An ecotone is an area that acts as a boundary or a transition between two ecosystems. A common example could be an area of marshland between a river and its riverbank. Ecotones are of great environmental importance. Because the area is a transition between two ecosystems or biomes, it is natural that it contains a large variety of species of fauna and flora as the area is influenced by both the bordering ecosystems.
Examples of ecotones include marshlands (between dry and wet ecosystems), mangrove forests (between terrestrial and marine ecosystems), grasslands (between desert and forest), and estuaries (between saltwater and freshwater). Mountain ranges can also create ecotones due to the changes in the climatic conditions on the slopes.
Characteristics of Ecotones
- It may be wide or narrow.
- It is a zone of tension (as it has conditions intermediate to the bordering ecosystems).
- It could contain species that are entirely different from those found in the bordering systems.
- Ecotones can be natural or man-made. For example, the ecotone between an agricultural field and a forest is a man-made one.
Edge effects refer to the changes in population or community structures that occur at the boundary of two habitats. Generally, there is a greater number of species found in these regions (ecotones) and this is called edge effect. The species found here are called edge species.
Importance of Ecotone
- They have a greater variety of organisms.
- They also offer a good nesting place for animals coming in search of a nesting place or food.
- They serve as a bridge of gene flow from one population to another because of the larger genetic diversity present.
- They can act as buffer zones offering protection to the bordering ecosystems from possible damage. For example, a wetland can absorb pollutants and prevent them from seeping into the river.
- Ecotones are also a sensitive indicator of global climate change. A shifting of boundaries between ecosystems is thought to be due to climate change. So, scientists and environmentalists are studying ecotones with greater interest now.
Ecotones are an extremely important concept in the study of the environment and ecology. These days, environment, climate change, biodiversity, and related topics are very important for the IAS exam and many questions are asked every year from these areas. So, it is important to be abreast of all the latest in the field of environment and ecology for the UPSC exam. It comes under General Studies 3 of the UPSC syllabus.
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