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Battle for the Biosphere


Ecosystem - a grouping of plants and animals that interact with each other and their local environment.
Biome - a large ecosystem - a grouping of plants and animals over a large area
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Distribution of Biomes

By Ville Koistinen (user Vzb83) [GFDL, CC-BY-SA-3.0], via
Wikimedia Commons

Coniferous biome - Coniferous forests are at higher latitudes where the Sun's rays are weak. Trees are adapted to the cold experienced here with needle-like leaves
Deciduous biome - Deciduous forests have high rainfall and there are seasonal variations in the Sun's rays. Trees lose their leaves in the cool winters.
Tundra biome - The tundra is within the Arctic Circle. This area receives little heat from the sun and there is little rainfall. Only tough, short grasses survive here.
Tropical biome - Tropical rainforests are normally found near the equator. The temperature is hot and there is a lot of heavy rainfall.
Desert biome - Deserts are close the tropics of Cancer and Capricorn. This is where hot dry air sinks down to the Earth's surface and the Sun's rays are concentrated making it very hot during the day.

A Life-Support System

The Earth's life support system is the biosphere which we live in. It provides us humans with a wide range of essential goods.
What the biosphere does for us...
  • It regulates the gases that make up the atmosphere - plants absorb carbon dioxide and produce oxygen for us to breathe.
  • It regulates the water cycle - plants slow the flow of water to rivers and filter water to make it clean.
  • It keeps soil healthy for plants to grow - new nutrients are provided by rotting plant material.

Goods provided by the biosphere

 Food Medicines  Raw Materials 
Plants used to make medicines
- e.g: quinine from bark, St John's wort, periwinkle
Oil and gas store carbon
Due to the large populations our Earth has, the pressure to feed these people has meant that natural vegetation has been replaced with farmland to grow crops. Very few communities survive solely from food the biosphere would naturally produce.

Threats to the Biosphere

Degradation of the biosphere by human activity

Direct human impacts Indirect human impacts 
  • Deforestation
  • Mining
  • Quarrying
  • Farming
  • Overfishing
Pollution and climate change causing:
  • sea temperature rise
  • seawater acidification
  • melting of polar ice caps
  • changes in amounts of rainfall
  • treeline changes
  • stress within ecosystems due to rapid change.

Reasons for rainforest destruction

  • Timber used for buildings, furniture and fuel.
  • Land needed for agriculture such as growing crops or grazing animals
  • Mining and quarrying of minerals for construction industry, jewellery, etc.
  • Transport routes
  • Building human settlements
  • Building dams and power stations to provide power.

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Management of the biosphere

In order to conserve the biosphere and to encourage sustainable usage of the biosphere, different management methods have been set up.
 Ramsar (named after city in Iran)

 Lalo Loor Dry Forest Reserve

 National Parks, UK

 Scale: global - 168 countries have signed up to it
Started: 1971
What it conserves: 2.05 million km2 of wetlands around the world
Why: Wetlands provide a rich biodiversity with many rare species
How it is threatened: population growth means wetlands are drained for farmland, also vulnerable to climate change
Management type: international treaty protects important wetlands by law.
 Scale: local
Where: Ecuador
What it conserves: 500 acres of tropical rainforest
Why: almost untouched rainforest, home to large numbers of animals and plants
How it is threatened: clearance for soya production
Management type: owner of the land has agreed a conservation deal, volunteers care for the land, run reforestation schemes and sustainable tourism to raise funds.
 Scale: national
Started: 1951
What it conserves: areas of natural beauty in the UK - 22,000km2 in 15 parks.
Why: important for people's leisure, enjoyment and culture and to preserve wildlife and environment
How they are threatened: any development that would degrade the ecosystem, e.g.: mining
Management type: each park has its own authority controlling any new development.

Factors affecting biomes

There are local factors which can affect biomes. These are...
  • Rock and soil type - this can affect how fertile different areas within a biome
  • Altitude - Different plants grow at different temperatures and may not survive if they are not in the right conditions. The higher the altitude, the colder it gets.
  • Rainfall - different types of plants and the amount of plants will only grow with a certain amount of rainfall. Inland areas are generally drier than coastal areas.
  • Distance from the sea - this can affect temperatures and especially amounts of rainfall within the same biome.
  • Drainage - swamps and bogs occur where drainage is poor. Fewer, more specialist plants grow in boggy areas.
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Biosphere management tensions

Sustainable biosphere management

  • Ensures the ecosystem can recover quickly from any use.
  • Prevents damage to the environment/ecosystem.
  • Helps local people to benefit from their environment/ecosystem
  • Helps local people understand why the biosphere is important and how managing it will benefit them.

Possible tensions

  • Economic
    • People and communities will want to make money
    • This will often involve using the biosphere.
    • Tensions will arise because they will most likely damage the biosphere in the long-term.
    • This would mean it's not sustainable economically either, and it would compromise the lives of people living now and future generations
  • Social
    • Everyone needs to benefit and not at the expensive of another person for something to be socially sustainable, including future generations
    • Socially sustainable also means consulting people on an equal basis.
    • There may also be economic tensions as some businesses may flourish at the expensive of others.
  • Environmental
    • To be environmentally sustainable involves not harming natural resources so they are unable to regenerate or continue long-term.