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ECOLOGY (Part 1 of 3)   Leave a comment

DEFINITION:1 a) the branch of biology that deals with the relations between living organisms and their environment b) the complex of relations between a specific organism and its environment 2 Sociology the study of the relationship and adjustment of human groups to their geographical and social environments.

1869: Birth of ecology. Most people are unaware that the subdivision of biology called ecology is over a century old. Over the course of its development, ecology has emerged as one of the most significant and studied aspects of biology. Ecology refers to the overall interrelated system of nature and the interdependence of all living things.

The word ecology has been popularized more recently because of the many environmental concerns that have been raised since the 1970s. But as a word, ecology was coined in about 1869 by a German zoologist named Ernst Haeckel. A researcher in evolution and a strong supporter of Charles Darwins theories, Haeckel spent most of his career teaching at the University of Jena.

The study of ecology dates back to the ancient Greek philosophers. An associate of Aristotle named Theophrastus first described the relationships between organisms and their environment. Today the field of ecology has expanded beyond narrow biological studies to include environmental pollution, population growth, and food supplies.

The science that deals with the ways in which plants and animals depend upon one another and upon the physical settings in which they live is called ecology. Ecologists investigate the interactions of organisms in various kinds of environments. In this way they learn how nature establishes orderly patterns among a great variety of living things. The word ecology was coined in 1869. It comes from the Greek oikos, which means “household.” Economics is derived from the same word. However, economics deals with human “housekeeping,” while ecology concerns the “housekeeping” of nature.

Interdependence in Nature

Ecology emphasizes the dependence of every form of life on other living things and on the natural resources in its environment, such as air, soil, and water. Before there was a science of ecology, the great English biologist Charles Darwin noted this interdependence when he wrote: “It is interesting to contemplate a tangled bank, clothed with plants of many kinds, with birds singing on the bushes, with various insects flitting about, and with worms crawling through the damp earth, and to reflect that these elaborately constructed forms, so different from each other, and so dependent upon each other in so complex a manner, have all been produced by laws acting around us.”

Ecology shows that people cannot regard nature as separate and detached something to look at on a visit to a forest preserve or a drive through the country. Any changes made in the environment affect all the organisms in it. When vehicles and factories hurl pollutants into the air, animals and plants as well as humans themselves are harmed. The water they foul with wastes and silt threatens remote streams and lakes. Even ocean fisheries may experience reduced catches because of pollution.

The Balance of Nature

Each kind of life is suited to the physical conditions of its habitat the type of soil, the amount of moisture and light, the quality of air, the annual variations in temperature. Each survives because it can hold its own with its neighbours However, the continued existence of the whole group, or life community, involves a shifting balance among its members, a “dynamic equilibrium.”

Natural balances are disrupted when crops are planted, since ordinarily the crops are not native to the areas in which they are grown. Such disturbances of natural balances make it necessary for man to impose artificial balances that will maintain or increase crop production. For the effective manipulation of these new equilibriums, information on nature’s checks and balances is absolutely essential, and often only a specialist is able to provide it. For example, if a farmer were told that he could increase the red clover in his pasture with the help of domestic cats, he might ridicule the suggestion. Yet the relationship between cats and red clover has been clearly established. Cats kill field mice, thus preventing them from destroying the nests and larvae of bumblebees. As a result, more bumblebees are available to pollinate clover blossoms. The more thoroughly the blossoms are pollinated, the more seed will be produced and the richer the clover crop will be. This cat-mouse-bee-clover relationship is typical of the cause-and-effect chains that ecologists study.

The Wide Scope of Ecology

Long before a separate science of ecology arose, men in all sorts of occupations were guided by what are now regarded as ecological considerations. The primitive hunter who knew that deer had to stop at a salt lick for salt was a practical ecologist. So too was the early fisherman who realized that gulls hovering over the water marked the position of a school of fish. In the absence of calendars, men used ecological facts to guide their seasonal endeavours They planted corn when oak leaves were the size of a squirrel’s ear. They regarded the noise of geese flying south as a warning to prepare for winter.

Natural history, the study of nature in general; forerunner of the sciences of biology and ecology.

Until about 1850, the scientific study of such phenomena was called natural history, and the student of the great outdoors was called a naturalist. Afterwards, natural history became subdivided into special fields, such as geology, zoology, and botany, and the naturalist moved indoors. There he performed laboratory work with the aid of scientific equipment.

While the scientists were at work in their laboratories, other men were continuing to cope with living things in their natural settings on timber lands, on range lands, on crop lands, in streams and seas. Although these men often needed help, many of their problems could not be solved in the laboratory.

The forester, for example, wanted to know why trees do not thrive on the prairie, the desert, and the mountaintop. The rancher wanted to know how to manage his pastures so that his cattle would flourish, and how such creatures as coyotes, hawks, rabbits, gophers, and grasshoppers would affect his efforts.

As for the farmer, almost every part of his work posed problems for which scientific answers were needed. The game manager came to realize that his duties entailed much more than the regulation of hunting. To preserve the animals for which he was responsible, he had to make sure they had the right kinds of food in all seasons, suitable places to live and raise their young, and appropriate cover.

The fisherman learned that most aquatic life fares poorly in muddy and polluted waters. He became interested in land management and waste disposal when he discovered that the silt he found so troublesome came from rural areas where timber, range land, and crop land were mishandled and that the waters he fished were polluted by urban wastes. The ocean fisherman wanted to know why fish were abundant in one place and scarce in another. He needed information on the breeding habits of his catches and of the tiny animals and plants upon which they fed.

These are all ecological problems. To solve them the ecologist must understand biology the science of living things including botany and zoology. He must also understand the sciences that deal with weather, climate, rocks, earth, soil, and water.

An ecologist is concerned with both the past and the future. The present and potential condition of a field, stream, or forest cannot be understood without knowing its earlier history. For example, great stretches of light-green aspen trees may grow in parts of the Rocky Mountains while nearby slopes are covered with dark-green fir and spruce trees. This indicates that a forest fire once destroyed stands of evergreens. Aspens are the first trees capable of growing on the fire-scarred land. After about 40 years spruce and fir seeds begin to germinate in the shade of the aspens. In the course of time the evergreens can be expected to regain their lost territory.

SOME PRINCIPLES OF ECOLOGY

Ecology is a relatively young science. Its laws are still being developed. Nevertheless, some of its principles have already won wide acceptance.

The Special Environmental Needs of Living Things

One of these principles can be stated as follows: life patterns reflect the patterns of the physical environment. In land communities vegetation patterns are influenced by climate and soil. Climate has a marked effect on the height of dominant native plants. For instance, the humid climate of the Eastern United States supports tall forest trees. Westward from Minnesota and Texas the climate changes from sub humid to semiarid. At first the land has squatty, scattered trees and tall grasses or thickets. As the climate becomes drier, tall-grass prairies dominate. Finally, on the dry plains at the eastern base of the Rockies, short-grass steppe appears.

Rocky Mountains (or Rockies), chain of ranges, along e. side of North American Cordilleras from Mexico to Alaska.

Climates and plant varieties change quickly at the various elevations of mountain range. At very high altitudes in the Rockies, alpine range lands exist above the timberline. Here, the climatic factor of cold outweighs that of moisture, and tundra vegetation similar to that of the Arctic regions is nurtured. West of the Rockies, however, in basins between other mountains, the desert scrub vegetation of arid climates prevails. Near the northern Pacific coast may be found lush rain forests typical of extremely humid temperature climates.

Though moisture and temperature determine the overall pattern of a region’s vegetation, unusual soil conditions may promote the growth of un-typical plant species. Thus, even in arid climates cat tails grow near ponds and forests rise along streams or from rocky outcrops where run off water collects in cracks.

Plants and animals flourish only when certain physical conditions are present. In the absence of such conditions, plants and animals cannot survive without artificial help. Domestic plants and animals ordinarily die out within a few generations without the continued protection of man. Of all the forms of life, man seems least bound by environmental limitations. He can create liveable conditions nearly everywhere on the planet by means of fire, shelters, clothing, and tools. Without these aids, man would be as restricted in his choice of habitat as are, for example, such species as the polar bear, the camel, and the beech tree. However, given his capacity to develop artificial environments, man is able to range not only over the entire Earth but also in the heights of outer space and the depths of the ocean bottom.

Communities of Plants and Animals

Community, in biology, a group of organisms living together in a particular environment.

Closely related to the life patterns principle is the principle of biotic communities. According to this principle, the plants and animals of a given area its biota tend to group themselves into loosely organized units known as communities. The community is the natural home of each member-species.

This means that certain types of plants and animals live together in readily identified communities. Pronghorn antelope are associated with dry steppe grasslands; moose inhabit northern spruce forests; and such trees as oak and hickory or beech and maple are found together in forests. By contrast, certain living things cat tail and cactus, for example never share the same natural environment.

Large communities in turn contain smaller ones, each with its own characteristic biota. Bison, coyotes, and jack rabbits are part of the grasslands community. Fox squirrels, wood pigeons, and black bears are part of the forest community. By means of computers, ecologists have simulated communities containing various plants and animals. In this way they have been able to determine optimum populations for each of the species in a community.

ECOLOGY (Part 3 of 3)   Leave a comment

HOW DDT KILLED THE ROBINS. Dutch elm disease threatened to destroy most of the majestic elms that once flourished along residential streets. To eliminate the beetles that carry this fungus disease, many communities sprayed their elms with massive doses of DDT. The pesticide stuck to the leaves even after they fell in the autumn. Earthworms then fed on the leaves and accumulated DDT in their bodies. When spring came, robins returned to the communities to nest. They ate the earthworms and began to die in alarming numbers. Of the females that survived, some took in enough DDT to hamper the production or hatching of eggs. Robin populations were so seriously affected by DDT poisoning that the very survival of the songbird seemed in jeopardy. This experience was a vivid example of the far-ranging effects that flow from upsets in the delicate balances of nature.

Ironically, the DDT did little to prevent the spread of Dutch elm disease.

By the 1970s ecologists had accumulated considerable evidence demonstrating that the widely used pesticide DDT and its metabolites, principally DDE, altered the calcium metabolism of certain birds. The birds laid eggs with such thin shells that they were crushed during incubation. This discovery was one of many that led to the imposition of legal restraints on the use of some agricultural pesticides.

Ecologists know that the well-being of a biotic community may require the preservation of a key member-species. For example, the alligator performs a valuable service in the Florida Everglades by digging “‘gator holes.” These are ponds created by female alligators when they dig up grass and mud for their nests. During extremely dry spells, these holes often retain enough water to meet the needs of bobcats, raccoons and fish until the arrival of rainy weather.

Many birds use the holes for watering. Willow seeds take root along the edges, and fallen willow leaves later add substance to the soil. Thus, many forms of life are sustained by ‘gator holes. But poachers have been hunting the alligators almost to extinction for their valuable hides.

As a result, the number of ‘gator holes can be expected to dwindle, and various forms of Everglades wildlife may be deprived of these refuges. Such ecological findings strengthen the case for the protection of alligators.

Another ecological threat to the Everglades arose in the late 1960s, when plans were made to build a jet airport near the northern end of the national park. The airport would have wiped out part of a large swamp that furnishes the Everglades with much of its surface water. Ecologists and conservationists opposed the project, arguing that it would hamper the flow of surface water through the park and thus endanger the biota of the unique Everglades ecosystem.

Their arguments aroused public concern, and in 1970 plans for the airport were dropped.

An Ecological Mistake

Kaibab National Forest, forest in Arizona, adjoining Grand Canyon National Park; 1,780,475 acres (691,395 hectares); forest headquarters Williams, Ariz.

At times, seemingly practical conservation efforts turn out to be mistakes. Cougars, or mountain lions, and deer were once abundant in Grand Canyon National Park and Kaibab National Forest. Because the cougars preyed on the deer, hunters were allowed to shoot the cougars until only a few were left.

With their chief enemy gone, the deer of the area increased so rapidly that they consumed more forage than the Kaibab could produce. The deer stripped the forest of every leaf and twig they could reach and destroyed large areas of forage in the Grand Canyon National Park as well. The famished deer grew feeble, and many defective fawns were born. Finally, deer hunting in the Kaibab was permitted, in the hope that the size of the deer herd would drop until the range could accommodate it. In addition, the few surviving cougars were protected to allow them to multiply. They then resumed their ecological niche of keeping the herd size down and of killing those deer not vigorous enough to be good breeding stock.

The Ecological Control of Pests

Many of the insects and other pests that have plagued North America originated elsewhere. There these pests were held in check by natural enemies, and the plants and animals they infested had developed a measure of tolerance toward them. However, when they were placed in an environment free of these restraints, the pests often multiplied uncontrollably.

At first, farmers fought the pests with toxic sprays and other powerful chemicals. However, these methods were expensive, sometimes proved unsuccessful, and were often dangerous. After decades of use, some pesticides were banned. In certain instances, pesticide use gave way to an ecological approach.

Research showed that severe damage from certain pests the Mexican beetle and the European corn borer, for example is confined to crops grown on particular types of soil or under certain conditions of moisture. Changes in land use helped control some pests. Others were controlled biologically by importing parasites or predators from their native lands. This important form of pest control proved successful in limiting damage by scale insects.

By destroying birds and other animals, as well as their breeding places, people lose valuable allies in their constant war with insects. Once, when the sportsmen of Ohio supported a proposal to permit quail hunting, the farmers of the state objected. They knew that a single quail killed enough insects to make it worth at least as much to them as a dozen chickens.

In some 3,000 locally organized Resource Conservation Districts ecological principles are being used to guide land use and community maintenance practices. These districts encompass the federal lands of the United States and more than 95 percent of its privately owned farmlands.

GOALS OF ECOLOGY

Throughout the world man-made communities have been replacing the communities of nature. However, the principles that govern the life of natural communities must be observed if these man-made communities are to thrive. People must think less about conquering nature and more about learning to work with nature.

In addition, each person must realize his interdependence with the rest of nature, including his fellow human beings. To safeguard life on Earth, people must learn to control and adjust the balances in nature that are altered by their activities.

Maintenance of the Environment

Climate cannot be changed except sporadically by cloud seeding, inadvertently by pollution, and on a small scale by making windbreaks or greenhouses. However, human activities can be successfully adapted to the prevailing climatic patterns. Plants and animals, for example, should be raised in the climates best suited to them, and particular attention should be paid to the cold and dry years rather than to average years or exceptionally productive years. In the United States the serious dust storms of the 1930s occurred because land that was ploughed in wet years to grow wheat blew away in dry years. Much of that land should have been kept as range land

Soil is a measure of an environment’s capacity to support life. It forms very slowly but can be lost quickly as much as an inch in a rainstorm. Wise land use ensures its retention and improvement.

For agricultural purposes, land is used principally as timber land, range land, or crop land Timber land and range land are natural communities. Crop land is formed when what was originally timber land or range land is cultivated. To ensure the best possible use of land, it is classified according to its ability to sustain the production of timber, pasture, or crops.

Water, like soil, is a measure of the abundance of life. Usable water depends on the amount and retention of rainfall. An excessive run-off of rainwater, however, may result from human activities for example, the building of roads and drainage ditches; the construction of extensive parking areas and shopping centres; the unwise harvesting of timber; year-round grazing of ranges; and the cultivation of easily eroded lands. Excessive run-off may cause floods. It may also lead to drought, which can occur when too little water is stored underground. Moreover, run-off strips soil from the land. This is deposited in reservoirs, ship channels, and other bodies of water. These silt-laden bodies must then be either dredged or abandoned. Water movements in and out of the soil must be controlled in such a way as to minimize damage and maximize benefits.

The Conservation of Natural Communities

Community, in biology, a group of organisms living together in a particular environment.

The communities of plants and animals established by humans usually consist of only a few varieties, often managed in a way that harms the environment. By contrast, natural communities usually enhance the environment and still yield many products and sources of pleasure to people.

Land once cultivated but now lying idle should be restored to the natural communities that formerly occupied it. In addition, people should use the findings of ecology to improve their artificial communities such as fields, gardens, orchards, and pastures. For example, few man-made agents for the control of pests can outperform the wide variety of insect-eating birds.

The Curtailment of Waste

Modern machines and weapons and the harmful wastes of technology can be used to destroy the environment. At the same time, the wise use of machinery can also enable humans to conserve their surroundings. Just as negotiation rather than warfare can be employed to resolve international disputes, no doubt the means can be devised to curtail the destructive wastes of factories and vehicles. True, ever-growing demands for goods and services, nurtured by increasing human populations and rising expectations, are placing more and more pressure on the environment. An understanding of the causes and consequences of environmental deterioration, however, may bring about a change in the goals that people pursue and the means they use to achieve these goals.

Increases in human material possessions have been accompanied by a potentially dangerous worsening of the natural environment. A central function of ecology is to study human interactions with the natural environment in order to modify them favourably.

Assisted by E.J. Dyksterhuis, Professor of Range Ecology, Texas A & M University.

BIBLIOGRAPHY FOR ECOLOGY

Books for Children

Jaspersohn, William. How the Forest Grew (Greenwillow, 1980).

Pringle, Laurence. City and Suburb: Exploring an Ecosystem (Macmillan, 1975).

Sabin, Francene. Ecosystems and Food Chains (Troll, 1985).

Selsam, M.E. How Animals Live Together, rev. ed. (Morrow, 1979).

Books for Young Adults

Billington, E.T. Understanding Ecology, rev. ed. (Warne, 1971).

Pringle, Laurence. Lives at Stake: The Science and Politics of Environmental Health (Macmillan, 1980).

Sharpe, G.W. Interpreting the Environment, 2nd ed. (Wiley, 1982).

Sharpe, G.W. and others. Introduction to Forestry, 4th ed. (McGraw, 1976).

CONSERVATION (Part 2 of 5)   Leave a comment

WATER CONSERVATION

Polluted water in one part of the world affects water sources everywhere. This happens because water moves through what is called the hydro logic cycle.

In the hydro logic cycle

1) water moves into the air and clouds as it evaporates from oceans, lakes, and rivers.

2) the winds that blow around the Earth blow the water vapour around until enough builds up inside a cloud to cause rain to fall.

3) wherever that rain falls, sooner or later it will flow into another body of water.

In this way, a water molecule that left the ocean near California may fall as rain in India. Unfortunately, products that pollute the water can also be carried to other parts of the world along with the water molecules.

Water is an essential natural resource. Everyone uses it. It is needed in homes for drinking, cooking, and washing. Communities must have it for fire protection and recreational activities such as swimming, boating, and fishing. Industries use it to produce electricity and to perform a large number of manufacturing processes.

Watersheds and Their Importance

Watershed (or drainage basin), area of land, of any size, from which all precipitation flows to a single stream or set of streams.

A watershed is the area drained by a river or a stream in a region. Such an area slopes toward a common land trough. Some rain runs off, or drains, over the ground surface. Run-off water forms small streams, which flow into larger ones. These eventually join to form rivers.

A natural watershed conserves water. It has clear streams and an ample cover of trees, grasses, and other plants. Plants help contribute to form a part of the topsoil called humus. Humus consists of decaying leaves and wood, bacteria, dead insects, and other plant and animal remains. It provides some of the nutrients for new plant life. Together with a network of roots, it acts as a blotter that soaks up rain. Plants break the force of falling rain and scatter the drops over leaves and branches. Some of the water returns to the air by evaporation. Part of the water used by plants is passed through their leaves into the air again by transpiration. The rest of the water sinks into the earth through countless tiny channels. Some of the spaces in the soil through which water percolates are caused by natural features of the geology or soil itself. Others are made by plant roots and burrowing animals like earthworms, insects, and moles.

The level at which the earth is permanently saturated is known as the water table. This vast underground water supply fluctuates with the seasons and the amount of rainfall. During long, heavy rains the soil may not be able to soak up all the water. Some of it runs off the surface, but in a forested watershed it moves slowly. Deep snow that melts slowly allows water to soak into the soil gradually.

When all the trees in an area have been cut down or burned off due to poor forestry practices, or grasses and other plants have been stripped off by fire, overgrazing, or poor farming practices, the watershed suffers. The water from rainfall flows over the ground’s surface instead of being absorbed by the vegetation and organic materials that would be present on a natural forest floor.

When there are no leaves and branches or grasses to break the force of falling rain and the blotter of roots and humus is gone, mud closes the channels through which water sinks into the soil. If the land is level, the water stands in stagnant pools; if it slopes, the water runs downhill into the rivers. Streams in a mismanaged watershed become brown with silt, or suspended soil, because the racing water carries soil along with it.

A mismanaged watershed can result in destructive floods in the spring because heavy rains and melting snows overflow the riverbanks. In the summer, streams, springs, and wells can dry up because little or no water has sunk into the underground reservoirs.

Water Pollution

Water can be polluted by many things. One of these is the topsoil or silt that washes into streams and rivers. This silt washes into streams and rivers from land that has been badly managed.

When silt washes into streams and rivers, two harmful things may happen.

1) Silt that floats in the water limits the amount of air in the water. Fish need air to breathe. When silt limits the air in the water, the fish die.

2) As the movement of water slows down, silt drops to the bottom of the stream beds

There are ways of controlling erosion of silt from land into streams and reservoirs. Conservationists try to make sure that the right steps are taken to prevent the silting of streams.

The silting of streams is one kind of water pollution. A heavy load of silt kills fish indirectly by reducing the amount of oxygen in the water. Then, as the flowing water slows, silt is deposited on stream beds Reservoirs behind dams also fill with silt unless erosion is stopped in watersheds above.

The main problem with our waterways is that they have been used as a garbage can for every kind of human waste that you might imagine.

Raw, untreated sewage contains:

  • garbage from individuals and businesses

  • waste products from industry

  • run-off from sewers

Raw sewage is unhealthy and can cause outbreaks of disease. It also severely pollutes the environment.

Raw sewage can be treated in special ways to make it less harmful to the environment. For example, poisonous metals and objects that take a long time to break down can be removed from the waste so it can break down faster.

Other kinds of water pollution have created other problems. Many waterways are used as dumps for household and industrial wastes. Some communities dump untreated sewage and garbage into the nearest streams. Industries contaminate the waterways when they discharge acids, chemicals, greases, oils, and organic matter into them. Such materials foul drinking water and endanger public health. They destroy commercial fisheries. They also make waterways unusable for recreational purposes. Leaks and spills from offshore oil wells and wrecked or damaged oil tankers have caused the widespread destruction of marine life.

A food chain is made up of plants and animals linked together like a chain. Each creature depends on the other creatures in the chain for food.

It takes many creatures at the bottom of a food chain to feed just one animal at the top of the chain.

If one link becomes weak, it affects all others in the chain. Here’s an example:

For a period of time humans sprayed a chemical pesticide called DDT on plants to kill bugs.

The DDT washed off the plants and into rivers, lakes, and streams. Fish ate the poison. Many fish died, but many others survived with traces of the poison in their bodies.

Some animals ate the poisoned fish. Still others ate poisoned insects. Finally, other creatures ate the animals that had eaten the poisoned fish and insects.

Since higher animals in the chain eat a large amount of the lower animals, each link was getting more and more DDT.

While large doses of DDT can kill, smaller doses do damage as well. For example, DDT causes the shells of bird eggs to be too thin. Many kinds of birds, such as the American bald eagle, poisoned by DDT, were unable to hatch young, and their numbers became smaller and smaller.

When conservationists and others saw the harm caused by DDT to various creatures such as the bald eagle, they reasoned that other creatures, including humans, were being harmed by the pesticide. Although the spraying of DDT was stopped by passing a law in the United States, it continues in other parts of the world.

The large-scale use of organic insecticides, herbicides, toxic metals, and pesticides, particularly DDT, has polluted streams and destroyed wildlife. Some pesticides tend to concentrate in the tissues of plants and animals in nature’s food chains. Thus organisms at the ends of these chains, including humans, may take in harmful amounts of pesticides deposited in their food supply.

SOIL CONSERVATION

Whenever land is stripped of its plant cover, soil is inevitably lost by erosion, the so-called silent thief. A single rainstorm can wash away centuries-old accumulations of soil from neglected or badly managed fields. Topsoil is an extremely valuable natural resource. Under this thin blanket of rich dirt and humus, in which plants grow best, is a less fertile material called subsoil. If the surface layer of topsoil is blown or washed away, the remaining subsoil cannot support plant life. The submarginal farms must eventually be abandoned.

Types of Soil Erosion

More than 700 million acres (283 million hectares) of agricultural land in the United States are subject to erosion. Some 230 million acres (93 million hectares) of crop land require constant supervision to control erosion caused by wind and water.

Dust storms are the evidence of wind erosion. Soil unprotected by plant cover simply blows away. During the 1930s millions of acres of farmlands were badly damaged by wind. Many fields lost from 2 to 12 inches (5 to 30 centimetres) of vital topsoil during this period. As a result, the entire southern Great Plains area was called the Dust Bowl.

One of the several kinds of water erosion is sheet erosion the wasting away of level land in thin layers. The deterioration may go on for years without being noticed, though the land yields successively smaller crops. A patch of subsoil showing through on some slight rise of ground may be the first sign that the land is nearly finished as a food producer.

Splash erosion is the washing away of soil by the direct battering of rain. Small channels dug in the soil by run-off are called rill erosion. The little rills run together, form a network of larger rills, and then develop into gullies. When gully erosion occurs, the land can become a desert.

Conservationists also recognize that livestock can overgraze a plot of land until severe soil erosion occurs. About 4 million acres (1.6 million hectares) of topsoil are lost every year through erosion, and about 85 percent of this is the result of overgrazing by livestock.

Although major losses of productive agricultural lands occurred in the first half of the 20th century due to erosion, a major concern today is the loss of natural habitats as a result of commercial development. Large tracts of productive land an estimated 1 million acres (400,000 hectares) each year are lost through road building, suburban housing and industrial site developments, and airport expansion. New dams often flood some of the most productive agricultural land and natural forest habitats.

Posted 2011/12/21 by Stelios in Education

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