“The daily lives of so many people pass among the dead creations of their hands that they have lost the ability to understand living creatures.”
Konrad Lorenz, Austrian zoologist, Nobel Prize winner.
Let’s continue our acquaintance with how living organisms have formed ecosystems on the planet, on the example of the steppes. I thank for the brilliant pieces of information to activists Oleksiy Burkovsky and Oleksiy Vasyliuk. You may read the beginning of my story about the steppes here.
Chernozem is a product of wildlife and host rock.
The parent materials are not soil at all. What’s the difference?
Living organisms are the leading cause of the migration of chemical elements in the upper layer of the earth’s crust. The appearance of living organisms in the rock is the first step to soil formation. After all, they form its organic matter.
Scientists suggest that the primary accumulation of organic matter in the steppe zone may have occurred during the Ice age when in Eastern Europe there was a tundra. The glacier’s disappearance led to the flowering of steppe nature and the active process of soil formation.
Plants and animals die and become a source of organic matter. Consuming this dead matter, microorganisms multiply and destroy rocks by the products of their activities, e.g., by releasing organic acids. This, in turn, releases mineral nutrients from the rocks for plant nutrition. This way, step by step, nature creates conditions that are getting better. As a result, the biological mass and diversity of living organisms are increasing.
Due to the accumulation and decomposition of dead plant remains, humus is formed. This is a complex substance on which soil fertility directly depends. In the steppe zone, due to lack of moisture, the accumulation of humus is faster than its decomposition. Therefore, its number on virgin lands gradually increases.
Thanks to humus, chernozem (literally – “black soil”) is able to absorb and retain water well and thus ensure plant life even during prolonged droughts. Humus is also an extremely important source of their nutrition.
So, we come to our first statement: chernozem is a “child” of wildlife and parent materials.
For many thousands of years, flora and fauna of the steppe created the soil, influenced the cycle of substances, and shaped the climate. Human civilization received the steppe in its finished form, with its fertile soils and generous pastures.
Humanity must realize that all this can only exist when most of the steppe remains a wild natural ecosystem.
The impact of the steppe on the environment is complex and multifaceted. For example, bare chernozem absorbs a significant amount of solar heat due to its dark color alone. Therefore, permanent and dense vegetation is a thermal insulator of the soil. This is a screen from the sun’s rays, which prevents the soil from overheating and evaporating invaluable moisture reserves. Turf acts as a sponge, which promotes the gradual accumulation of moisture in the chernozem and prevents rain from draining quickly from its surface. In addition, it protects the soil from erosion, prevents water and wind from destroying its top, most fertile layer.
Steppes, like forests, absorb a massive amount of the planet’s leading greenhouse gas – CO2. Its excessive amount in the air causes global warming. But, unlike the forest, the steppe accumulates carbon from the atmosphere, not in the wood, but in the humus – in the soil.
The steppe is sometimes called a “forest upside down” because the weight of the grassroots exceeds the weight of the stem and leaves. The branched root system and features of the chemical composition of the soil form its granular structure in natural conditions. Due to this structure, chernozem retains porosity and looseness. This creates a balanced ratio of moisture and air in the soil. After all, the roots also need to breathe.
Wood contains a lot of lignin – an organic substance that decomposes for a very long time. However, steppe grasses have a relatively small concentration. At the same time, the herbaceous flora accumulates a significant amount of nitrogen, which contributes to the formation of humus by microorganisms.
In ancient times, when numerous herbivores, primarily ungulates, inhabited the steppe, they also helped to form humus. They greatly facilitated the work of microorganisms by digesting vegetation. Not only bacteria and fungi but also some animals joined the formation of the fertility of steppe chernozems. For example, earthworms are well-known animals.
Plants emit oxygen during photosynthesis. Some of this oxygen goes to their breathing. During respiration, oxygen is absorbed, and carbon dioxide is released. Animals breathe in the same way; human breathes in the same way. There is also a constant gas exchange between the soil and the atmosphere. As a result, it releases carbon dioxide and absorbs oxygen.
Thus, the earth breathes as well as any living thing.
The more abundant vegetation is, the greater the percentage of humus in the soil is. And the more humus in the soil, the better it accumulates moisture. The groundwater system, the stability of rivers, and moisture depend on its quantity and condition of the air. Heated air from the earth’s surface rises in the upper atmosphere, where it is cooled. If there is moisture in this air, it condenses and forms rain clouds.
Plants are a kind of pump that gradually lifts moisture from the soil and evaporates it into the atmosphere. Thus, any natural ecosystem, including the steppe, is involved in the formation of precipitation.
The processes described are just one of many examples of how living organisms shape the global state of the planet. All this became possible due to the wide variety of plants, animals, microorganisms, and the landscapes they created. Each species occupies its own ecological niche. However, a niche is not only a place where the body lives but also the work it does in the environment.
The stability of natural processes is ensured by the biological diversity of species. This ecological stability can be represented in the form of a bridge with a huge number of columns, where each of them is a separate species. Destruction of one species means the destruction of one of the columns. The more columns disappear, the faster the bridge will fall.
And this is the best argument for all people on Earth to change their attitude towards wildlife immediately.