The term is most often used in speaking of biodiversity or nature. A simple and effective definition is, “A community of organisms that depend on each other and the environment they inhabit.”  NALA. The Convention for Biological Diversity offers a more technical definition for “ecosystem” as “a dynamic complex of plant, animal and micro-organism communities and their non-living environment interacting as a functional unit.”  Since countries ratifying the Convention, including Ireland and the United Kingdom, are required to protect ecosystems, it becomes necessary to identify and understand ecosystems.

An example of environmental protection directed toward an ecosystem would be when a particular watershed is identified as an ecosystem and all pollution sources and habitat conditions in the watershed, and all organisms living within that watershed, are considered when devising any investigation and remediation of the ecosystem.

Some further ideas to explore on Ecosystems:

What is the nearest ecosystem to your school, house or community?

How would you distinguish between an ecosystem and a habitat?

What has your country done to identify and protect ecosystems?  What has your city, town, village or county done? What have you done?


National Adult Literacy Agency (NALA), From Air Quality to Zero Emissions: A plain English guide to common environmental terms (2009).

See entry for “Biodiversity” in the iePEDIA section of irish environment.

Text of the Convention on Biological Diversity (a/k/a Biodiversity).

See Article 2, Use of Terms.

“Coastal Ecosystems”, in the 10 Messages for 2010 series from the European Environment Agency.

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