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Autumn Jones

Three Ecosystems Comparison Essay


October 31, 2011
Academic 4

Three ecosystems on our planet are prairies, woodlands, and


wetlands. They each are very different, but have something similar which is
the living things, such as insects, plants and animals, within them. Each
ecosystem has plants and animals which are adapted to that environment.
Adaptations are modifications that living things make so that they can
survive, live better, and reproduce in their environment. These can be
physical adaptations like a special type of fur. They could also be behavioral
adaptations such as migration. Each adaptation is different for each plant or
animal because it must fit the needs for their environment to survive.
Prairies are an ecosystem with mostly grasses, though it is home to
many other plants and animals. These animals usually use camouflage to
blend in with the grasses and are often hunters. The plants must adapt to
prairie fires, droughts, and grazing. A rule in numerous ecosystems with
plants is called the one-third: two-third rule. This rule states that a plant
is split into thirds and either one-third or two-thirds in above or below the
ground. Regarding the prairies, one third is above the surface and twothirds is below. This is because of their extensive root systems in order to
reach moisture.
Indian grass is a plant found commonly on savanna prairie
communities. It grows its roots underground which aid it to survive grazing
and fires. There are frequently fires on the prairie. Indian grass profit from
these fires because they tend to grow faster and produce more seeds

afterwards. This plant can get through droughts on the prairie because they
have deep roots with access to moisture. The lack of trees makes it windy
on prairies; therefore, Indian grass has flexible stems so to avoid breaking
in the wind.
Big bluegrass is a plant that adapts to many different climates in the
prairies. It has a greater chance of reproducing than other plants because it
spreads in seeds and in rhizomes. The rhizomes are underground which
allows it to live through fires and grazing. Many prairie species travel in
packs and trample over the plants. Big bluegrass underground roots allow
animals it to still stay alive after the animals have gone through. This plant
grows tall and in groups. This factor removes the competition of sunlight
because they block the other plant species. To conserve water, especially
during droughts, big bluegrass have hairs on their stems and leaves. They
can also use again the advantages of their deep roots to get underground
moisture.
Purple coneflower is one of the more eye-catching plants of prairies. It
uses this to attract insects. The insects then will pollinate for the plant. The
stems of the flower are flexible so they do not break in the wind. The purple
coneflower conserves moisture in two ways. One is by having an extensive
root system. The other is the small hairs on the leaves and stems which trap
the moisture. To compete with the tall grasses usually found in the area,

these flowers grow as tall as they can to soak up the sunlight. The higher
the flower stretches, the better it will be against sunlight competition.
Another prairie plant is milkweed. This plant doesnt compete for
moisture because it has such deep roots. The rhizomes create a layer of
thick fibers that hold the plant in place against strong winds. Their flexible
stems also help to fight the winds. Milkweed uses their attractive red
colored flowers to get insects to pollinate their seeds. These plants,
although having attractive flowers, are poisonous so there are no worries of
grazing.
The 13-lined ground squirrel is a prairie animal with several
adaptations. The stripes on its fur allow it to become camouflaged with the
prairie grasses. The animal has long claws that it uses to dig its burrow
which is its home. The squirrels long body gives it the ability to move
through the burrow with ease. The 13-lined ground squirrel has something
called picket pin posture. This is when it stands on its hind legs. It uses
this to see over the tall grasses in prairies and watch and listen for
predators. Another way they watch for predators is with their large eyes
located on the side of their head. During the winter, food is not always
available, especially when one is as small as a 13-lined ground squirrel. So,
they hibernate during the winter. They gather their food by holding it in
their cheek pouches.

Coyotes are one of the many predators in prairie communities. They


feed on both large and small prey, depending on what is around to hunt.
Coyotes may travel in packs when hunting, mostly for hunting large
animals. These animals certainly do have predators of their own. In order to
protect their home, coyotes mark it with their scent. This keeps away
danger of predators, as well as other coyotes. Their sharp teeth are tools in
eating their prey. Coyotes are very fast animals on the prairie. The speed is
also a factor that helps them as hunters. One more adaptation coyotes have
is their grayish-tan color that blends in with prairie grasses.
Red-tailed hawks are one of the many raptors that can be found on the
prairies. There are numerous physical adaptations to suit their habitat and
carnivorous diet. These hawks use their extremely sharp talons to their
advantage when hunting prey. The talons pierce and crush its prey. Its beak
is short and slightly hooked which is perfect for tearing flesh. Hawks, and
other birds of prey, have vastly good eyesight. They use this adaptation
when flying high above the grasses so they can see animals that would have
otherwise not have been easily found. These adaptations are wonderful for
the red-tailed hawk to have because they cannot smell their prey.
Woodlands consist of mainly trees, shrubs, and other herbaceous
plants. There can be deciduous forests or coniferous forests. Deciduous
means that trees shed their leaves annually. Having this ability prevents the
trees from dying off in the winter from lack of moisture. Coniferous means

that the trees have cone and needles instead of leaves. This ecosystem
endures a variety of climates and goes through all four seasons. Because
there are so many trees other plants underneath the canopy at shoulder or
ground height do not always receive sunlight (see graphs 1 and 12).
Therefore, the woodland plant communities have great competition for
sunlight. The many trees provide shelter to animals within the ecosystem.
The one-third:two-third rule for woodland plants is two-thirds above ground,
which would mainly be the trunk of the tree, and one-third below which is
the roots.
The green ash tree has many adaptations to survive all kinds of
conditions on the woodlands. In the winter, this plants leaves fall off
because it is a deciduous tree. The reason for they lose their leaves is
because when it gets cold, the nutrients going into the leaves get cut off
which makes them dry and fall off. Doing so prevents any infestations or
water loss.
Another type of plant found in the woodlands is the pine tree. Pine
trees are conifers which have cones and usually needle or scale-like leaves.
Pine trees needles are highly flammable and burn quickly, but thats not
always a bad thing. The high heat opens up the cones and releases the
seeds. After the fire takes place, the ash gives the pine tree extra nutrients
that until then were locked in the tissue of the trees. These trees are

connected with water sources and in the winter, when there are occasional
thaws, water goes to the tree to provide it with even more nutrients.
Maple trees are a woodland plant that is common. They, like ash trees,
are also deciduous. When they shed their leaves in the winter, it helps to
prevent water loss that would take place otherwise. If they did not lose their
leaves, they would have a high amount of water loss and lose nutrients. Also
in the winter, maples preserve their energy when they are dormant. Being
dormant is when plants are put in a state of sleep where they are not
active, yet still alive. Dormancy is somewhat relative to hibernation for
animals. How the maple tree spreads its seeds is also an adaptation. These
plants have a wing-like fruit that holds the seeds called samaras. The
samaras travel with the wind to pollenate which is a way they avoid
diseases given by the adult tree they grew from.
The gray-footed chipmunk is rodent found in temperate woodland
areas. This animal uses a slight camouflage effect because its fur is brown,
gray, and white which blends in with the forest floor. Camouflage is a good
trick in order to avoid predators. Another way they hide from danger is in
underground burrows. The chipmunks size also helps because it can tuck
away in small crevices. They have tiny claws that help them to be avid
climbers. Gray-footed chipmunks also hibernate during the winter so they
can avoid the cold weather.

White-tailed deer is a popular animal in forests. It has undergone


adaptations such as camouflage in the winter. The deers fur tends to
change to a more gray color which blends in with the trunks of the leafless
trees. Another physical adaptation is of course its white tail. It uses the tail
as a warning sign to other deer. When its in trouble or is alarmed, the tail
goes up and the flash of white shows as it runs away. White-tailed deer do
not have the best eye sight but they are good at spotting motion. This can
also be a way to protect them from dangers.
Raccoons are a woodland animal with a broad eating palette. This is
more because they scavenge for food in civilization. Raccoons are adapted
to living more towards humans and doing so brings a convenience of food,
even trash. Though, it pays off to have an extensive diet because there is an
availability of food. Raccoons paws are somewhat like a human, which
makes it easier to get and eat food. During the winter, raccoons dont
hibernate like many in the woodlands do. Instead, they put on more weight
in the fall and when they go into their dens for a long period of time, the fat
is burned off.
Wetlands are one of the most diverse ecosystems. They naturally
provide a satisfactory amount of moisture as energy for their plants and
animals. Wetland plants have many adaptations for the immense amount of
moisture and ways to receive oxygen. There is never a competition for
water in this ecosystem, but there is for sun. There are many plants that

float in the wetlands and these block the sun from those plants beneath the
water surface. Animals have to make adaptations the not only the climate
above ground, but also the temperature of the water (see graphs 13 and
14). The wetlands have one-third of the plant life on top and two-thirds
below ground.
A plant found in different types of wetland environments is the
common cattail. The reason for them being located in different areas is
because they are adapted to survive in a variety of soil and water
conditions. In order to live in mostly water, the cattail has waxy leaves to
use as protection from the water. One adaptation that occurs in the cattail,
as well as other plants that live in the wetlands, is having aerenchyma.
These are air spaces between the stems and leaves which provides room for
gases, such as oxygen to move around. Aerenchyma also provides the ability
to stay afloat and stand up straight in the water with their thin stems. The
seeds of cattails are adapted to grow in oxygen poor soil. They will only
grow if they land on water and absorbed with water for a period of time.
The seeds are usually spread by the wind or water current which makes it
easier to be under water and to grow. This is part of the reason why cattails
have grown to become an invasive species in many wetland areas.
Some plants have different types in their specific species, such as
duckweed. Duckweed can include water meal, giant duckweed, and dotted
duckweed. This plant is a huge competition in wetland communities. It uses

air pockets in its cells and small hairs to help it float, therefore it is located
at the top of the water. Duckweed is more likely to soak up the sunlight and
block it from those plants that grow beneath the water. This is also good for
the plant because it uses photosynthesis in the part that is facing upwards
and sunlight fuels photosynthesis.
Water lilies are a type of plant that cannot stay alive all through the
winter. Instead, they adapt to the chilly climate by dying off. They survive in
the plant tuber. A tuber is an underground stem. Then, parts of the plant
will break off and later reproduce into a new water lily. Another adaptation
by this plant is their long stems. The stems are flexible so that the current
of the water doesnt tear through the plant. The lengthy stems also keeps
from any other injuries the plant can have regarding the water current.
Competition for sunlight is not a big problem for water lilies because they
are located on the top of the water. This is great for them because the sun is
their source of energy.
A plant grown in a certain type of wetland is the cranberry. They are
found in bogs which are a cool temperature and also acidic. Cranberries are
submerged under water up until they are harvested. So, they must adapt to
anoxia which means lack of oxygen. They can survive six months without
the oxygen and can live all winter, even trapped under the ice. Cranberries
do this by becoming dormant. Being dormant is when the plant is still alive
but not growing. Its like a plant coma so to speak. A different adaptation

of the cranberry is its ability to grow a new plant from its stems. Many
farmers use the old stem cuttings in order to grow a whole new crop of
cranberries. This is efficient for the species, as well as the commercial
aspect of cranberry farming.
An animal found in the wetlands is the muskrat. They have many
physical adaptations to suit their environment. Their fur is thick and
somewhat insulated which means it protects the body from the cold
temperatures of the water. Muskrats are well accustomed to being in the
water most of the time. They are far better swimmers than they are walking
on land. This fact may be because they have some-what webbed feet.
Muskrats also have a long tail covered with scales which enhances its
swimming as well. In order to eat food underwater, muskrats have flaps that
control the flow of liquid behind their front teeth. This is so they do not
swallow water while eating. Another adaptation muskrats have made is the
placement of their eyes. Their eyes are located more towards the top of
their head so it is easier to see when swimming.
Canadian geese, although far away from home, are a common wetland
animal in the U.S. They are one of the easier birds to hunt, but less so if
they use their flock as protection. Being in a bigger group allows animals to
have more of an advantage because there are more eyes looking out.
Searching for food in the animal world is a big competition. Canadian geese
have adapted to this with their long necks. Having a long neck allows them

to tip their bodies over in the water so that their head is completely
submerged. The geese do this to search for food. They also have webbed
feet to paddle in the water. Even though Canadian geese like to live in the
wetland areas, they often nest on islands. This is to protect their babies and
themselves from predators.
Dragonflies are an insect found near many wetland areas. To live in
the environment, the dragonfly has found many ways to survive. They can
tip their bodies, from either side, in order to control their body heat when
flying. A good adaptation to avoid predators is their ability to fly forwards
and backwards. They can also fly to speeds up to 30 or more miles per hour.
Being one of the smaller species, compared to most mammals, in an
environment, the dragonfly has to be careful for predators. There is a sticky
type substance that surrounds the dragonflys eggs. This keeps the eggs
together so they wont float with the water current. This is handy to make
sure the eggs always stay in one spot which is also easier for the parents to
protect their eggs. When talking about wetland animals, water current and
temperature are always conditions to look out for.
All three ecosystems have their similarities and differences. Many of
the similarities between them are the ways the living things within them
adapt themselves. Using their coverings, behaviors, and body parts, each
has acclimated themselves to survive. The differences are how they present
themselves. The ground of each ecosystem is covered by different amounts

of grass, fungi, moss, or flowers (see graphs 8-11). For example, the
woodlands have less grass than the prairies and wetlands. The prairies do
not have as many mosses, lichens, and fungi as the other ecosystems. If
talking about flowering plants, each ecosystem is fairly equal. While the
woodlands are mostly trees, the prairies are mostly grasses, but they both
share all the same needs. Some of the needs are water, sunlight, and proper
spaces to live to get their needed nutrients. How they get them though, is
what sets each ecosystem apart.