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Freshwater ecosystems are a subset of Earth's aquatic ecosystems.

They include lakes and ponds, rivers, streams and springs, and wetlands. They can be contrasted with marine ecosystems, which have a larger salt content. Freshwater habitats can be classified by different factors, including temperature, light penetration, and vegetation. Freshwater ecosystems can be divided into lentic ecosystems (still water) and lotic ecosystems (flowing water). Limnology (and its branch freshwater biology) is a study about freshwater ecosystems. It is a part of hydrobiology.

The freshwater biome

Freshwater is defined as having a low salt concentration usually less than 1%. Plants and animals in freshwater regions are adjusted to the low salt content and would not be able to survive in areas of high salt concentration (i.e., ocean). There are different types of freshwater regions:

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Ponds and lakes Streams and rivers Wetlands

Ponds and lakes

These regions range in size from just a few square meters to thousands of square kilometers. Scattered throughout the earth, several are remnants from the Pleistocene glaciation. Many ponds are seasonal, lasting just a couple of months (such as sessile pools) while lakes may exist for hundreds of years or more. Ponds and lakes may have limited species diversity since they are often isolated from one another and from other water sources like rivers and oceans. Lakes and ponds are divided into three different zones which are usually determined by depth and distance from the shoreline.

The topmost zone near the shore of a lake or pond is the littoral zone. This zone is the warmest since it is shallow and can absorb more of the Sun's heat. It sustains a fairly diverse community, which can include several species of algae (like diatoms), rooted and floating aquatic plants, grazing snails, clams, insects, crustaceans, fishes, and amphibians. In the case of the insects, such as dragonflies and midges, only the egg and larvae stages are found in this zone. The vegetation and animals living in the littoral zone are food for other creatures such as turtles, snakes, and ducks.

The near-surface open water surrounded by the littoral zone is the limnetic zone. The limnetic zone is well-lighted (like the littoral zone) and is dominated by plankton, both phytoplankton and zooplankton. Plankton are small organisms that play a crucial role in the food chain. Without aquatic plankton, there would be few living organisms in the world, and certainly no humans. A variety of freshwater fish also occupy this zone.

Plankton have short life spans when they die, they fall into the deep-water part of the lake/pond, the profundal zone. This zone is much colder and denser than the other two. Little light penetrates all the way through the limnetic zone into the profundal zone. The fauna are heterotrophs, meaning that they eat dead organisms and use oxygen for cellular respiration.

Temperature varies in ponds and lakes seasonally. During the summer, the temperature can range from 4 C near the bottom to 22 C at the top. During the winter, the temperature at the bottom can be 4 C while the top is 0 C (ice). In between the two layers, there is a narrow zone called the thermocline where the temperature of the water changes rapidly. During the spring and fall seasons, there is a mixing of the top and bottom layers, usually due to winds, which results in a uniform water temperature of around 4 C. This mixing also circulates oxygen throughout the lake. Of course there are many lakes and ponds that do not freeze during the winter, thus the top layer would be a little warmer.

Streams and rivers

These are bodies of flowing water moving in one direction. Streams and rivers can be found everywhere they get their starts at headwaters, which may be springs, snowmelt or even lakes, and then travel all the way to their mouths, usually another water channel or the ocean. The characteristics of a river or stream change during the journey from the source to the mouth. The temperature is cooler at the source than it is at the mouth. The water is also clearer, has higher oxygen levels, and freshwater fish such as trout and heterotrophs can be found there. Towards the middle part of the stream/river, the width increases, as does species diversity numerous aquatic green plants and algae can be found. Toward the mouth of the river/stream, the water becomes murky from all the sediments that it has picked up upstream, decreasing the amount of light that can penetrate through the water. Since there is less light, there is less diversity of flora, and because of the lower oxygen levels, fish that require less oxygen, such as catfish and carp, can be found.

Wetlands are areas of standing water that support aquatic plants. Marshes, swamps,

and bogs are all considered wetlands. Plant species adapted to the very moist and humid conditions are called hydrophytes. These include pond lilies, cattails, sedges, tamarack, and black spruce. Marsh flora also include such species as cypress and gum. Wetlands have the highest species diversity of all ecosystems. Many species of amphibians, reptiles, birds (such as ducks and waders), and furbearers can be found in the wetlands. Wetlands are not considered freshwater ecosystems as there are some, such as salt marshes, that have high salt concentrations these support different species of animals, such as shrimp, shellfish, and various grasses.

Freshwater streams flow in one direction from source to mouth and are low in salt content (0 to 1 percent). The water source of a stream could be a larger stream or river, a spring or a melting glacier/snowmelt. The mouth of the stream may empty out into a lake, ocean or other water channel. From source to mouth, abiotic (nonliving) components in a stream ecosystem change along the way. Due to the variation in these elements, different types of biotic (living) communities thrive throughout different parts of a given stream.


Sunlight is essential to freshwater stream communities, providing an energy source for the plants and algae that form the basis of the food chain. The duration, intensity and area of sun exposure varies. The altitude and latitude of the ecosystem in question determines the aspect, or angle of intensity, of sunlight received. Higher altitudes face greater intensity, as do latitudes closer to the Equator, since the rays of the sun hit the water's surface at a more direct angle. Cloud cover limits the total area of exposure in a given ecosystem; cloud cover is affected by nearby environmental features such as mountains, as well as by seasonal change.


The current of a stream travels faster as water volume increases and the stream banks narrow. Various factors contribute to the volume of water in a stream bed, including rainfall, nearby surface runoff and the existence of a water table, or an underground water source. In addition, in accordance with the law of gravity, a current's velocity increases directly in relation to the distance and the angle of its decline. When a current is moving quickly, it becomes difficult for aquatic plants to

establish their roots. As a general rule, as the stream bed widens the most, usually near the middle of its path, biological diversity peaks, along with vegetation. Here you will find several communities of waterfowl, fish, insects, crustaceans, wildflowers and aquatic plants.

Water Purity

Water purity is another factor that contributes to biological diversity in a freshwater stream ecosystem. The more pure and clear the water, the more habitable it becomes. The source of a stream is usually the most pure, especially from a spring or melting glacier. As the stream travels along, it gathers debris until it hits the mouth. At the mouth of the stream, pools of sediment and organic material render the water opaque and low in oxygen content. Underwater plant life is scarce here, as plants do not receive adequate sunlight. Fish communities at the mouth of a river have special adaptations to help them survive a lack of oxygen; these species include carp and catfish.

Stream Topography

Throughout a stream's path, there may be any number of changes in topography that can alter the characteristics of that particular ecosystem. Sharp twists and bends slow down the current; big rocks and fallen trees form dams; the composition of the stream bed may determine the type and quantity of sediment carried along with the current. If the stream is in a vast, open valley teeming with grass and wildlife, the stream is more likely to attract diverse animal communities than one that cuts through a narrow mountain pass between two giant peaks.

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The ecosystem of a freshwater pond
An ecosystem consists of all living plants and animals, and the environment in which these organisms thrive. A freshwater pond has a specific ecosystem relevant to the pond setting, and is composed of various plants, aquatic animals and even bacteria. As with all

ecosystems, each element of a freshwater pond's ecosystem is dependent on the other elements and organisms for survival.


The producers of a freshwater pond's ecosystem include rooted or floating plants and phytoplankton. The producers provide crucial nutrients for other organisms of the ecosystem. Water lilies are a common rooted plant in many freshwater ponds, especially man-made ponds. In addition to providing nutrients for the other organisms, these plants also provide oxygen. Curly pond weed, duck weed and marsh marigolds are all common pond producers. Phytoplankton grows in fresh and salt water, and is one of the biggest contributors to the production of oxygen in a pond's ecosystem.

Primary Consumers

Zooplankton is considered a primary consumer in the ecosystem of a pond. Zooplankton is a floating group of unicellular and multicellular animals. Zooplankton consumes the phytoplankton and is extremely important in connection with the fish population of a pond. Zooplankton is incredibly small, usually invisible to the human eye.

Secondary Consumers

Fish are considered as a secondary consumer in a pond's ecosystem because fish consume zooplankton, the primary consumer. There are many different types of fish in a freshwater pond. Goldfish and koi are most common in small, man-made, backyard-type ponds. Larger freshwater ponds can contain catfish, bass, minnows and carp. Fish are usually at the top of the food chain for ponds, unless the pond contains turtles or ducks, also known as tertiary consumers.

Decomposers and Other Elements


Producers and consumers are the primary elements of a pond's ecosystem, but other elements contribute to the pond's ecology. The sun is an important part of the ecosystem. Without sunlight, the producers would not exist. Fungi and

bacteria are another important aspect of the ecosystem, and are known as decomposers. Decomposers break down materials that can be used by consumers, particularly zooplankton.

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Biotic factors of a freshwater ecosystem

Feeding great blue herons are an example of biotic factors.

A man in a boat on the river watched a blue heron wade along the bank. Suddenly, its head darted down. When the heron's beak cleared the water, frog legs dangled. The man witnessed biotic factors in the freshwater ecosystem. Understanding the interactions of the organisms in an ecosystem helps people better manage it. Freshwater ecosystems are important because they act as resources for potable water, food and entertainment.


Freshwater Ecosystem Biotic

Factors Defined


An alligator would be a freshwater biotic factor with a negative effect on those it

Freshwater ecosystems include lakes, ponds, streams, rivers, swamps, marshes and bogs. Biotic factors for freshwater and other ecosystems share the same

concepts. In their book "Environment: The Science Behind the Stories," Jay Withgott and Scott Brennan provide a basic definition for biotic factors: any living component of the environment. Mohan Arora, in his book "Ecology," takes it one step further by designating living organisms as producers, consumers and decomposers. ChristerBronmark and Lars-Anders Hansson, in their book "Biology of Lakes and Ponds," offer a more complex definition. Biotic factors are the interactions between living things in the ecosystem. Organisms affect each other in one of three ways, positive, negative or no effect.

2. Freshwater


Manatees are freshwater herbivores.

Herbivores eat only plants. In terrestrial ecosystems herbivores consume only leaves, not the entire plant, so their impact on the plant is neutral. In a freshwater ecosystem, herbivores may eat the entire plant, or algae. Freshwater herbivores impact the plant negatively. In a freshwater ecosystem, herbivores and predators are viewed the same because both destroy the organism they are consuming. Hippos and manatees are freshwater herbivores that don't follow this pattern since they graze like cattle and don't feed on algae. The American flagfish is an example of an herbivore that feeds exclusively on algae.

3. Freshwater


the bass.

In this case, man is the predator and bass the prey. Man has a negative effect on

Predators consume other animals. Another name for predator is carnivore. They gain through their interaction with other organisms, but the other organisms are irrevocably harmed. By definition, biotic factors include the interactions or effects of one organism on another organism. When a bass eats a minnow, the minnow has a positive effect on the bass, but the bass has a negative effect on the minnow.

4. Parasitism

Parasites, like ich, become a problem with overcrowding and poor water quality.

Parasitism, a type of symbiosis, occurs between two organisms in which one organism, the parasite, requires another organism, a host, to survive. The parasite gains through the relationship, and the host suffers. Several freshwater parasites exist, including protozoa, leeches, nematodes and flukes. Ichthyophthiriusmultifiliis, a protozoa, causes white spot disease. Its more common name is ich. Fish will have swollen gills and lesions on their bodies and fins. The microbe benefits from living off the fish, but the fish suffers.

5. Mutualism

and Commensalism

Hydra grow on the bottom of floating duckweed in a pond or lake.

Two more types of symbiosis are mutualism and commensalism. In mutualism, both organisms benefit from the relationship. With commensalism, one organism benefits, but the other organism is neither helped nor harmed. In a case of freshwater ecosystem mutualism, Hydra viridis has a green algae, chlorella, living in its digestive cells. Both organisms benefit from this union. The algae growing on the back of a manatee would be an example of commensalism. The manatee is not harmed or helped, but the algae has a place to grow relatively free of predation.

6. Competition


Schooling fish band together for protection, but they also compete for food and

Competition not only refers to interactions between different kinds of organisms, but between organisms of the same species. In competition, organisms compete

for resources such as mates, food, water and homes. Competition involves the interaction of biotic and abiotic factors. Abiotic factors are the interactions of living organisms with the physical world. In freshwater ecosystems this includes clearness of water, depth in the water column, temperature and pH, just to name a few.

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Role of pH in a freshwater ecosystem
Freshwater ecosystems are in large part regulated by pH levels that exist naturally in the range of 6 to 8. The pH of freshwater ecosystems can fluctuate daily and seasonally, and most freshwater life has evolved to tolerate these fluctuations. However, freshwater life can falter and fail when exposed to extremes in pH, as well as rapid changes in pH, even if the change occurs within a range that is normally tolerated by the ecosystem.


High pH
When plants or algae grow rapidly in a freshwater environment more carbon dioxide is added each day by photosynthesis than is removed each night by respiration. As a result, pH levels may rise to levels that cannot be tolerated by the marine life. Juvenile fish and shallow water crustaceans are particularly susceptible to damage from high pH levels. Mature fish are better able to regulate high pH levels, typically by moving to deeper waters where the pH is lower.

ow pH

Scientists most often attribute low pH levels to acid rain. A freshwater ecosystem reaches a low pH when pH levels approach 5 and below. As the pH begins to fall basic forms of food die. For example, aquatic bugs that serve as an important food source for fish will fail to reproduce and will cease to survive. As pH continues to fall, fish cannot reproduce, juvenile fish begin to die and mature fish die of suffocation. The ecosystem continues to change as new species of plants and algae invade and the system is entirely void of its original plant, fish and crustacean life.

Indirect Effects of Low pH


As pH levels drop, acidity increases. As a result of the increased acidity, heavy metals present in the soils, such as aluminum ions, are dissociated and released into the water. Heavy metal ions burn the gills of fish, accumulate in their organs and eventually lead to death.

Sudden Changes in pH

Sudden changes in pH can stress or kill aquatic life, even when the changes occur within a pH range they typically tolerate. Aquatic life is unable to adjust to the sudden change and is unable to maintain osmoregulation. As a result, aquatic life loses the delicate balance of salt in its tissues that is required to sustain life. Certain species, such as catfish, are more susceptible to this phenomenon, and all juvenile fish are particularly vulnerable.

Read more: The Role of pH in a Freshwater Aquatic Ecosystem | eHow.com -ph-freshwater-aquatic-eco system.html#ixzz1ScNHuWiU
How to measure pH?
The pH scale represents the way to the acidity level in water solutions. The neutral solution has a pH of 7. Acidic solutions have pH values below 7, while a pH greater than 7 is basic. The term "freshwater" stands for naturally occurring water sources such as lakes, streams, and ponds. The normal freshwater pH ranges from 6 to 8. However, the pollution of freshwater with heavily acidic sulfur dioxide (SO2) and nitrogen oxides drops the pH level significantly below 5, which can be devastating for aquatic life such as fish or plankton.



Things You'll Need
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Small beaker or test tube pH paper


Collect 3 to 5 milliliters of the freshwater sample in the beaker or test tube.

Tear off a piece of the pH paper.

Dip the end of the paper strip quickly into the freshwater, then immediately take it out.

Observe the change of color on the pH paper strip.

Compare the color of the paper strip with the pH chart to determine the pH of the freshwater.

Read more: How to Test the pH Levels of Freshwater | eHow.com -ph-levels-freshwater.html #ixzz1ScNbaitg

Compare freshwater and seawater

An ecosystem is the aggregate of all biological, physical and chemical properties typical to the abiotic and biotic components of an ecosystem. Biotic components are the living parts of the ecosystem while abiotic components are the non-living parts of the ecosystem. Differences between saline and freshwater ecosystems include size, salinity and species.


Salt Content
The marine, saline or salt-based ecosystem is an aquatic ecosystem. It is called a saline ecosystem because of the water's high levels of salt content. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, the average marine water has a salinity level of 35 parts of salt to one kilogram of water. This is one of the major differences between the saline and freshwater ecosystems. Freshwater ecosystems have very little salt content and are the main sources of drinking water.

Types of Saline Ecosystems


Saline and freshwater ecosystems comprise different types of bodies of water. The saline ecosystem is divided into estuaries, coral reefs and oceans. Coral reefs -- like the Great Barrier Reef off Australia -- form barriers along continents. Estuaries are the point of convergence between marine and freshwater ecosystems while oceans are large bodies of water in different parts of the world.

Types of Freshwater Ecosystems


Freshwater ecosystems include ponds, lakes, streams and rivers. Ponds may be natural or man-made. Some natural ponds, like sessile pools, are seasonal and only last for a few months, unlike saline ecosystems, which are permanent. Streams and rivers are bodies of water flowing toward one direction. They start from headwaters -- which could be lakes, springs or melted snow -- and flow all the way to their mouths, which may be an ocean.


Another major difference between marine and freshwater ecosystems is their size. Marine ecosystems are huge and they make up about three-fourths of the Earth's surface. Freshwater ecosystems are small in comparison to their marine counterparts. Oceans -- the largest bodies of water -- are separated into four zones. The intertidal zone is the junction for the ocean and land. The pelagic zone is the open ocean. The benthic zone is the area directly underneath the pelagic zone and the abyssal zone is the ocean's deepest regions.


The species of organisms found in marine and freshwater ecosystems vary. All of the species of organisms in the marine ecosystem have adapted to survive this ecosystem's high salinity. For example, most fish in this region have special gills that help them regulate their salt intake by filtering out excess salts. On the other hand, organisms in the freshwater ecosystem do not have this physiological adaptation because it is not necessary

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Comparing organisms in freshwater and seawater

Organisms have evolved and developed mechanisms that enable them to live in their ecosystem. The marine ecosystem and the freshwater ecosystem are both aquatic ecosystems. The main difference between the two is the level of salinity in the marine ecosystem in comparison to the freshwater ecosystem. The depth and scope of the marine ecosystem is also much broader than that of the freshwater ecosystem. Organisms that live in these aquatic ecosystems have adapted to survive in their environment.


Collapsed Lungs

Most marine animals have adapted to survive underneath the water for prolonged periods of time. The level of pressure in huge bodies of water like oceans and seas is enormous. According to, the level of pressure increases by 14.7 pounds per square inch for every 33 feet of water. Most freshwater organisms cannot survive at the depths that marine organisms can. Some of them, such as elephant seals and Weddell seals, have developed adaptations that allow them to dive as deep as 1 mile into the depths of the ocean. They have lungs that they can collapse as soon as they go into a steep dive.


Marine mammals such as seals, whales and manatees have developed adaptations that help them survive in the marine environment. The water in the marine environment can be exceedingly cold, and these mammals have to maintain a body temperature that is above that of the water they are swimming in. One of these adaptations is the development of a protective layer of fat known as "blubber." Blubber serves as a sort of insulator between the mammals and the cold water. Freshwater water mammals do not have this adaptation because it is not necessary. For example, sea otters do not have a lot of body fat. They depend on a thick covering of fur to keep them warm.


Marine plants and animals have evolved to survive in the marine environment, despite the high salt content. Most marine organisms have specialized processes for filtering out the excess salt from their systems. They have highly adapted kidneys and gills that help them with the process of osmoregulation, which is the process of regulating the osmotic pressure on the fluids inside an organism. This regulation helps them combat any excess dilution or concentration of their bodily fluids. This same process goes for freshwater animals; they have to use osmoregulation to prevent their bodily fluids from becoming too diluted by excess water. Organisms that have adapted to high salinity include crocodiles. Unlike freshwater alligators, they prefer brackish and salty water bodies.


Plants and animals that live in marine areas with strong tide, like estuaries, have adapted to live in such areas. Organisms like cockles have strong shells to resist the action of the flow and ebb of the tide. Barnacles and mussels have developed apparatus that enable them to cling to rock, protecting them from being washed out to sea. Freshwater and marine mussels have different characteristics; marine mussels have stronger shells and they also have the thread-like appendages with which they secure themselves to rocks.

Read more: Differences Between Freshwater Organisms & Saltwater Organisms | eHow.com -freshwater-organis ms-saltwater-organisms.html#ixzz1ScNoZVTT