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Local and Surrounding Ecologies and Environments of Virginia

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Local and Surrounding Ecologies and Environments of Virginia
Introduction to Physical Science, SCI110
December 13, 2012

The Virginia Ecologies and Environments Ecology, as defined by Enger, Ross, & Tillery (2009), is “the branch of biology that studies the relationships between organisms and their environments”. Accordingly, the term environment is very broadly defined as “anything that affects an organism during its lifetime” (Enger, Ross, & Tillery, 2009). With these definitions in mind, it is easy to understand that organisms rely on their environments for sustainment and life. On the flip side, environments rely on organisms as well for survival. The factors that affect a living organism in any given environment can, in turn, be classified as either biotic or abiotic. Biotic factors are other living things that may affect a particular organism, for example predators. In contrast, abiotic factors are nonliving things that affect a particular organism, such as a drought or excessive rain. In reviewing the local ecology and environment of the Commonwealth of Virginia, we must first determine the region’s biome. A biome is the classification of a terrestrial community, primarily determined by climatic factors, such as precipitation patterns and temperature ranges (Enger, Ross, & Tillery, 2009). A biome also provides an indication of the type of plant life and animals that may be present within a particular region. The relationship is interdependent between a biome and the ecological communities contained within it. An ecological community is “an assemblage of co-existing, interacting species, considered together with the physical environment and associated ecological processes, that usually recurs on the landscape” (The Virginia Department of Conservation & Recreation, 2012). When reviewing the biomes of the world, we see that the Commonwealth of Virginia falls within a “Temperate deciduous forest” biome. (see graph in Figure 1.) A temperate deciduous forest typically has around 30 to 40 inches of rainfall per year and cold weather for a portion of the year. The predominant plants are normally sizable trees that lose their leaves during the fall season. The typical animals found in this biome are skunks, porcupines, deer, frogs, opossums, owls, mosquitos, and beetles ((Enger, Ross, & Tillery, 2009). Within the temperate deciduous biome, the Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation scientists have defined more refined categories within the state; identifying ten unique physiographic or biogeographic regions; the Allegheny Mountains, the Cumberland Mountains, the Northern Coastal Plain, the Northern Blue Ridge, the Northern Piedmont, the Outer Coastal Plain, the Ridge and Valley, the Southern Coastal Plain, the Southern Piedment, and the Southern Blue Ridge (2012). (see graph in Figure 2.) Although the general climate of Virginia is classified as humid subtropical, these regions help explain the dramatic variations in temperature, rain-fall, and length of growing seasons across the state. These variations also provide suitable habitat for a plethora of organisms and animals, from the high elevation mountains in the West to the coastal wetlands in the East. The climate and soil across the state provides ample sustenance for many plants; the plants—in turn—then provide sustenance for many animals, and finally, decomposed plants and animals provide further nutrients to the soil. This interdependent ecology continues, but with limitations and threats imposed by humans.
Human Impact on Local Ecosystems A review of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services’ Virginia Ecological Services Strategic Plan 2010-2014 reveals the state’s highest priorities and geographical areas regarding the protection and restoration of native wildlife and habitat (2012). (see graph in Figure 3.) Specifically, these critical priorities involve the National Wildlife Refuge (NWR) system, conservation of lands and resources, landscape conservation, migratory birds, threatened and endangered species, aquatic species and connecting people with nature. The report makes it clear that the identified high priority areas have been negatively impacted by humans, threatening all native species of plants and wildlife. More specifically, most of the listed causes, all of which are driven by humans, fall within the following categories: climate change, air pollution, agricultural runoff, livestock runoff, wastewater discharge, residential/commercial development, and deforestation. Conversely, nearly all of the selected high priority areas seem to share one common thread: they contain large and adversely impacted waterways and watersheds. Water, a substance that we often take for granted, plays a significant role for both plants and animals in any ecosystem; polluted water can destroy the delicate, interdependent balance that sustains it. Considering waterways and watersheds, compared to other states within the U.S., Virginia ranks number two regarding toxic discharges in its waterways. (see Table 1.) In fact, in Virginia “about 12,000 miles of rivers and streams, 96,500 acres of lakes and reservoirs and 2,200 square miles of estuaries, including much of the Chesapeake Bay, are classified as ‘impaired’ by at least one pollutant” (Harper, 2010).
Potential Global Warming Impact on Local Ecosystems Not surprisingly, as our demands for fossil fuels and the subsequent carbon dioxide emissions have grown, our planet’s mean temperatures have risen proportionately due to the Greenhouse Effect. (see graph in Figure 4.) Please also note that “coal is responsible for approximately 90 percent of CO2 (Global Warming), NOx (Smog), SO2 (Acid Rain) and Hg (Mercury) emissions from electric utilities” (The Common Purpose Institute, n.d.). The carbon we emit every day in our modern world of conveniences and the ensuing global warming results in increasing temperatures, droughts, rising sea levels and more erratic and severe weather (U.S. EPA, 2012). For this reason and for over twenty years, scientists and world governments have been aware of and concerned about our drastically changing climate. Since climate change is a phenomenon that disregards geographical boundaries assigned by our global societies, the United Nations (UN) formed the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) in 1988, set up by the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) and the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) for the purpose of “providing the governments of the world with a clear scientific view of what is happening to the world’s climate” (IPCC, 2011). The IPCC’s latest report, published in 2011, provides a scientific illustration of the dramatic increase in carbon dioxide concentrations over recent years. (see graph in Figure 3.) As evidenced by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services’ Virginia Ecological Services Strategic Plan 2010-2014 (2012) and as previously mentioned, climate change, primarily prompted by carbon emissions that create the Greenhouse effect, has been the cause of much habitat and wildlife degradation, already documented as severely impacting Virginia’s multiple ecosystems. Until we lower our carbon emissions, primarily through renewable and more eco-friendly energy sources, we will continue to degrade Virginia’s unique ecologies.
Conclusion
The human impact and global warming indiscriminately threatens our planet. Relative to other parts of the world, our Virginia ecosystems have been impacted just as much as the rest of the world. The world’s polar ice caps are melting, raising sea levels and water temperatures, destroying our arctic habitat for both aquatic and terrestrial organisms. Already hot and arid, desert communities are losing limited water resources with temperatures rising. In tropical environments, rising temperatures and deforestation are destroying wildlife habitat. As our population grows, increased residential/commercial development and runoff from residential, agricultural, livestock and mining activities will continue to destroy the delicate ecologies across the globe. Considering the interdependent human relationship with other plants and animals, our focus should be on environmental preservation. The way in which we are currently obtaining our modern needs must drastically change to preserve every species’ long term survival.

References
The Common Purpose Institute. (n.d.). Quick Facts On Biomass Energy Advantages & Why We Need To Use It in the South. Retrieved from Treepower.org website: http://www.treepower.org/biomass/quickfacts.html
Enger, E. D., Ross, F. C., & Tillery, B. W. (2009). Integrated science. (2009 Custom ed.). Boston, MA: McGraw-Hill Companies.
Harper, S. (2010, August 24). Survey finds plenty of pollution in Virginia waters. The Virginia Pilot. Retrieved from: http://hamptonroads.com/2010/08/survey-finds-plenty-pollution-virginia-waters
IPCC. (2011). IPCC Special Report on Renewable Energy Sources and Climate Change Mitigation. Prepared by Working Group III of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change [O. Edenhofer, R. Pichs-Madruga, Y. Sokona, K. Seyboth, P. Matschoss, S. Kadner, T. Zwickel, P. Eickemeier, G. Hansen, S. Schlömer, C. von Stechow (eds)]. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, United Kingdom and New York, NY, USA, 1075 pp. Retrieved from http://www.ipcc.ch/
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. (2012) Climate Change. Retrieved from http://www.epa.gov/climatechange/basics/
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. (2012). Virginia Ecological Services Strategic Plan 2010-2014. Retrieved from http://www.fws.gov/northeast/virginiafield/pdf/MISC/2012Feb_VA%20ES%20Strategic%20Plan.pdf
The Virginia Department of Conservation & Recreation. (2012). The Natural Communities of Virginia: Classification of Ecological Community Groups, Second Approximation (version 2.5). Retrieved from http://www.dcr.virginia.gov/natural_heritage/ncintro.shtml

Figure 1. This figure shows the current major terrestrial biomes on planet earth. Major climate differences determine the kind of plant life that can live in a particular region of the world. Associated with these specialized groups of vegetation are particular kinds of animals. Graph adapted from Aquatic and Terrestrial Biomes, by the University of Miami, Department of Biology, 2012., retrieved from http://www.bio.miami.edu/ecosummer/lectures/lec_biomes.html

Figure 2. Physiographic/biogeographic regions of Virginia used for element tracking and mapping by DCR-DNH: AM = Allegheny Mountains; CM = Cumberland Mountains. NC = Northern Coastal Plain; NB = Northern Blue Ridge; NP = Northern Piedmont; OC = Outer Coastal Plain; RV = Ridge and Valley; SC = Southern Coastal Plain; SP = Southern Piedment; SB = Southern Blue Ridge. Graph adapted from The Natural Communities of Virginia
Classification of Ecological Community Groups: Second Approximation (Version 2.5), by Department of Conservation and Recreation, Natural Heritage Program, 2012, retrieved from http://www.dcr.virginia.gov/natural_heritage/ncformat.shtml

Figure 3. The Virginia Ecological Services’ priority areas, based on high threats to aquatic, aerial and terrestrial wildlife. Graph adapted from Virginia Ecological Services Strategic Plan 2010-2014 (p. 21), U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, 2012, retrieved from http://www.fws.gov/northeast/virginiafield/pdf/MISC/2012Feb_VA%20ES%20Strategic%20Plan.pdf Figure 4. This figure shows how average temperatures worldwide have changed since 1901. Surface global data come from a combined set of land-based weather stations and sea surface temperature measurements, while satellite measurements cover the lower troposphere, which is the lowest level of the Earth’s atmosphere (see diagram on p. 20). “UAH” and “RSS” represent two different methods of analyzing the original satellite measurements. This graph uses the 1901 to 2000 average as a baseline for depicting change. Choosing a different baseline period would not change the shape of the trend. Data from National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, U.S. (2010). Graph adapted from Climate Change Indicators in the United States (p.22), by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, 2010, retrieved from http://www.epa.gov/climatechange/science/indicators/download.html

Figure 5. Global Atmospheric Concentrations of Carbon Dioxide Over Time, 10,000 BC - 2009 AD (parts per million). The data come from a variety of historical studies and monitoring sites around the world. Graph adapted from Climate Change Indicators in the United States (p. 14), U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, 2010, retrieved from http://www.epa.gov/climatechange/indicators.html State | All Toxic Releases | Cancer-causing Chemicals | Developmental Toxics | Reproductive Toxics | | Releases (lb.) | Rank | Releases (lb.) | Rank | Releases (lb.) | Rank | Releases (lb.) | Rank | Indiana | 27,366,513 | 1 | 22,429 | 18 | 16,988 | 9 | 11,032 | 7 | Virginia | 18,135,255 | 2 | 24,839 | 15 | 17,311 | 8 | 7,878 | 11 | Nebraska | 14,773,383 | 3 | 352 | 40 | 362 | 37 | 328 | 37 | Texas | 14,571,913 | 4 | 76,155 | 6 | 42,448 | 4 | 44,971 | 3 | Georgia | 12,616,727 | 5 | 59,922 | 7 | 4,644 | 18 | 4,145 | 15 |

Table 1. Toxic Discharges to Waterways by State, 2010 (measured in pounds). Data and graph adapted from the Wasting Our Waterways 2012: Toxic Industrial Polution and the Unfulfilled Promise of the Clean Water Act (p. 32-33, table A-1), by the Frontier Group and Environment America Research & Policy Center, 2012, retrieved from: http://www.environmentamerica.org/sites/environment/files/reports/Wasting%20Our%20Waterways%20vUS.pdf…...

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