Ecosystem: Structure and Function

What is an Ecosystem?

An ecosystem is a structural and functional unit of ecology where the living organisms interact with each other and the surrounding environment. It can be described as the community where the plants and animals live together.

An ecosystem is also referred to as the ecological system. The term Ecosystem was first coined by an English botanist A.G.Tansely in the year 1953.

The biotic and abiotic components are interrelated in an ecosystem. It is an open system where the energy and components can flow throughout the boundaries.

Types of Ecosystem

There are two types of ecosystem:

Terrestrial Ecosystem

The ecosystem that exists on land is known as the terrestrial ecosystem. It can be classified as:

  • Forest ecosystem

  • Grassland ecosystem

  • Desert ecosystem

Aquatic Ecosystem

The ecosystem that exists in water is known as the aquatic ecosystem. It is further classified into:

  • Freshwater ecosystem that includes ponds, lakes, or rivers.

  • Marine ecosystem that includes oceans, seas

Structure and Function of Ecosystem

Structure of an Ecosystem

The structure of an ecosystem is characterized by the organization of both biotic and abiotic components.

Biotic components

Biotic components

The biotic components comprise of living organisms including the plants, animals, insects, reptiles, and even the microbes. The term Biotic refers to life.

On the basis of nutrition, they can be autotrophs or heterotrophs. The autotrophs include green plants that prepare their own food by utilising sunlight and energy by the process of photosynthesis. The heterotrophs include all the animals that depend upon the autotrophs or other heterotrophs to fulfil their nutritional requirements.

On a wider scale, the biotic components can be further classified into:

Producers

All green plants are the example of producers. As they synthesise their own food through the biological process known as photo­synthesis.

Consumers

All animals including humans are examples of Consumers. All consumers depend on plants for their food as they cannot synthesise their own food.  It is again classified into primary, secondary, tertiary and quaternary consumers.

  • Primary Consumers– The primary consumers depend upon green plants for their food. For eg., deer, elephant, cow, goat, etc.

  • Secondary Consumers– These feed on producers and primary consumers and include the carnivorous and omnivorous animals. For eg., sparrow, fox, crow, etc.

  • Tertiary Consumers– These include the top carnivorous animals including lion, tiger, vultures that feed on herbivores, carnivores, and omnivores.

  • Quaternary Consumers– These include the scavengers and parasites. The scavengers feed on the dead remains of plants and animals whereas the parasites live in the body of the other animal and derive nutrition from its body.

Decomposers or Reducers

Bacteria and fungi are examples of Decomposers. These help to maintain the structure of the ecosystem. The decomposers are involved in breaking down the dead and organic materials of producers and consumers into simpler substances.

Abiotic components

The Abiotic components comprise of all the non-living factors or the physical environment prevailing in an ecosystem. The term Abiotic refers to without life. Wind, air, sunlight, soil, light, climates are all examples of Abiotic components.

Functions of an Ecosystem

The functions of an ecosystem are mentioned below:

  1. The main function of an ecosystem is to keep the components running together.

  2. It is also involved in regulating all the essential ecological processes, supporting life systems and rendering the stability.

  3. It is also responsible for the cycling of nutrients between biotic and abiotic components.

  4. The producer, consumers and decomposers maintain the food chain and energy flow in the ecosystem.

  5. The decomposers cycle the minerals through the biosphere.

  6. The abiotic components help in the synthesis of organic components that involves the exchange of energy.

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Practise This Question

The model organism that T.H. Morgan used in his genetic studies was