Ecosystem and Its Components
What is an Ecosystem?
An ecosystem, as stated by the Merriam-Webster dictionary, is ‘the complex of a community of organisms and its environment functioning as an ecological unit.’
Types of Ecosystems.
There is not just one example of an ecosystem, there are several. For instance, ponds, grasslands, rainforests, and oceans are all ecosystems of their own. All ecosystems experience different climates and conditions. Different organisms can also be found in varying ecosystems. For example, a deer would not be found in an ocean, but it could be found in a forest.
Ecology is the study of organisms, how they relate to one another, as well as their surroundings or their ecosystem. Ecology includes looking at individual organisms, the population of an ecosystem, or the collective group of organisms living in one ecosystem, or an entire ecosystem, including its organisms, as well as its abiotic components.
Studying Individuals Within an Ecosystem.
When studying individuals within an ecosystem, ecologists typically concentrate on the everyday functions, reproduction habits, development and behavior associated with that particular organism. Oftentimes, this information is required in order to study an ecosystem at a broader level.
Studying Populations Within an Ecosystem. When it comes to studying populations, or groups of individuals that belong to the same species within an ecosystem, the research starts to become more extensive. Ecologists will look at the populations’ behaviors as a whole, the population growth, what factors into the rate of extinction, as well as the habitat and the general conditions the population endures.
Studying Communities Within an Ecosystem.
Populations of many different species within one ecosystem are referred to as communities. When studying these communities, ecologists examine how each population interacts with one another, including prey- and predator-type relationships, as well as how organisms within the same species interact with each other, such as grooming and eating habits.
When ecologists study entire ecosystems, rather than individuals, populations or communities within that ecosystem, they examine every facet. This includes how organisms interact with one another, their habits, population sizes, climate, abiotic components such as sunlight and precipitation, development and behavior, and so on. There are several components to one single ecosystem, and all ecosystems vary, which we talk about in greater detail below.
The Components of an Ecosystem
Now that we have covered the different levels of an ecosystem, let’s discuss the different components of one. There are four basic components of an ecosystem: abiotic substances, producers, consumers, and reducers, which are also known as decomposers.
Abiotic means that a substance is devoid of life, it is physical and not derived from living organisms. With that being said, abiotic components include things such as carbon dioxide, sunlight, temperature, precipitation, water or moisture, soil, water chemistry etc. These components can be divided into two different groups: organic and inorganic. Abiotic substances can greatly affect an ecosystem. In fact, if one factor is changed even slightly, it can cause a disturbance.
Producers, which are also referred to as autotrophs, are organisms that produce complex organic compounds from simple substances present in an ecosystem. This is completed using abiotic components, such as energy from sunlight. Examples of producers in an ecosystem include bacteria, algae or other green plants. Their ultimate responsibility in an ecosystem is to capture energy from non-organic sources, and then store them for future use.
3Consumers.Consumers, which are also known as heterotrophs, are organisms that cannot fix carbon from non-organic sources, so instead, they eat other living organisms. Several animals fall into this category, such as herbivores (organisms that consume plants) and carnivores (organisms that eat other animals). Consumers are an essential component of any ecosystem.
4Decomposers.Decomposers can also be known as reducers. This is because these heterotrophic organisms break down dead animals and waste matter. Prime examples of decomposers include fungi and certain bacteria species. They are critical to any ecosystem. In fact, an ecosystem could not function very long without the presence of reducers. Without them, ecosystems would be littered with dead organisms.
There are four central processes of ecosystems: water cycle, nutrient cycling, energy flow and community dynamics. Each plays an important role in an ecosystem.
There is a copious amount of water on planet Earth. It is the only molecule that can be found naturally and is an essential part of life. With that being said, the water cycle is fundamental to any ecosystem. Water has the ability to store and consume energy and is the ideal catalyst for creating biological reactions.
Water cycles through plants, soil, bodies of water and the atmosphere itself. It evaporates from the ocean and lakes using energy from the Sun and is then cycles through an ecosystem after being picked up by the wind. For instance, evaporation, carried in the wind, can travel over mountains where the air is cooler, and eventually turns into rain. Rain hits the Earth, which is then absorbed into the soil or returned to the sea. During this process, water is also absorbed by plants and drunk by animals.
Just like water is circulated through an ecosystem, nutrients are as well. This is also known as ecological recycling. Organic and inorganic matter is exchanged when organisms eat, digest and migrate. Elements such as carbon and nitrogen are consumed in one way or another, then biochemically transformed and eventually released due to excretion or decomposition. From there, the cycle continues. Nutrient cycling is critical to the well being of an ecosystem.
Photosynthesis is a large part of an ecosystem’s energy flow. Energy from the Sun, along with carbon dioxide and hydrogen, produce carbohydrates which therefore produces energy.
This energy is stored and used for future use if needed. For instance, the Sun’s energy is captured and the process of photosynthesis begins. Green plants transform the Sun’s energy into carbohydrates, which allow the plants to survive. Herbivores then consume those green plants and carnivores consume the herbivores. Once the carnivore or the herbivore dies, decomposers consume the remaining carbohydrates. From there, the cycle continues.
Community dynamics within an ecosystem are extremely important. As we mentioned above, a community is defined by populations of varying species within one ecosystem. When ecologists study the dynamics of a community, they notice how organisms interact with one another, their relationships and their habits.
Based on this information, food chains and webs can be determined. And from there, scientists can study communities in more detail. They can learn how living systems influence, and are controlled by, the geology and chemistry of the Earth, which is also known as biogeochemistry.
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