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Idaho Ecosystems: Top 10 Questions

January 2016

Thanks to Thanks to Rosemary Smith, professor of biology, Idaho State University; and Leif Tapanila, director, Idaho Museum of Natural History for their answers. for the answers.

1: What is an ecosystem?

An ecosystem is all of the living and nonliving organisms that interact with one another in a specific location. There are many kinds of ecosystems, and they do not have distinct borders. (From Amber at White Pine Elementary School in Boise)

2: Does Idaho have more than three ecosystems?

Yes, Idaho has more than three ecosystems. If we look at it from the top to the bottom, we go from the alpine ecosystem, down to forested ecosystems, then through the grassland and desert ecosystems. Finally, at the very low points, Idaho has watery riparian ecosystems. (From Hannah at Dalton Elementary School in Dalton Gardens)

3: How do the different Idaho ecosystems work together?

All ecosystems on Earth work together because there is a finite amount of things like carbon, nitrogen and water. There is a constant exchange of all the different chemicals that are needed to support life. This exchange occurs between living and nonliving organisms. Every ecosystem has molecules that are constantly changing from one form to another, between living and nonliving forms. This happens across ecosystems as each system has no borders, and they are constantly changing and interacting with one another. (From Rebecca at Galileo Stem Academy in Eagle)

4: What does inland wetland mean?

An inland wetland is any ecosystem that's not next to the ocean. So, inland wetlands are fresh water ecosystems like river systems or lakes. (From John via the Internet)

5: What kind of plants are in the wetland?

There are hundreds of species of plants that live in wetlands. Ones that are more familiar are cattails, willows, bulrushes, sedges, mosses and ferns. (From Elizabeth at Jefferson Elementary School in Boise)

6: How did the deserts get created?

A desert is all about water. If you don't get a lot of rain or snow, then it's really dry. That's what a desert is. Here in Idaho, we live in a desert. It's a very, very dry place. Animals and plants adapt as they learn how to live here. To add to that, there is something called a "rain shadow." Idaho is in the rain shadow of the coastal mountains that are in Washington and Oregon. So, water falls here. As you may know, the western regions of Washington and Oregon can be very rainy places. However, on the eastern side of their mountain ranges, it is very dry because the rain has already fallen. As the clouds approach Idaho, they usually hold much less water and that's one reason why it is usually dry. Then, as those same clouds reach the Idaho mountains, they will produce rain. So, our mountains and our coniferous forests are supported by a little more rain. Then Montana and Wyoming get the dry side of Idaho's mountains. (From Evan at Dalton Elementary School in Dalton Gardens)

7: I know that there are different types of forests, so I am curious if there different types of deserts?

Absolutely, there are different kinds of deserts! Part of it is related to the amount of water that the area gets. However, different kinds of deserts come from different parts of the world. The area's climate, temperature and moisture content affect the type of desert that exists. Some famous deserts in North America are the Sonoran Desert and the Great Basin Desert. In other parts of the world, we have the Gobi Desert in Mongolia and the Saharan Desert in Northern Africa. The largest deserts in the world are actually at the North Pole and the South Pole where it is quite cold. (From Micah at Jefferson Elementary School in Boise)

8: What is an invasive plant?

An invasive plant is a plant that is not native to its region. It has a tendency to spread rapidly, so it has a lot of seeds, and is able to live, especially, in disturbed habitats. Usually it causes some kind of negative economic affect or detrimental damage to humans themselves or to their livelihoods. One example is that invasive plants can be harmful to agriculture. (From Clay at White Pine Elementary School in Boise)

9: Where are most invasive plant species located, and how can we stop them from spreading?

Some of the most invasive plants that you have probably seen are thistles, cheat grass, and knapweed. These are some of the plants that are especially associated with agricultural lands, the lands where we grow our food. A couple of ways we can control them is by making sure they don't get there in the first place. If they do, we can simply remove them by pulling them out, or we can use chemicals to kill them. (From Justin at White Pine Elementary School in Boise)

10: Where is the bottom of the food chain?

The bottom of the food chain is probably the most important piece of the food chain. Organisms are there, mostly plants. They are going to take carbon from the air in the form of carbon dioxide and they use sunlight. These organisms form the basis of the food chain because these molecules are the molecules that all other organisms need to survive. This is our food. Plants would be the base of the food chain. (From Max at Galileo Stem Academy in Eagle)


April 2012

Thanks to Vicky Runnoe, conservation education supervisor, Idaho Department of Fish and Game; and Beth Paragamian, wildlife educator, Idaho Department of Fish and Game for the answers.

1: What does environment mean?

The environment is where we live. It includes all the things around us that make us able to survive. (From Taylen in Mrs. Woodall's class at Dalton Elementary School in Dalton)

2: How many forest fires are there in a year?

It depends on the year. Some years, forests are very dry and there may be more fires. Other years may be wetter. It depends on the amount of rainfall that falls during the spring and summer. (From Anto in Mrs. Woodall's class at Dalton Elementary School in Dalton Gardens)

3: In our ecosystems, how many animal species are there?

It depends on what ecosystem you live in. The wetlands are very productive ecosystems with perhaps 75-80 percent of Idaho's wildlife. Deserts are a harder place to live, and the adaptations to live are very, very specialized, so there are fewer animals. (From Trenton in Mrs. Woodall's class at Dalton Elementary School in Dalton Gardens)

4: What happens to the deer habitat when people build houses where they eat grass?

The population of deer generally decreases when their grass is replaced by buildings. Their food disappears and they move to areas where there are other deer and not as much food. This makes it harder for them to survive. (From Emma in Mrs. Schweitzer's class at Riverside Elementary School in Boise)

5: How can a forest desert, and grassland be ecosystems?

An ecosystem is all the living and nonliving things that make an area what it is. It can be comprised of a large area like a forest, or a small area like under a rock. So, all areas are ecosystems. (From Adrian in Mrs. Woodall's class at Dalton Elementary School in Dalton Gardens)

6: Why is there only one percent of the Palouse grasslands left?

One percent of the native grasslands are still there and the rest have been converted to farmland where wheat and other crops are grown. (From Haley in Ms. Miller's class in Caldwell)

7: What is the largest lake in Idaho?

Lake Pend Oreille is the largest lake in Idaho, just outside of Sandpoint, Idaho. It's also one of the deepest lakes in the world. (From Cali in Mrs. Woodall's class at Dalton Elementary School in Dalton Gardens)

8: For how long can a tree grow?

There are trees in the United States, like some pines, that have been growing for thousands of years. There are some trees here in Idaho that probably existed and were growing when Lewis and Clark came through our state. A tree can be a very long living thing. (From Kalli in Mrs. Woodall's class at Dalton Elementary School in Dalton Gardens)

9: Where are the deserts in Idaho?

The southern part of the state is part of the great basin desert. It is a high desert where you can even see snow. People tend to think of sand and heat when they think of deserts, but the high elevation in this area makes it a high desert. (From Olivia in Mrs. Woodall's class at Dalton Elementary School in Dalton Gardens)

10: Forests take up 60 percent of Idaho, how much land do the deserts take up?

Deserts take up about 20 to 30 percent of the land in Idaho, no more than 30 percent. (From Colton in Mrs. Woodall's class at Dalton Elementary School in Dalton Gardens)


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