Biodiversity by Sheri Zola
Important Aspects of Nature
The Binghamton University natural areas provide a variety of important ecological functions. These include improving water quality, flood prevention, supporting biodiversity, and providing a means for carbon storage. The environment is seriously threatened in many aspects including deforestation, pollution, and rising global temperatures. Even the preservation of regions such as our natural areas helps to contribute to the health of the environment.
Water pollution is a growing concern in today's society. Fertilization, pesticide use, wastewater from factories, acid rain, and sewage are all common sources of this pollution. While some pollutants, such has heavy metals from industry, are toxic, others, such as nitrogen and phosphorous from fertilizers and sewage, are detrimental due to their overabundance. Eutrophication of water, or the presence of excess nutrients, can cause algal blooms leading to low oxygen levels as the algae eventually dies off and is decomposed (Montgomery 2003, 411). This situation can also occur when excess organic matter from sewage is allowed to gather in a body of water. When oxygen levels plummet, higher organisms such as fish, can not survive.
Wetlands, such as those present in the nature preserve, have the ability to prevent this situation. When water enters a wetland, it stagnates and remains there for an extended period of time. If this water is laden with organic matter, microbial decomposers will have the time to break it down into carbon dioxide and water (Lewis 2001, 52). Wetlands can also absorb excess nutrients in several ways. Plants living in the wetland absorb nitrogen and phosphorous, nitrates can be converted into nitrogen gas by microbes in the anaerobic soils of the wetland, and any nitrogen or phosphorus attached to particles is removed by gravity as the water stagnates (Lewis 2001, 53-54).
Another consideration to take into account is the turbidity of water. Large amounts of sediment from erosion clouds waters, causing a decrease in the aquatic plant life from insufficient sunlight penetrating the water surface (Montgomery 2003, 414). This will destroy the entire ecosystem of the lake or stream.
The natural areas can help alleviate this problem in two ways. First of all, forests help to retain soil through the mechanical holding power of the roots and by reducing the force by which rain impacts the soil through tree cover and leaf litter (Perry 1994, 498). Also, the wetlands play an important role in reducing sediment because when water collects there, it loses the velocity necessary to carry particles and they fall to the bottom (Lewis 2001, 53).
The role that Binghamton's natural areas play in improving water quality is not restricted to the local community. This region is part of the Chesapeake Bay watershed. Water collected in this area flows through groundwater or rivers, eventually ending in the Chesapeake Bay (Center for Integrated Water Studies). Preservation locally translates into benefits for a wide region. Any effort helps.
Our natural areas help to control flooding. This is accomplished in many ways, the most important being the presence of wetlands. This ecosystem is excellent at retaining flood waters thereby preventing a flood when excess rain falls. Water from precipitation or overflowing streams can be stored in a wetland for an extended period of time where it may evaporate, or come into contact with ground water and be absorbed by the underground reservoir (Lewis 2001, 47-49). Instead of rushing across the landscape, flood water will remain contained within the wetland either to be taken up by plants and animals, evaporated into the atmosphere, or used to recharge groundwater.
Maintaining biodiversity is crucial in protecting the environment. The interactions between organisms is incredibly complex. Nearly every species in an ecosystem can exert some sort of influence on at least one other species. These interactions can include predator-pray relationships, mutualisms, parasitism, and herbivory. Because of the complexity of the interactions between organisms, it is necessary to preserve their diversity. Removing just one species can have disastrous effects on an ecosystem. This is especially true for keystone species. Though difficult to define, a keystone species is one that exerts a strong influence on community structure even though it may be present in low numbers (Molles 2002, 397). If a keystone species goes extinct in an area, a cascading effect can occur in which a substantial number of other species in the community also go extinct because of their dependence on that one keystone (Perry 1994, 515).
Binghamton's natural areas are home to a great diversity of organisms. Each of these organisms fulfills a specific function to support the community. Amphibians present include the pickerel frog, red eft, spotted salamander, and the spring peeper. Mammals range from the keystone beavers, to deer, cottontail rabbits, chipmunks and opossums. There also exists an extensive bird population consisting of the plilated woodpecker, kingfishers, red wing black birds, many sparrow and warbler species, and herons to name a few.
The only way to preserve the species in an ecosystem is to preserve their habitat. The natural areas here undergo habitat maintenance led by several professors and the Friends of the Nature Preserve. By ensuring that fields, forests, shrub-lands, and wetlands persist, the organisms occupying niches in those communities will be protected. At a time when forests are dwindling as a result of human activity, preserving natural areas is essential to support the environment. For example, wetlands are very important for amphibians, many of which require this ecosystem breeding (Amphibian Facts). While at one time the United States was covered by 220-million acres of wetlands, that number has been reduced to about 100-million (Lewis 2001, 4). This number will continue to decrease owing to the passage of laws that allow the exclusion of many wetlands from federal protection (Lewis 2001, 17-19). Binghamton University's wetlands and vernal pools provide important breeding grounds for amphibians. The few remaining habitats are precious to the survival of these organisms and need to be protected to ensure their continued existence.
A major problem the human population appears to have inflicted upon the environment is increasing carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas, in the atmosphere. By analyzing the composition of air trapped in ice cores, it has been determined that current levels of carbon dioxide are higher than they have ever been in 160,000 years, along with finding an exponential increase since the start of the industrial revolution (Molles 2002, 542-543).
While humans release carbon dioxide into the atmosphere though the burning of fossil fuels, the environment has several methods for storing it. Though the largest amount of carbon is stored in carbonate rocks and the oceans, significant amounts are also held in soil and vegetation (Molles 2002, 436). Plants convert carbon dioxide into oxygen though photosynthesis as well as containing high amounts of stored carbon as part of their biomass (Perry 1994, 38). By preserving natural areas, carbon is given another storage pool other than the atmosphere.
The Binghamton University natural areas provide many important ecological functions for not only the local environment, but on a much larger scale as well. Though this area is small in comparison with the global environmental problems faced by humanity, every contribution helps. By setting a precedence of conservation and management, the wildlife here can be protected, as well as motivating others to do the same.
- Center for Integrated Watershed Studies. "Current CIWS Projects." Center for Integrated Watershed Studies. (December 11th, 2003).
- Lewis, William M. Wetlands Explained. New York: Oxford University Press, 2001.
- Molles, Manuel C. Ecology: Concepts and Applications, Second Edition. New York: McGraw-Hill, 2002.
- Montgomery, Carla W. Environmental Geology, Sixth Edition. New York: McGraw-Hill, 2003.
- Perry, David A. Forest Ecosystems. Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1994.
- University of California, Berkley. "AmphibiaWeb: Information on amphibian biology and conservation." Center for Integrated Watershed Studies. (December 11th, 2003).