An ecosystem is the complex set of relationships between all living organisms and the non-living physical environment which function together as a unit in a given area. Even though ecosystems contain all living and non-living things found in an area, they are typically described by the dominant plant community.
Over time, all ecosystems undergo a dynamic process of change, called succession. For example, oak trees may invade a dry-mesic prairie in the absence of fire, eventually leading to the formation of an oak savanna. If trees and shrubs continue to establish over time, the ecosystem may become a dry-mesic forest.
The process of succession is controlled by natural events called disturbances, which alter the ecosystem. Examples of natural disturbances include fire, seasonal flooding, or storms, and most ecosystems actually depend on these types of disturbances to remain healthy. For example, prairies depend on frequent fires to promote the growth of prairie grasses and wildflowers and to keep shrubs and trees from taking over. Shady mesic forests depend on storms to topple trees and open up light gaps for new trees to grow.
Learn more about:
For more information about the Metroparks’ ecosystems, contact the Metroparks Natural Resources Department at 810-227-2757.