Biotope is a word that you have certainly heard at some point. With the prefix bio it already denotes that it refers to life and with the suffix topo it refers to the place or territory. Therefore, it can be said that, etymologically, biotope means the life of a place.
Biotope , also known as Ecotope , is a term used in ecology to determine “the place where life resides” (or living beings ). More broadly, this definition relates to the minimum habitat that supports the existence and survival of animal and plant populations through regular, relatively homogeneous abiotic conditions. It is noteworthy that, for ecological studies, the biotope must also represent a measurable geographic portion.
More about Biotope
This concept is often confused with the definition of ecological niche , but it is important to understand the difference between the two. The ecotope consists of the relationship created between a living being and the totality of environmental factors that affect it, while the ecological niche concerns the way in which organisms respond to existing resources, competition with other beings and the environmental factors present in their life zone. to survive. That is, the niche corresponds to the role of a species in its community, while the ecotope represents its adaptations to survive the external factors of its habitat.
Biotopes help scientists and researchers to sample portions of large and complex ecosystems , knowing the resident diversity in a local way. In this way, one of its main characteristics refers to its microscale. Furthermore, this concept has been widely used in initiatives to reconstitute degraded habitats. In these techniques, it is essential to draw up regeneration plans that foresee the connectivity of biotopes, creating an interconnected network that will allow migration and fluidity of life forms between these small plots, which contributes to systemic health.
In Ecology , there is a hierarchical organization of ecological units that are used to describe a habitat. For example, when venturing into the Amazon rainforest ( biome ), a biologist may want to explore just a 100-meter strip alongside a stream ( ciliary forest ecosystem ), finding a characteristic biotope (native plant bushes), where he looks for a species of beetle that lives associated with those bushes. In this case, the environmental ecological analysis was reduced from a large and extremely complex scale, which are the Biomes, to a few meters of a biotope. With this shift in focus, it is possible to satisfactorily describe specifically the ecotope of that beetle species.
Each biotope, present in different ecosystems, has unique physicochemical characteristics that need to be taken into account to describe the populations that live in each location. In dense forests, for example, wind may be a less relevant factor than light or humidity. In mountain habitats, both vegetation and animals need to adapt to strong winds and intense exposure to solar radiation, in addition to the challenge caused by altitude. Biotopes can also describe aquatic environments that, although more dynamic, have more or less regular characteristics.
In Europe, especially in Germany , the term ecotope has been gaining a new meaning associated with the approximation of human beings to nature. In this way, urban planners, engineers and architects since the 1970s have been pressured by public policies to incorporate elements of the natural world into urban settings. The objective behind this is to create microcosms of diversity within metropolises, establishing biotopes in squares and public buildings, as well as encouraging this same mentality in private homes and buildings.
Why is the biotope important?
It’s not that knowing what the biotope is is going to solve our lives or we’re going to use it in our everyday conversations, as the term biotope is only used in the areas of ecology and the environment. However, knowing what a biotope is is important to improve our general culture and in order to understand the importance of caring for our natural environment.
As mentioned before, in nature and ecosystems, there is an ecological balance necessary to keep biodiversity stable. This balance is mainly established between the biotope and the biocenosis.There are also balances between the biocenosis with the biocenosis itself, that is, balances between animal and/or plant species. The vulnerability to breaking this ecological balance depends on each species, its adaptability, genetic variability, distribution area, abundance and other environmental variables that are conditioning. Therefore, vulnerability to the collapse of the ecological balance can occur at different levels. From the decrease of the populations of a certain species due to the lack of a natural component (as could be the amount of organic matter that is found in the soil), up to the total disappearance of other species (as for example by a drought that exhausts all the water).
We can study ecosystems by looking at the different factors and relationships of all of them. For example, we can concentrate on the study of an aquatic ecosystem focusing only on the freshwater part, or only on the hydrological cycle, or on a certain species of a river. On the other hand, we can analyze a complete ecosystem, such as the mountain, and observe all the species that cohabit with each other and what relationships exist between all of them. Although the sum of different biotopes and biological communities form unique realities, the need for preservation is a common denominator for all of them.
How are biotopes restored?
We must bear in mind that it is the biotope that sustains all biodiversity and if, for example, one of the components of the biotope (eg soil) does not maintain its essential characteristics or is degraded, it will affect all the biodiversity it needs to survive. Therefore, when the components of the biotope are damaged (generally by human activities) and it is not able to restore itself, or at least with the necessary speed so as not to affect the rest of the species, it is necessary to carry out a restoration.
Since the 1970s, biotopes have received great attention in Europe (especially Germany) in reference to the preservation, regeneration and creation of natural environments. When an ecosystem is seriously damaged, you try to preserve and restore it.
To restore a biotope, actions of this type can be performed:
- Creating green roofs
- Reconstruction of rivers to restore their quality
- Conservation of shrubs and trees on cultivated farmland
- Creation of natural parks
- Creation of gardens or school ponds that respect the environment
- Design of private gardens that take ecology into account.
- reforestation of trees
- Building green bridges
- Construction of ecological corridors
- Reintroduction of species
Biotope and biocenosis
As mentioned earlier, the association of the biotope and the biocenosis constitute the ecosystem. As we know, there are many types of natural ecosystems and habitats that provide the necessary, suitable and stable environmental conditions to allow populations of flora and fauna to proliferate and live.
Thanks to the interaction between all the elements that make up the ecosystem, the formation of different types is possible, such as river ecosystems, mountain ecosystems, forest ecosystems, etc.
The interactions that exist in ecosystems can be decisive for the species that cohabit and are usually quite complex and fortuitous. Life in ecosystems has its own dynamics , that is, depending on the ecosystems in which we find ourselves, we can observe different elements that are related at different levels of the food chain, with different balances or exchanges of energy and matter.
We must understand that flora and fauna species live and develop because there are adequate networks of interactions and energy exchanges so that they can function. Unlike habitat, which is a term related to the biotope but which refers more to the species, the biotope is related to the biocenosis. Thus, the two terms together refer to the set of organisms of different species that coexist in space.
Relationship of the biotope with the ecosystems
In an ecosystem coexist many species of flora and fauna that form a balance in which everyone can live. That place where they live has certain natural resources to be able to sustain the populations. Therefore, species of flora and fauna that coexist must share territory and resources. Although this “sharing” is not so simple. Basically species continuously fight for resources . Some do it directly, that is, they face other species, others help each other, others adapt to the environment and are opportunistic, others know which resources have less competition, etc. Each species has its own survival mechanism, as they are the resources that sustain biodiversity.
Once the biotope’s relationship with the species that inhabit it has been explained, we can make the definition and the difference that really exists. In this way of life, two terms are distinguished: on the one hand we have the biocenosis, which refers to everything related to flora and fauna , and on the other hand, we have the biotope, referring to the climate, water and type of soil. Therefore, although the word biotope has the prefix bio, which means life, in this case it refers to the place that makes plant and animal life possible and sustains it with the available natural resources.
We can say that when a biotope can support life, it generates an ecosystem. The existence of an ecosystem is only possible when the set of climate, water and soil type are adequate to support a population of animals and plants.