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Can We Achieve Balance in Ecosystems?

The theory of balance in ecosystems says that there is no growth or no loss required in the ecosystem. Population should neither go up or down and the ecosystem is in perfect balance. An example of a coral reef with balance in ecosystems would consist of the following:

1) The coral reef feeds on plankton and nutrients found in the water,

2) The reef is eaten by parrot fish in the ecosystem, and

3) Larger fish including barracudas and snappers in turn eat the parrot fish.

The problem with the theory of balance in ecosystems and coral reefs is that the reef must be expanding in order to be considered healthy. Without expansion, it is an unhealthy coral reef. The bigger a coral reef gets, the more animals and plants it can support along the lines of the fish that eat the reef and the fish that eat the smaller fish. That would mean that population is on the rise, which goes against the theory of balance in ecosystems.

A better idea of what balance in ecosystems is that it is something that is constantly changing that leads to slow but gradual population increases. Balance in ecosystems is not only about one ecosystem but about how each of the ecosystems balance with each other. No ecosystem is truly alone; ecosystems are intertwined.

The ecosystems all meet at some point in their location and there are not always clear boundaries separating one ecosystem from another. For example, the coral reef we talked about is underwater so it is technically in the marine ecosystem or at least very near it. The plants and animals in the marine ecosystem have an effect on the coral reef. A balance between the two ecosystems would consist of sharks that don't consume every parrot fish and parrot fish stay in their area for the most part.

In 1954, two scientists named Andrewatha and Birch came up with the theory of "The Distribution and Abundance of Animals" that said there cannot be balance in ecosystems. They based their views on their observations of population decreasing or being limited by territorial behaviors instead of a lack of available food. They believed that the rise and fall of population in ecosystems is something that occurs naturally through behavior and is not actually due to the ecosystem itself. This is a unique position on the subject but it does show that it is not possible to have the population stay exactly the same as we know is true.

When you look at ecosystems all around the globe, there is also a balance in ecosystems that are far apart from each other. Climate change and global warming are all over the news and illustrate this balance in ecosystems and how it works. We have to realize that there has never been a time when populations have not been rising and falling and there are also animals and plants that are completely extinct for reasons that have nothing to do with humans or our behaviors. The question we should ask about balance in ecosystems is how do we as humans change the balance in ecosystems in ways that would not happen without us here affecting it. We don't know the answer right now, though.


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