Ecology And Environment

Ecosystem Dynamics and Disturbance in Mountain Wildernesses

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"Ecosystem Dynamics and Disturbance in Mountain Wildernesses"
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The ecological dynamics of the mountain wilderness include the mountain top, the rivers and streams, the vegetation, the trees, the animals and fish. Besides those, weather and fire are important players in the cycle of the mountain wilderness. Scientists have learned that disturbances of any one of above dynamics will alter how the cycle works.

The mountain ecosystem is one of the most delicate. Recent studies have revealed that human impact on the area has disturbed the system enough that now, researchers feel they must step in and make changes to keep the cycle alive. One such impact is recreation in the forests. The use of ATV and mountain bikes has destroyed much of the vegetation in the forests. This, in turn, means that little animals that munched on the grass and flowers must now munch on trees. This opens the door for insects to feed on the trees, which causes the trees to get diseases that otherwise they would not have.

Livestock grazing in another disturbance to the ecosystem because often, farmers let their animals graze in areas where erosion has occurred making the soil unstable and landslides or avalanches a concern. These animals also strip the area from the vegetation needed to sustain the wilderness. Erosion causes harmful runoff to flow into the rivers and streams, killing fish and sometimes altering its path.

Air pollution is a threat that affects all ecosystems not just the wilderness. However, because air pollution is a newer problem, the effects of it cause big disturbances.

Fire is a hot button issue, but a necessary part of this ecosystem. Fire causes pine cones to disperse their seeds. It also rids the wilderness of harmful diseases and bugs. Researchers know that the effects of fire create a whole new mountain wilderness. Fires at Mount St. Helens, Yellowstone National Park and other lesser known fires, at first, made the landscape ugly and desolate. After only a couple of years, the areas are vibrant with new growth and colors.

Society frowns on managers who use fire, but fire is a natural way for the land to heal itself and to rid itself from pests and diseases that people are not aware. Fire is very important to the mountain wilderness. Some plants and trees cannot get a new start without it. Pine cones open in fires releasing seeds that would not disperse without it. Other plants need fire to reduce overcrowding. When fire runs through an area, older, weak trees and vegetation die opening up those areas to younger species.

Some disturbances are necessary to sustain the mountain wildernesses. Others harm the area and cause important parts of the ecosystem to die.  

More about this author: Julie Thomas-Zucker

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