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Effects of air pollution on the environment: animals, plants and ecosystems

Human activities have increased the amount of pollutants introduced in the air, that have direct and indirect effects in almost every ecosystem. Air pollution can lead to harmful consequences for living organisms through the inhalation of pollutants adverse weather conditions and others.

How does air pollution affect animals’ health?

effects of air pollution on animals

No matter what their size is, air pollution affects almost every species on this planet. The most common health effects on animals are respiratory problems, which is totally obvious since they have similar respiratory systems to humans. Wildlife is prone to suffer same symptoms and diseases than humans. Specifically, lung tissue is very commonly affected on animals after breathing polluting gases or particles.

Most common symptoms and problems animals may suffer are:

  • Smog is composed of particles and gases, what makes it easy to penetrate deeply into the body, damaging the lungs and causing respiratory problems. Toxic environments are created with hard breathing adaptability. Furthermore, pollutants such as carbon monoxide can also lead to huge respiratory issues on animals.
  • Despite eutrophication influence is mainly to the ecosystem, due to certain toxic algae production some animals can suffer symptoms like skin irritation or health problems if drinking it.
  • Neurological issues on vertebrates because of lead accumulation on soils and its effects on plants.

How does air pollution harm plants and vegetation?

Air pollution has a lot of influence on vegetation by attacking its growth sources, such as airborne molecules, soil minerals or directly its organisms. Depending on the particular pollutant or environmental pollution conditions, main effects can be:

  • Smog, as well as particulate matter high concentrations, reduce the amount of sun rays arriving to plants, denying or slowing plant growth. This kind of air pollution damages forests and crops, especially vegetables such as soybeans, wheat, tomatoes, peanuts and cotton.
  • Ozone layer depletion increases the amount of UVB arriving to plants, and despite being prepared and adaptable to increasing levels of UVB, it can cause problems and modifications like form changes, nutrients distribution, developmental phases timing and secondary metabolism.
  • Forest and plants can also be harmed by acid rain since it damages tree’s leaves, robs the soil of essential nutrients and makes it hard for trees to take up water. All these issues imply growth and photosynthesis difficulties and more vulnerability to insects, diseases or bad weatherHigh concentrations of SOx are also harmful for vegetation foliage and growth, and can contribute to formate acid rain. Ozone also produce similar symptoms, especially during the plants growing season.
  • Lead can accumulate on soils for a long long time (hundreds or even thousands of years) and by combination with other metals it can inhibit photosynthesis, what implies growth and survival issues for the surrounding vegetation.
  • Nitrogen is essential for plants nutrition, but high levels of nitrogen dioxide or nitrogen monoxide pollution damage their lives.

ecosystem pollution

How changes in ecosystems affect the fauna and flora?

Last but not least, air pollution may lead to harm an ecosystem as a whole and not only a particular organism from it. Some clear examples are:

  • Marine ecosystems may experience high temperatures and exposure to UVB, reducing survival rate of phytoplankton and damaging early developmental stages of fish, shrimp, crab, amphibians and other marine animals. These effects are the result from the ozone layer depletion.
  • Global warming is changing some ecosystems faster than the capability of animals and plants to adapt, leading to possible extinction of a huge amount of species. For example, ice sheets inhabited by polar bears are disappearing, (as it was said) warming oceans, more extreme weather conditions, etc.
  • Due to the rising amount of carbon dioxide emissions and acid rain generation, the surface of oceans and water bodies has increased its acidity. This phenomenon is called ocean acidification and can lead to harmful consequences, such as depressing metabolic rates in jumbo squid, depressing the immune responses of blue mussels, and coral bleaching. Furthermore, ocean and lakes acidification makes water toxic to crayfish, clam, fish, and other aquatic animals. However, it can be good for some species as a trade-off, such as sea star, which increases its growth rate with highest water acid levels.
  • Eutrophication, formed by phosphorus and nitrogen concentrations in water bodies, can even change the entire ecosystem from water to land (in extreme cases). Toxicity of the water, reduced amount of oxygen in deeper layers and difficult adaptability to the new substances may cause several damages into indigenous fauna and flora, leading to their reduction or even extinction.
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