The breadth of a food web is its biomass, which is all the energy in the living organisms in the web, according to National Geographic. Energy flows up in a food chain. The most energy is in the lowest trophic level, with producers making their own energy. The higher the tropic level, the less energy, or biomass, there is.
When organisms within an ecosystem are removed or become too numerous or too few, it upsets the balance of the food web and its food chains. This is also true when species are introduced or make their way into an ecosystem where they do not naturally occur, such as with invasive species.
This balance is metaphorical, however. In truth, ecosystems are fluid, constantly changing in ways big and small. A road or trail may be built through an ecosystem, and certainly many ecosystems change with the seasons with the migration of some organisms. These changes don’t necessarily render the ecosystem unhealthy or unbalanced.
However, too much change within one food chain or multiple chains in a food web can affect the overall health of the ecosystem. When populations of certain species become either too high or too low, all the species can be affected. Think about the example of the grass-rabbit-fox food chain. If the fox population declines a great deal, the rabbit population would likely increase because there are fewer predators. (Remember, though, that rabbits exist in many food chains and have many predators.) If the rabbit population becomes too high, it could eventually lead to a decline in plant populations, which effects not just the rabbits but all the animals in the ecosystem that rely on them.
While we don’t think of ourselves as part of the ecosystem, we certainly are, and we can have both positive and negative impacts on the health of the environment all around us. We tend to think of our negative impacts — pollution, deforestation, land development — but because of our industrious nature we can affect positive change as well.
Humans consume resources just like other species do, but we also have the ability to make choices to lessen our impacts, something other species can’t do. You can reduce your footprint in many ways, and educating yourself about the value of our natural resources and the health of our ecosystems is a place to start.
Some actionable steps you can take around your house include being mindful of how much water and electricity you use and cutting back where possible, committing to using less chemicals in your home and yard, planting a tree in your yard and choosing sustainable and locally grown foods, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
(Lead image via Shutterstock)