The Journey Through
Grand Lake, CO
Principles of Ecology
What makes Colorado so majestic and grand? This beautiful state has eight different ecosystems according to the Denver Museum of Nature and Science. Each strategically placed ecosystem has its own uniqueness. These unique areas can also be called a Biome. To define an Ecosystem, we say that there are numerous species of plants and animals that make homes in these different areas. This includes the physical and chemical parts of the environment. It also includes the acquiring and recycling nutrients, and the capture and flow of energy. Most amazingly, in one day a person could go from the desert and grasslands up and beyond the tree lines in the alpine tundra here in the state of Colorado. This is part of what makes Colorado so great! Central Plains
Starting with the grasslands in the plains of eastern Colorado elevation around 4,500 feet, also known as the short-grass prairie, this ecosystem is very dry and flat. "The summers are sunny and hot, and the winters are windy and cold. Average precipitation is about 14 inches a year, and most of this falls in the spring and summer (mesastate.edu)." Plants such as western wheatgrass (Triticum), cactus (Cactaceae), buffalo grass (Buchloe dactyloides), coneflower (Echinacea rudbeckia ratibida), and sage (Salvia officinalis), thrive in this environment. Trees are not able to grow in this ecosystem because of the dryness and soil type. This is a challenge for the plants and animals that live here, because there is no protection from weather or predators. These grasslands are maintained by fire. However, different types of birds such as larks (Alaudidae), hawks (Accipitridae buteoninae), and eagles (Buteoninae), live here. They adapt to their surroundings and some make nests along the ground. Other animals that reside in this ecosystem are the jack-tailed rabbits (Lepus), black tailed prairie dogs (Cynomys ludovicianus ), ground squirrels (Sciuridae), pronghorn antelope (Bovidae), and coyotes (Canis latrans).
If you go north towards Wyoming, the grasslands meet the marsh areas. Here trees and various other plants can grow because of the available moisture. Different amphibians and birds such as mallard ducks (Anas platyrhynchos), can also make a home in this area. All mentioned thus far are great examples of producers and consumers that keep this particular biome thriving.
Riparian land ecosystems are found at all levels of elevation in Colorado. This system divides an aquatic environment from any other ecosystem. This includes edges of streams, rivers, ponds, lakes and marshes. This ecosystem offers tree cover, water, and food for any species that reside in this biome. The temperature and precipitation vary greatly because of various locations. "Continuous corridors of riparian vegetation once covered hundreds of miles along desert and mountain rivers. Besides forested riparian communities, there were riparian shrublands, marshlands, and grasslands. These plant communities were found at elevations from high wet meadows and cienegas, to tree-banked streams, to slack water sloughs and marshesthe alpine, montane, and floodplains-plains riparian ecosystems (cpluhna.nau.edu)." Now, only 3% of Colorado is made of wetlands and this is where most of the wildlife is contained. One example of this can be found just south of Denver on the banks of the South Platte River, elevation 5,000 feet. High plains cottonwoods (Populus deltoides), great blue herons (Ardea herodias), snowy egrets (Egretta thula), different reptiles and amphibians, are a few things that live in this ecosystem. In the higher riparian elevations is where things such as willows (Salix), sedges (Carex), and different type of conifers (Coniferales) grow. Over the years each organism has had to adjust to the changes in their environment. Some of the areas have become dryer mostly due to...
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