LS2.C: Ecosystem Dynamics, Functioning, and Resilience
What happens to ecosystems when the environment changes?
- Introduction to LS2.C
- K-12 Progression and Grade Band End Points for LS2.C
- Performance Expectations Associated with LS2.C
- Additional Resources for LS2.C
Ecosystems are dynamic in nature; their characteristics fluctuate over time, depending on changes in the environment and in the populations of various species. Disruptions in the physical and biological components of an ecosystem— which can lead to shifts in the types and numbers of the ecosystem’s organisms, to the maintenance or the extinction of species, to the migration of species into or out of the region, or to the formation of new species (speciation)—occur for a variety of natural reasons. Changes may derive from the fall of canopy trees in a forest, for example, or from cataclysmic events, such as volcanic eruptions. But many changes are induced by human activity, such as resource extraction, adverse land use patterns, pollution, introduction of nonnative species, and global climate change. Extinction of species or evolution of new species may occur in response to significant ecosystem disruptions.
Species in an environment develop behavioral and physiological patterns that facilitate their survival under the prevailing conditions, but these patterns may be maladapted when conditions change or new species are introduced. Ecosystems with a wide variety of species—that is, greater biodiversity—tend to be more resilient to change than those with few species.
Grade Band Endpoints for LS2.C
By the end of grade 2. The places where plants and animals live often change, sometimes slowly and sometimes rapidly. When animals and plants get too hot or too cold, they may die. If they cannot find enough food, water, or air, they may die.
By the end of grade 5. When the environment changes in ways that affect a place’s physical characteristics, temperature, or availability of resources, some organisms survive and reproduce, others move to new locations, yet others move into the transformed environment, and some die.
By the end of grade 8. Ecosystems are dynamic in nature; their characteristics can vary over time. Disruptions to any physical or biological component of an ecosystem can lead to shifts in all of its populations.
Biodiversity describes the variety of species found in Earth’s terrestrial and oceanic ecosystems. The completeness or integrity of an ecosystem’s biodiversity is often used as a measure of its health.
By the end of grade 12. A complex set of interactions within an ecosystem can keep its numbers and types of organisms relatively constant over long periods of time under stable conditions. If a modest biological or physical disturbance to an ecosystem occurs, it may return to its more or less original status (i.e., the ecosystem is resilient), as opposed to becoming a very different ecosystem. Extreme fluctuations in conditions or the size of any population, however, can challenge the functioning of ecosystems in terms of resources and habitat availability. Moreover, anthropogenic changes (induced by human activity) in the environment—including habitat destruction, pollution, introduction of invasive species, overexploitation, and climate change—can disrupt an ecosystem and threaten the survival of some species.