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This section takes the child from the understanding that all things are connected within ecosystems, to an appreciation that separate ecosystems, and all they contain, are also interconnected. As such, every living thing is connected to every other. At first, this can seem a difficult concept to grasp, but it can be illustrated with a fairly simple example:

The following diagram (fig.6) could be used as the basis of a poster. It shows how the plants in an ecosystem "suck" up water from the ground like a straw, and into their leaves. When it reaches the leaves, it evaporates into the air, like perspiration. [This process is called transpiration and is used to draw up nutrients from the soil, and to cool the plant down on a hot day]. The water [vapour] rises high and forms clouds. These clouds will be blown far away by the wind, perhaps to another ecosystem. The clouds will burst, showering rainwater on the second ecosystem's plants, allowing them to grow and support the rest of their community.

Although the example uses water as the connection, countless others could also be used, e.g. carbon, nitrogen, carbon dioxide or oxygen. The example suggests that not only do plants in one ecosystem benefit plants in another, but anything that has helped the first ecosystem's plants (e.g. a worm) will also help anything that benefits from the second ecosystem's plants (e.g. a fungus). There are no boundaries to the interactions, right across the planet. Hence, the existence of life on one part of the globe will depend on life everywhere else. However, because of the complexity involved, specific effects of any influence cannot be predicted.

Human beings are most definitely also connected to everything else. On the large scale, pollution made in one part of the world can destroy ecosystems in another; forests cut down in one country can change the climate of the whole world (Lovelock, 1991). On the small scale, if you walk on a lawn, you will break blades of grass and step on ants, having knock-on effects for other creatures. By the very fact that we are alive, we have consequences for every other living thing. Sometimes we need to do things that will have bad consequences, and so we must remain aware of what we are doing and be responsible for our actions. It is important to remember that our influence needs not be a negative one. We can also help other living things and make their lives better. Some implications are dealt with in 10. Human Influence.




An enjoyable activity and a good way to assess a child's true understanding about a subject such as "ecosystems" is for him to create something artistic, such as a painting, story or poem. Worksheets will assess their understanding to an extent, but aesthetic appreciation for something is usually deeper and makes a stronger impression than intellectual understanding (Gatto, 1996). Furthermore, such activities can be linked with National Curriculum art or English requirements.

Ask the children to write a poem about ecosystems, describing living things, their interconnections and interdependence. A good way of doing this is to write the word "ECOSYSTEM" down the page and start the poem's first line with an "E," the second with a "C," the third with an "O," etc.

Ask them to paint a picture called "Me in my ecosystem."


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