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Ecosystems At Risk

All ecosystems are made up of abiotic and biotic factors. In ecosystems the living things depend on their environment and on each other for the things they need to live. One of the best ways to study interactions within ecosystems is to watch what happens when something changes or goes wrong.

In this activity you will research ecosystems at risk and write a summary of relationships that are suffering or are causing problems in some of Earth's best known ecosystems.



Wetlands are areas where land and water meet, including ponds, swamps, marshes and bogs. Throughout the United States wetland ecosystems are in danger.  These lands are important because they provide plant matter for food chains and food and shelter for millions of migratory birds and other organisms.  They also provide flood and erosion control, help purify and store groundwater and are useful for hunting, fishing and bird watching activities. In many places in the world, they provide areas for growing major food crops like rice or cranberries.

Wetlands have been viewed in the past as useless—sources of mosquitoes, flies, bad smells and diseases. Because of this kind of thinking, more than half of the wetlands in the lower 48 United States have been drained and used for other purposes. In 1989 the first President Bush established a policy of "No net loss of wetlands." We now spend hundreds of millions of dollars each year protecting and developing wetlands. Where wetlands must be destroyed in the building process, they must be replaced by creating new wetlands in other areas. Wetlands that were once drained are sometimes now being reclaimed as wetlands.

Wetlands are just one example of ecosystems that have been used and abused. As human populations grow, ecosystems everywhere will be affected. Your job is to become aware of how organisms, including humans, interact to make ecosystems that will last forever. If we don't understand and do the things that are necessary, our days on planet Earth may be numbered.



  1. Search the Internet with the phrase "Ecosystems at Risk." Find at least three sites that describe ecosystems in places you think are important.
  2. Read carefully to discover the critical organisms at risk in each ecosystem.
  3. Describe the changes that have caused the ecosystems to be at risk.
  4. Prepare a report on the ecosystem that is of most interest to you.
  5. Share your report with your teacher, your parent or guardian, friends, or classmates.


Interactions between organisms and their environment can be studied by monitoring the final stages of the nitrogen cycle (denitrification) in a small marine environment. During these stages of the nitrogen cycle, ammonia from animal wastes and decay is converted to nitrogen gas and released into the atmosphere. Instructions for an experiment to study this phenomenon.

Review science lab safety rules here.

Get the plug-ins: Get Adobe Acrobat Reader and Get Quicktime Player. (The QuickTime plug-in is needed to play sounds and movies correctly.)

Want to share photos of you or your friends doing this activity? Send it in an e-mail with the following information:

  1. The title of the activity
  2. The URL (Internet address)
  3. Your name.

Remember that no pictures can be used that show student faces or student names on it. 

Teachers should view the Teacher Site Map to relate Sci-ber text and the USOE Earth Systems Science core.


Updated October 24, 2008 by: Glen Westbroek

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