Ecology: environmental energy

Out for a walk in the woods recently, the tutor couldn’t help but arrive at this topic.  Like so many others, it’s relevant, yet rarely covered during tutoring….

On a hot day like we’ve had here lately, a hiker might notice the jungle-like foliage in the forest.  Then, feeling the sweat on their brow, and the insects on their bare arms, they might ask, “Is this what it’s like in the tropics?”

The answer is that, in the summer, conditions here can be similar to some much hotter places.  Of course, the difference is that they get those conditions the year round – or nearly year round.

Why is there so much more biological activity when it’s hot?  It comes down to the formula


where KE means kinetic energy, while T means temperature. The reality this equation points to is that the environment’s available energy increases with rising temperature.

Specifically, kinetic energy is the form of energy that is embodied in the motion of the molecules. The faster they move, the higher their kinetic energy. It is kinetic energy that facilitates chemical reactions, which is why turning up the heat on food cooks it faster.

When the outside temperature is higher, plants grow faster because growth is the sum of many chemical reactions. The plants, such as the grasses, feed everything else. In a tropical grassland, an acre has a much higher output of vegetation than it would have here on Canada’s west coast. Therefore, it can feed many more animals than an acre here. The result is not only more animals on the acre of tropical grassland, but a greater variety of them.

If it was always as warm here as it’s been lately, we would have a comparable biodiversity to a tropical setting. However, that might likely include poisonous snakes, parasites and diseases that Canadians never need think about – unless perhaps they travel to some tropical places.

Further exploration of the formula


and its energy implications will be explored in a future post:)

Source: hyperphysics.phy

Jack of Oracle Tutoring by Jack and Diane, Campbell River, BC.