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Assimilative Capacity

The ability of a body of water to cleanse itself; its capacity to receive waste waters or toxic substances
without deleterious effects and without damage to aquatic life or humans who consume the water. It is
level to which water body or nature control the toxicity without affecting the aquatic life.


One of the ecosystem functions. The extent to which ecosystems are able to transport, store and recycle
certain excesses of organic and inorganic wastes through distribution, assimilation, transport and
chemical recomposition.


Waste is an unwanted or useless material and, in natural ecosystems, there is no such thing as waste
because all materials are utilised, cycled and recycled. One organisms waste is anothers resource. For
example leaf litter on a forest floor is decomposed (e.g. by fungi and soil biota) and the nutrients made
available for new growth. Animal feces are similarly sources of nutrients.

Waste treatment and assimilation plays a critical role in buffering the impacts of high nutrients and
other pollutants generated by human activities. From a water quality perspective, when we add too
much nutrient to a system, such as through nutrient rich wastewater releases or runoff from adjacent
ecosystems into waterways the system can become out of balance and fuel the growth of nuisance
species like algae, bacteria and aquatic weeds. Pathogens in untreated waste can lead to significant
human and environmental health issues. Hence, waste treatment plays a significant role in regulating
pests and disease.

The waste treatment and assimilation function is also apparent in the way pollution incidents, such as oil
spills, can be managed by ecosystems. The flow of water, for example through tidal and wave action can
transport and distribute some excesses of nutrients, diluting and assimilating wastes, or transporting
them to more or less sensitive areas. Carbon dioxide (CO2), a gaseous waste, is assimilated by
vegetation and the chemical compound recompositioned (e.g. plants absorb carbon and release oxygen

Waste treatment contributes significantly to many of our cultural services. Maintaining the capacity of
ecosystems to perform waste treatment is important to protecting iconic species and landscapes. The
treatment of wastes is important to providing the smell, sound and visual appearance of ecosystems
that is required for people to experience aesthetic amenity. What therapy can be received from polluted
landscapes? As well, access to and potential use of ecosystems can be denied by authorities should they
be considered a health hazard to people. So waste treatment also contributes to food production and
recreational opportunities (e.g. the potential to catch and eat fish) and maintaining healthy social
relations (e.g. conflicts between polluters and service users).