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Ecotones - The Transitional Zones

BY: Medha Hegde | Category: Biology | Submitted: 2012-12-22 01:06:02
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Article Summary: "Ecotone is an interface region between two different ecosystems, for instance a forest and grassland. In the ecology of landscape, an ecotone is the marginal area where 2 patches that have a distinct ecological composition meet..."

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Ecotone is an interface region between two different ecosystems, for instance a forest and grassland. In the ecology of landscape, an ecotone is the marginal area where 2 patches that have a distinct ecological composition meet. The ecotone includes the components of adjacent bordering communities plus the organisms which are typical and restricted to the ecotone. Ecotones can be a broad region where 2 communities steadily change from one to another or an immediate boundary where the alteration from one association to another is sharply defined. An ecotone can be found in local for instance, between a solitary field and an adjoining forest or regionally as in those between two different biomes. The emergence of an ecotone changes relying on the degree of study. Thus, an ecotone can be investigated at various spatial scales, that is from centimeters to hundreds and thousands of kilometres. Ecotones are not restricted to terrestrial communities, for instance, the interface from soft bottom to hard bottom marine communities is an aquatic ecotone.

The idea of an ecotone dates back to the work of Livington and Clements in the beginnings of 19th century. Clements described the ecotons as zones of tension with greater productivity and as an environmentally sophisticated pressure zones. During 1930s, ecotones were extensively investigated by researchers from various disciplines. In the 1950s, researchers named Weaver and Albertson were fascinated in huge transitional areas, like those between the Arctic tundra and the boreal forest. A more current and revised definition that put forth by scientists is that ecotones are the zones of interface between adjoining ecological systems, having a set of features uniquely defined by space and time scales and by the force of the interactions among the adjacent ecological systems.

An ecotone may be formed naturally or by the activities of man. Natural factors include changes in abiotic factors, composition of soils, pH and salinity of soil and its mineral content, as well as structural configuration of the area and meteorology. Anthropogenic (produced by humans) factors includes the acts as clearing of forests, pollution, over exploitation of groundwater in a definite locations or by controlled burning.

Ecotones usually harbour a greater quantity of species and the densities of populations are greater than the communities on both side. This affinity for amplified biodiversity inside the ecotone is known as the "edge effect." And the species which exist primarily or most plentifully in the ecotones are referred to as "edge" species. Even though ecotones bear a large density of some species, various species require inner habitats to survive and show a poor survival on edges. An increase in human activities leads to fragmentation of landscapes and creates more ecotones, which may lead to the increased occurrence of edge species and at the same time resulting in increased harmful effects for the interior species. Ecotones can be marked by, the alterations of spatial and temporal variables, the differences among the patches on either side of the ecotone, and the smoothness of the interface zone. Ecotones are also active, altering width and positions with time during succession or during changes in the environment at various degrees.

An ecotone may be significant in assisting in the interchanging of species and nutrients among the communities. The features of ecotones can add to or divert from the total permeability of the landscape. Plants and animals interrelate with ecotones at various degrees. Observation of species relatedness to ecotones can facilitate conservation and management of those species.

The ecological role and importance of ecotones with regard to ecological management and conservation has become progressively more appreciated. For the management of freshwater resources, for instance, a better perceptive of the role played by land and inland water interfaces, will be necessary for reducing harmful human impacts by engineering, eutrophication, siltation and so on. The regulation of ecotones, on the other hand, offers the opportunity to control aquatic system processes by means of stock control of fish populations. Fish in fact are both superb indicators of ecotone quality as well as determine its structure and function. Ecotones may also play a significant role in ecology as indicators of changes taking place on earth. Recent concerns in ecotones access their sensitivity to climate changes and many researchers support monitoring ecotones to discover several global changes.

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