An ecosystem is, in it’s simplest terms, all the organisms and non-living components in an environment. The process of every ecosystem has an energy flow and a cycling of materials throughout it. There are numerous types of ecosystems including:
While the majority of the above-mentioned ecosystems are bred out of natural causes, the agricultural ecosystem is man-made. The agricultural system is relatively simple, whilst natural born systems are more complex. It is the inter-relationships between each component of the system that are important in keeping the system moving freely. That means that all the inputs and outputs of the system are well-balanced.
Modern-day farming practices create inhospitable and unsustainable ecosystems. Anything other than the crop or animal the farmer wants to grow is considered an “enemy,” and is generally exterminated. The usage of mono-cropping means that these man-made ecosystems are easily wiped out, and that the usage of pesticides is more likely. (Sustainable Slippery Rock)
So why are ecosystems so important?
Well, a healthy functioning ecosystem, environmental or agricultural, has many benefits to our communities. Here in Houston, for example, our coastal marshes, prairies and forests help with air quality, flood protection, and carbon sequestration. (Houston Wilderness) And where agriculture is concerned, these ecosystems can provide habitats for pollinators, beneficial soil organisms and mitigate greenhouse gases in general. (Alison G. Power)
It’s clear that in these cases, however, agriculture must be sustainably focused and diverse. As found throughout Alison G. Power’s research study and suggested at Sustainable Slippery Rock, farmers must:
- Treat the soil as the valuable resource it is by improving its ability to grow healthy crops. Recycle manure, crop residues and/or compost. Avoid the use of strong fertilizers and toxic chemicals.
- Encourage nearby natural ecosystems, such as grassy fence-row vegetation, field corners, and nearby meadows, woods and marshes. Build bluebird and wren houses.
- Plant more than one crop species at once (or consecutively). Various cover crops and interplanted crops can smother weeds and supply nutrients to other crops (as with legumes supplying nitrogen), and if tilled into the soil, cover crops can supply humus and nutrients to the soil. Crop rotations also provide similar benefits.
- Diversify the farm by raising a variety of crops and animals. Not only can diversity protect against bad weather and volatile markets, but a variety of species is a closer approximation of a natural ecosystem than is a monoculture of one or two crops and no animals.