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Creating a Self-Sustaining Ecosystem

During this weird time of isolation, it’s important to keep yourself occupied. What better way to do that than to build yourself a self-sustaining ecosystem. There are a few reasons why it can help improve your mood while teaching you about the Earth and your surrounding area. So today, let’s talk about creating a self-sustaining ecosystem!

The Benefits of Creating a Self-Sustaining Ecosystem

You might have seen ecosystems those cool videos all over Instagram or TikTok or whatever social media you follow. They’re gorgeous and they keep themselves alive once they’ve been developed. Not only are they pretty, they are fascinating to observe and learn about.

Much like gardening, creating an ecosystem works out your hand muscles while promoting relaxation. This isn’t like growing seeds, though. This is taking from the ecosystem around you and creating a small ecosystem in a container. Essentially, it’s making yourself a small world. It’s quite wonderful.

As you collect things for your ecosystem, you’ll learn about the environment around you. You’ll see what naturally grows around your area and discover the wonder of nature. Doing this will give you an appreciation for living things as well as the way they grow.

Having something to take care of and look after gives you a sense of responsibility and happiness. It’s like having a pet. These ecosystems require a lot of preparation and care when you get them started and doing it right will create a bond between you, the ecosystem, and nature.

Types of Self-Sustaining Ecosystems

Now, there are several types ecosystems and you can make a lot of them into contained self-sustaining ecosystems. So let’s talk about the different ecosystems and how you might be able to make them your own.


These aren’t suitable for small personal ecosystems. The polar ecosystems are located on the bottom and top of the Earth. They often have flat surfaces covered with ice. It typically has snow, hail or sleet on warmer days. The animals in these ecosystems are accustomed to extreme cold and often include polar bears, seals, arctic birds, and penguins. You could probably simulate this climate using temperature control but I would only recommend trying it if you’re a seasoned ecosystem builder.

Mountain Zone:

These environments exist in high altitudes. They don’t have a lot of vegetation save for bushy plants. It’s rocky but they’re known to have a beautiful landscape. Due to the altitude, the temperatures tend to be lower. You‘ll see snow, rain, and mist. You can create this type of ecosystem on your own but you need to keep an eye on it.


The tundra is similar to the polar ecosystems. It has a lot of permafrost or frozen ground as well as limited vegetation. There are long periods of light and dark. I would compare it to Alaska in terms of the periods of light and dark. Few animals and plants, however, survive in these conditions. More often than not, there is snow but it’s incredibly dangerous so a lot research is based on images taken. I wouldn’t attempt to recreate this ecosystem as self-sustaining ecosystems require a form of life.

Temperate Forests:

This ecosystem is common in mid-latitude areas between the polar regions and the equator. It’ll be much easier to create an ecosystem like this one. They have cold winters and warm summers, often having two types of tree growth: evergreen and deciduous trees. Temperate forests give shelter and food for many animals and organisms. Rain is plentiful and the soil tends to be fertile.


Grasslands are often in temperate zones but they don’t get the precipitation or rain to sustain a forest. This ecosystem is typically flat and filled with rich soil so it can support a lot of animals.

Tropical Rainforests:

You’ll probably find a lot of self-sustaining ecosystems similar to tropical rainforests because there are several types of rainforests. They’re located near the equator and tend to be warm year-round. Due to their warmth and high precipitation levels, rainforests have year-round growth. They tend to be large because they compete for sunlight. But the soil tends to be poor because the nutrition is locked in the vegetation. This ecosystem contains the greatest number of plants, animals, and organisms. There are also several sub-systems within rainforests so they are by far the most fascinating among the ecosystems.


Don’t confuse these with desserts. Deserts have little precipitation, receiving no more than 10 centimeters of rain a year. The temperature runs high during the day but plants, animals, and organisms are able to survive none the less. Their geography varies region to region with sand dunes being very common. You’ll also find flat surfaces and strange-shaped rocks.


This is the largest and most diverse ecosystem in the world. Much like the tropical rainforests, there are several smaller sub-systems in this biome like coral reef, deep-water, and shoreline ecosystems. There are areas rich with life as well as areas that are dead with little to no life. You can most definitely create a self-sustaining ecosystem based on the oceanic ecosystem.

What You Need To Create Your Ecosystem

Now, depending on which type of biome your basing your ecosystem off of, you do need some key things to make sure it survives.

A Container:

You need to choose a clear container, one that is big enough for the ecosystem you are building. Small containers don’t allow growth or the elements interacting correctly with each other. Start with a medium or large container to you have room to grow. A clear container is essential for light. Many people use terrariums and aquariums. Recycled containers are a huge plus and it helps the environment.

Choose a Substrate

It’s essential to choose whether you want a soil based or water based substrate.

Building a Terrarium:

  1. Your base layer should be small pebbles to collect water and avoid plant flooding

  2. Then add a layer of activated charcoal for filtering out water impurities whilst keeping the fungi and bacteria at bay

  3. Top the charcoal with peat moss to hold nutrients and water for the plants

  4. Next, you need soil. You need to add enough soil for plants to grow roots.

  5. Personally, I would add local plants, moss, and soil depending on your area

  6. Collect a few natural organisms like worms, snails, etc.

Building an Aquarium:

  1. The first layer should be sand or pea gravel to anchor your plants to grow

  2. Fill your container with water, add nutrients if you’re using distilled or bottled water to promote growth. You can even use water from a different fish tank

  3. Add plants and let them take root before adding any fish

  4. Add microorganisms like daphnia, micro-planarians, and small pond snails but wait at least two weeks before adding them

Add Residents to the Ecosystem

Once your plants take root, it’s time to bring in some small animals and plants for the ecosystem you want to create. Remember to look around you but have respect for the environment around you.

Plants in a Terrarium:

  1. Start with small plants, water them well and pack the soil around them. Make sure the leaves don‘t touch the walls of the container at first

  2. You can start with strawberry begonias, ferns, mosses, moon valley friendship, nerve plants, variegated, minimus aureus, or aquamarine. Think about the biome you‘re going for and pick plants accordingly

Plants and Animals in an Aquarium:

  1. After letting those plants take root and the micro-critters have established themselves, add fish, shrimp, and snails but start small

  2. Fish reproduce quickly and smaller fish might become food for bigger fish, this is why it needs time to adjust. You need to balance the species in the aquarium (which can be tricky) so keep an eye on it

  3. Start with a guppy, Endler’s livebearer, or cherry shrimp them slowly introduce other fish and water creatures

Shine Shine Shine a Light!

Every ecosystem needs sunlight. It’s important for plant growth and animals. But think about the fish if you’re going for an aquarium, some can’t be in direct sunlight. Natural light is highly recommended so make sure you have access to regular lighting.


Terrariums need less maintenance than aquariums but still need attention. Check the soil moisture every couple of days to make sure the plants ar getting the water they need. Adjust the position as needed, plants might be burning. Inspect the terrarium for any predatory plants and remove them immediately. You can also add plants if you wish too.

Aquariums need more maintenance. Pay attention to the formation of algae, dead fish, diseases, and bacteria. The water needs to be changed and installations must be cleaned. Dead fish must be removed immediately.

Creating your own self-sustaining ecosystem is a lot of work but it’ll be beautiful while giving you a new appreciation for Earth and her bountiful biomes. You‘ll learn as you go about nature. I highly recommend using your local ecosystem to create your own. This will occupy your time and take your mind off of any stressors. It’ll be lovely and fulfilling.

Creating a Self-Sustaining Ecosystem was written, researched, and edited by Emmalie Roberts. For more articles, check out our blog page, here, and don't forget to follow us on social media, here, for daily tips, tricks, and reminders for your path to holistic health.

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