Life on our planet unfolds in an infinity of ecosystems, and virtually all types of ecosystems have been affected by humans over time. An ecosystem is a dynamic ecological unit encompassing animals, plants, fungi and microorganisms interacting with their air, water and land environment. It can be as small as a puddle and as large as the Siberian tundra, as opposed to biomes, which are larger and usually extend to a whole region. It is hence more appropriate to talk about biomes when trying to determine the types of ecosystems affected by humans, for the list would go on indefinitely otherwise.
Humankind throughout history has left little of the earth's pristine environment untouched. Everything people do disturbs ecosystems, from hunting for food at the beginning of human development to driving a car today. Such is the range and scope of biome alterations that climate is now being affected.
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Mountain ecosystems are characterised by high elevation and rapid changes in soil, vegetation, relief, altitude and climate. There are also great variations in the types of mountainous ecosystems, and in turn types of mountainous fauna, flora and microorganisms. Some of the most vivid alterations made by humans to mountainous ecosystems are dams to create electricity and tunnels to build roads.
Within the four major types of forest biomes (temperate forests, cold climate forests, tropical rainforests and tropical dry forests) there are an infinity of forest ecosystems, and they are among the most affected by humans. Temperate forests alone have traditionally been the most affected, from the harvesting of wood to heat people's homes to clearing them to build roads and homes.
Marine and Island Ecosystems
Marine, or oceanic, and island ecosystems also vary greatly in type but have all been disturbed by humankind, most notably by fishing. Rising water levels from the effect of global climate change have also jeopardised many of these ecosystems.
Tundra is a treeless prairie that covers one-fifth of the world's natural landscape and is found in the northern hemisphere. Tundras are fairly homogeneous in their features and gone relatively less disturbed by humans.
Grasslands are large areas covered in grass and called by a variety of names according to their location (prairie in North America, pampa in South America, steppes in Asia and veld in South Africa). They have been affected by humans in every imaginable way, from construction to agriculture.
Savannahs are tropical grasslands found at the edges of tropical rainforests. As with other grasslands they have been greatly changed by human needs for food and shelter.
Deserts, or areas where precipitation is scarce, have been affected by humans since the beginning of their development, even though the changes are less abundant due to the harsh desert living conditions.
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