Living entities are highly structured and organized than any other species. They follow a hierarchy that can be studied easily on a scale from the smallest to the largest. Ecologists study six major levels of the organization. Listed below are the levels in the hierarchical order:
An individual is any single entity or living thing and forms the basis of an ecosystem. Animals that are individuals do not breed with other species or groups, unlike the plants who cross breed with other plants. The plants thus produced are fertile as opposed to crossbred animals, who reproduce sterile animals(the mule).
The second level in the organization is the population. It is a group of individuals that live at a specific time in a particular region. A population consists of individuals belonging to the same species. Some population, however, differ in the color of their eyes, hair, skin, and size. For instance, a population of pine trees in a forest collectively refers to all the pine trees in that forest.
A specific area may consist of different populations. For instance, the marine ecosystem not only embodies the fish and sharks but also the plant life along with the microorganisms in the aquatic region. This forms the third level in the hierarchy, normally referred to as the community. It usually includes biodiversity and the population of various species and organisms.
The fourth level in the organization is the ecosystem. An ecosystem consists of more than one living community or entities that interact with the surroundings and the environment. It consists of the biotic and abiotic components that are in continuous interaction with each other. The abiotic components are the non-living parts of the environment such as – the soil, air, water, temperature, rains etc.
Following this, is the next level of the organization, the biome. A biome is an ecosystem containing animals and plants of a specific region that possess some characteristics which are common amongst ecosystems. These characteristics can be due to adaptation to their surroundings, the nature of which is determined by external factors such as – the climatic condition which includes the average temperature and annual rainfall. The biomes are often named after the vegetation they possess, for example, the terrestrial biome, tundra biome and so on.
The highest level in the hierarchy is the biosphere. A biosphere includes all the ecosystems and biomes. It is a collection of all ecosystems and represents the zones of life on earth, including the land, atmosphere, water etc. It integrates all the living things and their interactions with abiotic components including that with the hydrosphere, and various levels of the atmosphere.
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