About: Biology

biology iconBiology is the study of life. The biological systems of a watershed encompass the plant and animal species that are present in the stream, the riparian lands, and the contributing watershed.

These living organisms interact to create a flow of materials and energy that provide numerous ecosystem services. These include:

  • recycling carbon, nitrogen, and phosphorus to the air, water, and soil
  • regulating greenhouse gases
  • providing water treatment
  • controlling erosion
  • enhancing soil quality
  • stimulating plant growth

Ecosystem services can also include cultural benefits, such as religious, aesthetic, or recreational values that humans derive from ecosystems.

The diversity of Minnesota's biological systems is enhanced by its location near the geographic center of the continent where three major biomes meet, the prairie, boreal forest and eastern deciduous forest. As an example of this diversity, almost 1,200 native wildlife species are known to exist in Minnesota.

However, approximately one-quarter of these wildlife species have recently been identified as "species in greatest conservation need" because they are rare, declining or vulnerable. (MN DNR, Tomorrow's Habitat, pg 23). The loss or degradation of important key habitats has been linked to this decline.

Some examples of threats to biological health include:

  • conversion of land to managed production systems
  • alteration of hydrologic cycles
  • fragmentation of habitat
  • introduction of non-native (invasive) species
  • chemical disruption of life cycles from contaminants
  • rapid climate change
  • expansion of infrastructure

Explore the Biology Health Scores to see a series of index values that show health trends for biological systems in Minnesota.