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Introduction: In this essay you will describe major properties of an ecosystem of your choice, focusing on both abiotic and biotic components and relationships between organisms and their environment. The goals of this assignment are to 1) get experience in acquiring information by conducting independent research, both in a library setting and through the use of the internet resources, 2) learn to evaluate the reliability, accuracy, and logical soundness of that information, 3) apply course concepts to explain structure and function of a real ecosystem, 4) get experience in the peer-review process.

General Directions for writing the paper: Read chapters 23-25 in Smith& Smith to get an idea of how the major ecosystem types are described. Select an ecosystem for your essay based on your preference. An ecosystem may be defined at different spatial scales, ranging from a “Duck Pond on Haverford College campus” to “The Lake Erie”, or “New Jersey Pine Barrens”, to more general “Raised bogs of Ireland”, “Appalachian mesophytic forests”, and even “Mountain streams of Western North America” and “Hydrothermal vents of the Mariana Trench”. One of the potential web resources is this site:, but there are many others. You may choose an ecosystem representing a geographic area where you either grew up or visited or would like to visit sometime in the future or that may be of interest for some other reason. There is no need to explain in your essay why you chose one or another, but you can do it if you wish. If you have doubts about your choice, ask your professor well in advance of the deadline whether you ecosystem choice makes sense.

The text of the essay should have not less than 1700 words (including figure legends and references) and should be submitted as a Word or pdf file. Include at least a few images into your essay. Using images from the internet is fine, just give the credit to the source (cite URL or give reference in other format).

The recommendation is to start your literature search from the internet (Google, Google Scholar, etc.) and collect and compare information on your ecosystem from several independent sources paying attention to the information source (an online publication on the National Science Foundation or National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration or US Geological Survey or Environmental protection Agency websites is more credible than a traveler’s blog). Starting the literature search by using Web of Science and other electronic resources available via Drexel Library is another option, but this is a slower way. Use references to find some primary literature (books and articles in popular and scientific journals) to verify major facts and obtain additional information. An easy way to get access to Drexel library resources is to use e-publications. If you read and cite primary literature, especially papers published in scientific journals, you are likely to earn extra points. All sources have to be referenced (see example).

Building the content: The major task is to describe major abiotic and biotic components of your ecosystem, what kind of organisms are found in the ecosystem, how they adapt to the environment, what the challenges of that particular environment are, and how this ecosystem is changing as a result of human impacts or natural processes.

1. Location. Begin by describing geographical location of your ecosystem: on which continent (or ocean) it is found and what are approximate coordinates (you can get them from GoogleEarth; this is a free application, download from You can also get lots of photos from GoogleEarth, you can use them in your assignment, just give the credit to Google Earth.

2. Abiotic factors characterizing the ecosystem.

To which biome this ecosystem belongs to? What are the major characteristics of this biome (use textbook and web resources).
If the ecosystem is terrestrial, describe the climate and present a climate diagram. You can get the climate diagrams (climagrams) from such web resources as, and other websites. If your ecosystem is marine, describe “underwater climate”: prevailing currents, circulation, water temperature. Prevailing currents may also be important for the climate on islands and continent coasts. Describe seasonal climate patterns (if present).
Describe soils if it’s a terrestrial ecosystem or availability of nutrients if this is a marine ecosystem (low or high concentration, seasonal patterns).
Describe other important characteristics such as light regime, tidal or wind patterns, bedrock, relief (lowland vs mountains), etc.

3. Major biotic components of the ecosystem.
What are the major primary producers (e.g., plant forms)
What are the major consumers, top predators, keystone species?
Research and write about the natural history of a two species you mention, in order to get to know them better: on autotroph (plant) and one heterotroph (animal). Give their common and Latin binomial names, describe to which large taxonomic group they belong to (plant family, animal phylum or class), describe the range of their geographic distribution, their adaptations to the environment and place in the food web. What interspecies interactions are these species involved in? Check if any interesting ecological research was conducted on these species and try to describe it very shortly. Some good resources to start your explorations are:
Field guides on species’ ecology and natural history
Wikipedia for information on species’ ecology and natural history
Tree of Life website, where you can look up what is known of your species’ evolutionary histories
Web of Life database search (through the library) to find scientific papers about your focal species
4. Ecosystem change over time: if possible, describe what is known on natural succession in the ecosystem and how this ecosystem evolved in time. What are the human impacts on the ecosystem? Is this ecosystem influenced by climate change? On this website you can generate climate diagrams for different time periods in the past present and future for various locations on the planet

5. References: can be in any format, but should be consistent.

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