Ecological Systems

Ecological systems are patterned clusters of natural communities that share many of the same natural processes.

Natural Communities' Broader Landscape Context

Just as we can recognize repeated groupings of plants and animals and identify them as natural communities, we can also step back and see yet larger patterns that repeat themselves in the landscape. These patterns define broader environments in which different natural communities tend to cluster together. We call these ecological systems.

Steep banks and rapids where Rock Creek has cut down through rock.
Photographer: Sam Sheline, courtesy of NatureServe
Ecological systems are partly defined by the natural processes (sometimes called "ecological processes") that operate on all the natural communities clustered together within them. Ecobit: Natural Processes are Bigger than Natural Communities

For example, at Rock Creek Park in Washington, D.C., four ecological systems are recognized.