Appreciating Ecosystem Diversity
Across the globe and throughout the United States, a vast range of ecosystems serve as the key to nature’s success and provide variety in what would otherwise be a monochrome planet. Gazing out across a meadow adjacent to a forest or over a pond that lies next to a corn field does not often call to mind the particulars of habitat diversity. And yet, living in an area where several ecosystems thrive affords communities with definite advantages. For more than two decades, the Tewksbury Land Trust has devoted itself to preserving land with ecological diversity and practical use, whether that be for hiking or for agriculture. One of this organization’s recent purchases, Jeffrey Preserve, eloquently illustrates the necessity of environment diversification.
Two minutes from the heart of Mountainville lies a 43-acre parcel of land purchased from Mr. David Jeffrey’s estate in 2014, within months of the land trust’s twentieth anniversary. The range of species who make this preserve home and the vegetation that defines their habitat are clearly evident with a gentle hike around each of the two fields populated by tall swaying grasses and overgrown wildflowers. Black-eyed susans, milkweed, and wild butterfly bushes add color to the landscape, a little less than half of which is comprised of the meadows. Birds nest amidst the greenery while distinctly marked monarch butterflies search for the best source of nectar. Meanwhile, squirrels with mouthfuls of acorns scamper up towering walnut trees and deer peek out from behind a cluster of wine berries in Jeffrey’s mature forest. A stream naturally stocked with small fish and water bugs runs through the property into the Rockaway Creek. Hell Mountain beckons in the distance on a clear day, populated by evergreens and the occasional bear. These ecosystems contribute to a natural beauty surpassed by few other areas and provide the community with ample opportunities to revel in the wonders of Earth.
The umbrella term “ecosystem” is typically divided into two specific groups, Aquatic and Terrestrial, under which several other sub-ecosystems fall: forest, desert, grassland, mountain, marine, and freshwater. Forest habitats boast the highest species density while marine ecosystems claim over 71% of Earth’s surface. Deserts receive less than 25 centimeters of rain per year and grasslands have been disappearing for centuries, starting with the arrival of Europeans to America. Ensconced within each unique area are abiotic (nonliving) and biotic (living) components that ensure the success of vital processes such as the food chain and nutrient cycles. Biogeochemical cycling moves important components, which include phosphorous, water, nitrogen, and sulfates, between the atmosphere, the soil, and organisms. Primary producers, plants with the ability to harness energy from sunlight through photosynthesis, transfer energy up to consumers when they are eaten and help form the building blocks of life.
Every species requires a particular ecosystem, without which they are evolutionarily unequipped to survive. The more ecosystems there are in a set area, the more species diversity there will be. Such biodiversity increases an ecosystem’s ability to recuperate following natural disasters since the loss of one or two species out of several hundred will not drastically alter the predator-prey balance. It also promotes ecological well-being and provides a plethora of ecosystem services, which include water filtration, CO2 removal, and pollination. Therefore, preserving land with several different ecosystems or protecting an area near diverse habitats ensures optimal ecosystem health. A walk around Jeffrey’s meadows or a leisurely picnic by the stream reveal the depth of diversity in Hunterdon County alone. Within these ecosystems, thousands of species thrive and interact in silent ecological harmony. And with the sustained protection of properties and the efforts of organizations like the Tewksbury Land Trust, our world can continue its environmental rhythm.