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Physical environments


Wetland conditions such as shallow water, high plant productivity, and anaerobic substrates provide a suitable environment for important physical, biological, and chemical processes. Because of these processes, wetlands play a vital role in global nutrient and element cycles.:29[181]

The rate of diffusion of carbon dioxide and oxygen is approximately 10,000 times slower in water than it is in air. When soils become flooded, they quickly lose oxygen and transform into a low-concentration (hypoxic - O2 concentration lower than 2 mg/liter) environment and eventually become completely (anoxic) environment where anaerobic bacteria thrive among the roots. Water also influences the spectral composition and amount of light as it reflects off the water surface and submerged particles.[181] Aquatic plants exhibit a wide variety of morphological and physiological adaptations that allow them to survive, compete and diversify these environments. For example, the roots and stems develop large air spaces (Aerenchyma) that regulate the efficient transportation gases (for example, CO2 and O2) used in respiration and photosynthesis. In drained soil, microorganisms use oxygen during respiration. In aquatic environments, anaerobic soil microorganisms use nitrate, manganese ions, ferric ions, sulfate, carbon dioxide and some organic compounds. The activity of soil microorganisms and the chemistry of the water reduces the oxidation-reduction potentials of the water. Carbon dioxide, for example, is reduced to methane (CH4) by methanogenic bacteria. Salt water plants (or halophytes) have specialized physiological adaptations, such as the development of special organs for shedding salt and osmo-regulate their internal salt (NaCl) concentrations, to live in estuarine, brackish, or oceanic environments.[181] The physiology of fish is also specially adapted to deal with high levels of salt through osmoregulation. Their gills form electrochemical gradients that mediate salt excresion in saline environments and uptake in fresh water.[182]


The shape and energy of the land is affected to a large degree by gravitational forces. On a larger scale, the distribution of gravitational forces on the earth are uneven and influence the shape and movement of tectonic plates as well as having an influence on geomorphic processes such as orogeny and erosion. These forces govern many of the geophysical properties and distributions of ecological biomes across the Earth. On a organism scale, gravitational forces provide directional cues for plant and fungal growth (gravitropism), orientation cues for animal migrations, and influence the biomechanics and size of animals.[120] Ecological traits, such as allocation of biomass in trees during growth are subject to mechanical failure as gravitational forces influence the position and structure of branches and leaves.[183] The cardiovascular systems of all animals are functionally adapted to overcome pressure and gravitational forces that change according to the features of organisms (e.g., height, size, shape), their behavior (e.g., diving, running, flying), and the habitat occupied (e.g., water, hot deserts, cold tundra).[184]


Climatic and osmotic pressure places physiological constraints on organisms, such as flight and respiration at high altitudes, or diving to deep ocean depths. These constraints influence vertical limits of ecosystems in the biosphere as organisms are physiologically sensitive and adapted to atmospheric and osmotic water pressure differences.[120] Oxygen levels, for example, decrease with increasing pressure and are a limiting factor for life at higher altitudes.[185] Water transportation through trees is another important ecophysiological parameter where osmotic pressure gradients factor in.[186][187][188] Water pressure in the depths of oceans requires that organisms adapt to these conditions. For example, mammals, such as whales, dolphins and seals are specially adapted to deal with changes in sound due to water pressure differences.[189] Different species of hagfish provide another example of adaptation to deep-sea pressure through specialized protein adaptations.[190]

Date: 2016-01-03; view: 97

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