5 Human Impacts on the Environment: Crash Course Ecology #10

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“This point. People have been studying the impacts that humans have had on the world world around us for a solid 50 years and while it s hard to get handle on exactly how the choices we make every day affect the environment. There s no question that our lifestyles. Our ncars our need for more farmland and our love of all kinds of plastic stuff are putting the hurt on ecosystems.

All over the world human activity. All by itself njust people doing what they do could be responsible for the extinction of nnearly 1000 plant and animal species to date most of them over the last century and even if you don t particularly care about the barbary lion or the st. Helena olive or the passenger pigeon or anything else we ve driven into extinction nthe thing is we need these other organisms the ecosystems of the world are working very nhard for us every day filtering water sucking carbon dioxide out nof the air producing all the food we eat all very important ecosystem services. Benefits nthat.

The natural world. Provides us for free. So having ecosystems and keeping them intact is important not only for the organisms who live in them. But also for us.

The animals who rely on them for thousands and thousands of things that we could never do for ourselves over the next two episodes. We re going to nlook at these systems and how our actions are affecting the ecosystems nthat. We need for our survival basically. We re messing up the environment nsix ways from sunday.

But to make it easy on ourselves let s start nwith. The top five theme music. We often hear about all the different ways nthat our behavior is affecting the biosphere extinctions climate change deforestation nacid rain desertification pollution and more but you re asking how is this stuff turning the earth into sausage ni. Don t understand well.

I do understand. Which is why i m qualified nto make this video. So let me lay it on you the services. That ecosystems.

Provide for us. All the dirty work. They do can be broken up into 4 different categories..


They re things that we could never ever never duplicate or work around no matter. What kind of smarty pants. Technology. Nwe come up with first healthy ecosystems.

Provide support nservices that create and replenish the foundation of the earth s biological systems. These services include recycling. All of the ncompounds that are necessary for life through the carbon water nitrogen and phosphorous ncycles. They also include other processes.

We ve talked nabout before like forming new soils and producing atmospheric noxygen. Some ecosystems contribute more to these services nthan. Others. But none of them can get these basic jobs ndone.

Unless they are intact. Two ecosystems also perform provisioning services. Giving us the raw materials. We need to live like the ocean.

Provides food in the form nof fish sticks and stuff and rivers and aquifers and other freshwater nsources give us water plants and animals also yield all kinds of nfiber that we use for clothing and shelter and all around us. We find sources of fuel whether it s biomass in the form of grasses or wood hydropower in the form of flowing water or the carbon locked in millions of years old trees that we re now re releasing into the atmosphere. But i m getting ahead of myself ecosystems also perform super important regulating nservices moderating. Many of the earth s systems that ncan get dangerous.

If they get out of whack like as we learned in biology. Fungi and other organisms take on the task of decomposing dead. Things and poop meanwhile plants help filter the water you drink and the air you breathe and provide flood control. And they also absorb all that carbon you exhale nand that your car belches out.

Which in turn helps regulate the climate and finally number four ecosystems are just nkind of awesome. It s nice to be surrounded by happy plants nand critters doing their business nice robust ecosystems. Give us places to play scenes to inspire us and things to just discover and learn about these are their less tangible..


But still important ncultural services. An interesting thing about ecosystem services nis that economists actually can and do calculate the monetary value they nprovide for humanity. If for example. We had to do all of the things nthat ecosystems do for us it would cost us.

46 trillion. Year. Which is a lot considering that the output nof. The global economy is 66 trillion year.

So yeah. We should be happy that we don t nhave to pay for all that. But you ll notice that i keep saying that ecosystems can only serve up all this awesome sauce. If they are by that i mean they specifically have to have ntheir biodiversity intact.

Because ecosystems are just a bunch of living nand nonliving things working together so unless their living parts are healthy nthey. re basically just rocks and weather. The main reason biodiversity is nso. Important is that it makes ecosystems more resilient to that never ending change.

We talked about a few weeks ago. Ecosystems with high biodiversity are way more resilient to disturbances than those. With low biodiversity in a high biodiversity system. If you take one species out of the mix.

It s less likely that the ecosystem will collapse take a hectare of amazonian rainforest in that little patch of land there are more different species of plants and animals than there are in all of europe. So if a species of insect goes extinct. There s less risk that the whole house of cards will fall than say in the sonoran desert. Where there are very nfew organisms.

So the disappearance of one species could naffect the entire ecosystem. So the best way to understand our impacts on the environment is through how we affect biodiversity. Unfortunately..


It turns out that we ve been ndoing a really bang up job of endangering some of the highest biodiversity necosystems on the planet in some cases. We re having impacts on the norganisms themselves directly in other cases. We re affecting biodiversity nindirectly by creating one or two changes in that ecosystem. That cascade into all kinds nof problems for living things.

First let s look at that hectare of amazonian nrainforest again because even though it s one of those super resilient ecosystems. We re having serious impacts on it how well first by removing a lot of what nmakes a forest a forest trees according to some estimates we re clear cutting naround 8000. Hectares of trees a day to provide land to graze cattle on and to nharvest wood to make coffee tables or whatever. When you cut down a hectare of rainforest suddenly a place where a few thousand species used to live turns into a place where just a handful of species live some grass some weeds maybe some rats or nmice.

Some insects and you know some cows because man we love cows and when you take out so many of the living things on that hectare of land. A bunch of things happen for starters. You re not just affecting that necosystem. But neighboring ecosystems as well for instance.

All those trees that were cut ndown provided. The service of regulating the flow of all that rain that rainforests get not only by absorbing some of it but also by slowing down runoff. Letting the water seep into the soil before slowly making its way into streams nand rivers and ultimately the ocean. But when those trees are gone the water hits nthe land and shoots off in the nearest stream causing erosion and washing minerals and chemicals all the way to the sea where it affects marine ecosystems.

And when i say this my friends is what s called a cascade neffect in this case caused by deforestation. One of the most obvious observable human nimpacts in addition to causing more flooding. And changes. Nin water quality deforestation on a large scale can lead to nanother impact.

Desertification or the spread of dry unproductive nlandscapes. But cutting down trees doesn t automatically nturn a forest into a desert. Desertification is driven along by additional nfactors like overgrazing by cattle and over irrigation. So how can over watering.

Something make it nturn into a desert well when we use groundwater to irrigate crops. The natural salts in the groundwater build up in the soil eventually making it so salty that nothing nwants to live there over time fertile land near desert ecosystems nbecomes overtaxed and the desert spreads and this is exactly what has happened in china nover. The past century..


Where overgrazing and the cities unquenchable nthirst for water have caused the gobi desert to grow by 3600. Square kilometers nevery year now these two impacts by themselves clearly nlimit the biodiversity of otherwise lush ecosystems. But because they also result in fewer trees nthat provide the all important services of releasing oxygen and absorbing co2 you know nwhat domino s gonna fall next the climate carbon dioxide the principle greenhouse gas nit insulates the earth so it stands to reason that the more co2 there is in the atmosphere. The warmer.

The earth will be and the thing is we re reducing the size nof forests at the same time as we re unleashing all kinds of greenhouse gases nby burning fossil fuels this double whammy is much of what s driving nglobal warming as a result. We re seeing decreases in the nlevels of polar sea ice. Which means less habitat for polar bears nseals and sea birds more temperate animals are moving closer to nthe poles and hotter drier conditions are causing more ngrass fires and forest fires. And while the climate has changed.

Many times nin the past those changes usually took place over centuries or even millennia giving organisms time to adapt or move. These changes are taking place within our lifetimes and it s kind of a huge deal and it s complicated it d take me at least like 10 minutes and n52 seconds to explain it all in detail. Which is why i did that in another video by now hopefully you can see how one human nimpact can lead to another and how even indirectly they can end up nreducing biodiversity. But it s hard to overlook the more immediate nimpacts.

We can have on ecosystems. One of the more in your face ways we affect nbiodiversity is by introducing nonnative species either intentionally or unintentionally again there are so many examples of this that you can learn more about it in another video. I did but suffice it to say whether it s kudzu nin north america or cane toads in australia invasive species have a knack for out competing nor outright eating native species to the point that it rocks the world of an nentire ecosystem and finally probably the most direct impact. We have on biodiversity is simply overharvesting certain organisms.

We re overfishing the oceans to meet growing ndemand for popular fish species like tuna while on. Land we re exterminating important predators like wolves to protect livestockthose cows. Again and the less diverse those ecosystems are nthe more vulnerable they become to disturbances including those other four impacts. I just nmentioned and the fact is there s a bunch more where nthose came from because there s a whole separate set of effects nthat humanity has on the biosphere that stems simply from us putting the wrong amounts of certain stuff in the wrong place at the wrong time that s what we call pollution.

So tune in nnext time when we ll explore what it really is where exactly it s coming from and what we ncan do about it thank you for watching another kind of depressing nepisode of crash course. Ecology and thanks to everyone who helped us put. It ntogether. There s a table of contents over there if nyou want to click to review anything or the links are down below in the description.

And if you have any questions or comments nor ideas for us. ” ..

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