Ecosystem

Ecosystem

Ecosystem Definition

“An ecosystem is defined as a community of lifeforms in concurrence with non-living components, interacting with each other.”

What is an Ecosystem?

The ecosystem is the structural and functional unit of ecology where the living organisms interact with each other and the surrounding environment. In other words, an ecosystem is a chain of interaction between organisms and their environment. The term “Ecosystem” was first coined by A.G.Tansely, an English botanist, in the year 1953.

Read on to explore the types, structure, components, types and functions of ecosystem.

Types of Ecosystem

An ecosystem can be as small as an oasis in a desert, or as big as an ocean, spanning thousands of miles. There are two types of ecosystem:

  • Terrestrial Ecosystem
  • Aquatic Ecosystem

Terrestrial Ecosystems

Terrestrial ecosystems are exclusively land-based ecosystems. There are different types of terrestrial ecosystems distributed around various geological zones. They are as follows:

  1. Forest Ecosystems
  2. Grassland Ecosystems
  3. Tundra Ecosystems
  4. Desert Ecosystem

Aquatic Ecosystem

Aquatic ecosystems are ecosystems present in a body of water. These can be further divided into two types, namely:

  1. Freshwater Ecosystem
  2. Marine Ecosystem

Structure of Ecosystem

The structure of ecosystem is characterised by the organisation of both biotic and abiotic components. This includes the distribution of energy in our environment. It also includes the climatic conditions prevailing in that particular environment. 

The structure of ecosystem can be split into two main components, namely: 

  • Biotic Components
  • Abiotic Components

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.

Structure of Ecosystem

Structure of Ecosystem highlighting the biotic and abiotic factors

Biotic Components

Biotic components refer to all life in an ecosystem.  Based on nutrition, biotic components can be categorised into autotrophs, heterotrophs and saprotrophs (or decomposers).

  • Producers include all autotrophs such as plants. They are called autotrophs as they can produce food through the process of photosynthesis. Consequently, all other organisms higher up on the food chain rely on producers for food.
  • Consumers or heterotrophs are organisms that depend on other organisms for food. Consumers are further classified into primary consumers, secondary consumers and tertiary consumers.
    • Primary consumers are always herbivores that they rely on producers for food.
    • Secondary consumers depend on primary consumers for energy. They can either be a carnivore or an omnivore.
    • Tertiary consumers are organisms that depend on secondary consumers for food.  Tertiary consumers can also be an omnivore.
    • Quaternary consumers are present in some food chains. These organisms prey on tertiary consumers for energy. Furthermore, they are usually at the top of a food chain as they have no natural predators.
  • Decomposers include saprophytes such as fungi and bacteria. They directly thrive on the dead and decaying organic matter.  Decomposers are essential for the ecosystem as they help in recycling nutrients to be reused by plants.

Abiotic Components

Abiotic components are the non-living component of an ecosystem.  It includes air, water, soil, minerals, sunlight, temperature, nutrients, wind, altitude, turbidity etc. 

Functions of Ecosystem

The functions of ecosystem are as follows:

  1. It regulates the essential ecological processes, supports life systems and renders the stability.

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

  3. It maintains a balance among the various trophic levels in the ecosystem.

  4. It cycles the minerals through the biosphere.

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

Important Ecological Concepts

1. Food Chain

The sun is the ultimate source of energy on earth. It provides the energy required for all plant life. This energy is utilised by the plants for the process of photosynthesis, which is used to synthesise their food.

During this biological process, light energy is converted into chemical energy and is passed on through successive levels. The flow of energy from a producer, to a consumer and eventually, to an apex predator or a detritivore is called the food chain.

Dead and decaying matter, along with organic debris, is broken down into its constituents by scavengers. These constituents are then absorbed by the reducers. After gaining the energy, the reducers liberate molecules to the environment, which can be utilised again by the producers.

Food Chain

A classic example of a food chain in an ecosystem

2. Ecological Pyramids

An ecological pyramid is the graphical representation of the number, energy, and biomass of the successive trophic levels of an ecosystem. Charles Elton was a first ecologist to describe the ecological pyramid and its principals in the year 1927.

The biomass, number, and energy of organisms ranging from the producer level to the consumer level are represented in the form of a pyramid; hence, it is known as the ecological pyramid.

The base of the ecological pyramid comprises of the producers, followed by the primary and secondary consumers. The tertiary consumers hold the apex. In some food chains, the quaternary consumers are at the very apex of the food chain.

The producers generally outnumber the primary consumers, and similarly, the primary consumers outnumber the secondary consumers. And lastly, apex predators also follow the same trend as the other consumers; wherein, their numbers are considerably lower than the secondary consumers.

For example, Grasshoppers feed on crops such as cotton and wheat, which are plentiful. These grasshoppers are then preyed upon by common mice, which are comparatively less in number. The mice are preyed upon by snakes such as cobras. Snakes are ultimately preyed on by apex predators such as the brown snake eagle.

In essence:

Grasshopper →Mice→  Cobra → Brown Snake Eagle

3. Food Web

Food web is a network of interconnected food chains. It comprises of all the food chains within a single ecosystem. It helps in understanding that plants lay the foundation of all the food chains. 

Main article: Food web

To learn more about what is an ecosystem, its structure, types, components, and functions, register at BYJU’S website or download BYJU’S app.

 

Frequently Asked Questions

1. What is the ecosystem?

The ecosystem is the community of living organisms in conjunction with non-living components of their environment, interacting as a system.

2. What are the different types of ecosystems?

The different types of the ecosystem include:

  • Terrestrial ecosystem
  • Forest ecosystem
  • Grassland ecosystem
  • Desert ecosystem
  • Tundra ecosystem
  • Freshwater ecosystem
  • Marine ecosystem

3. Which ecosystem do we live in?

We live in a terrestrial ecosystem. This is the ecosystem where organisms live and develop in the soil and in the air that surrounds a specific terrestrial space.

4. What is the structure of ecosystem?

The structure of ecosystem includes the organisms and physical features of the environment, including the amount and distribution of nutrients in a particular habitat. It also provides information regarding the climatic conditions of that area.

5. Which is the largest ecosystem in the world?

The largest ecosystem in the world is the aquatic ecosystem. It comprises the freshwater and marine ecosystem. It constitutes 70% of the surface of the earth.

6. What is the major function of an ecosystem?

The ecosystem is the functional unit of the environment system. The abiotic components provide the matrix for the synthesis of organic components. This process involves the exchange of energy.

7. What makes a good ecosystem?

A good ecosystem consists of native plants and animal species interacting with each other and the environment. A healthy ecosystem has an energy source and the decomposers that breakdown dead plants and animal matter, returning essential nutrients to the soil.

8. What all include the non-living things in an ecosystem?

The non-living things in an ecosystem include air, wind, water, rocks, soil, temperature and sunlight. These are known as the abiotic factors of an ecosystem.

Further Reading:

  1. Our Environment
  2. Energy Flow In Ecosystem
  3. What Is A Natural Ecosystem?
  4. Why Is The Ecosystem Important?
  5. What Are The Five Levels Of Ecology?
  6. What Are The Different Fields Of Ecology?
  7. What Are The Three Environmental Issues?
  8. Difference Between Food Chain And Food Web
  9. How Many Types Of The Ecosystem Are There?
  10. How Can We Improve Our Environmental Health?

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