
  • 5:11 Lesson Summary
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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.

Let's learn about resource depletion, what it is, and how it affects ecosystems. In this lesson, you will also get to discover some examples of resource depletion.

What Is Resource Depletion?

Humans are huge consumers of goods and materials. We live our lives surrounded by wooden furniture, plastic bottles, Styrofoam burger boxes, shiny metal cars, and polyester clothes. With seven billion humans living on Earth, a number projected to reach anywhere from eight billion to sixteen billion depending on who you ask, our consumption isn't likely to decrease anytime soon. But that consumption comes with a huge host of problems: the problems of resource depletion.

Resource depletion is when humans use a resource at a rate that's not sustainable, or when the resource cannot be replenished fast enough. Nonrenewable resources, like coal, oil, and gas, always get depleted when they're used. But renewable resources, like soil, fish, water, plastics, and wood, can get replaced easier but also be depleted if they're used too fast.

This issue has a lot of complex causes: everything from simple human greed, to the basic desire for survival, to overpopulation, to short-term thinking. In this lesson, we're going to look at a few of the most common cases of resource depletion. We're going to look at deforestation, soil degradation, and overfishing.


Forests are beautiful to many humans, and they contain a wealth of biodiversity. This is especially true in the case of the rainforest. Even aside from aesthetics and a love of wildlife, forests provide many important services to humans. Forests store carbon that would otherwise be released into the atmosphere, they keep soils nutrient-rich and healthy, and they purify water and air. The rainforests contain swathes of land that are still unexplored and could provide new fruits, vegetables, and chemicals that could help us cure diseases.

But unfortunately for the forests, they also provide wood and take up space that humans can use for other things. The forests on our planet have been continually cut down for many years. We call this deforestation, which is the cutting down of forests, and it's happening at a rate that is far faster than new trees can grow. Over 200,000 acres of rainforest are lost each day. That's around 73 million a year. At least 10,000 species are lost each year, many of which could provide undiscovered life-saving drugs.

Trees are cut down most often for cattle ranching, but also for logging, mining, oil prospecting, and making room for agriculture. Sometimes this can be done by locals who are simply trying to provide for their families, but it can also be international companies taking advantage of the area. Considering how valuable forests are to humans, it's one of the biggest environmental issues of our time.

The effects of deforestation on ecosystems are unsurprisingly dramatic. Destroying forests is literally destroying ecosystems directly. While animals may run away into safe areas, huge numbers are killed, particularly when forests are burned. Some species will fare better than others, changing the balance of the ecosystem. And as species go extinct, other species that relied on them for food are affected.

Agriculture & Soil

Agriculture and deforestation are related, but when forests are cut down to make way for agriculture it isn't just the forests that are depleted. The nutrients in the soil are also depleted. Without the forests to recycle nutrients and keep the soil healthy, agriculture can quickly use up the goodness in the soil. The soil can become dry and useless. This makes deforestation even worse, because those same farmers then have to move on to another part of the rainforest.

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