Natural processes, such as pollination and photosynthesis, are interactions among plants, animals, and the environment that facilitate the movement of nutrients and energy. They are also known as ecological processes.
By creating pathways along which nutrients and energy move, natural processes help form and maintain the ecological patterns we see on the landscape. They are just as important as plants and animals in shaping natural communities.
Examples of natural processes:
- energy flow and nutrient cycles (photosynthesis, food webs, decomposition webs)
- sediment transport and soil formation
- the water cycle
- reproduction/regeneration mechanisms
- natural disturbances (fires, floods, storms)
- plant/animal interactions (facilitation, competition, pollination, herbivory, and seed dispersal)
- climate and microclimate
Natural processes are critical for the health of natural communities.
For instance, the simple fact that plant nutrients are present in bedrock doesn’t make them usable to plants. First, the rock must be eroded into bits and broken down into minerals and molecules. This happens through ongoing natural processes involving weather, plants, animals, and microorganisms.
Similarly, when a plant loses its leaves in the fall, physical and chemical weathering break leaves into pieces called leaf litter that help hold moisture on the forest floor. Decomposition—powered by insects, fungi, bacteria, and physical and chemical processes—ultimately converts the leaves into ingredients that help form soil.
Some processes operate at the scale of an individual plant or animal, such as pollination. Other processes affect multiple members of the community at once, such as a forest fire or the availability of groundwater. Some natural processes occur quickly, such as a flood, while others can take millennia, such as soil formation.