Decomposition, in simple words, means breaking down. When we discuss it in terms of biology, we usually mean the breaking down of the complex organic matter into a simpler inorganic matter. We can, thus, say that decomposition is a process which takes up the complex compounds as raw materials, processes them and converts them into simple compounds. Therefore, dead and decaying plants and animals serve as the raw materials which on breakdown produces carbon dioxide, nutrients, and water, etc.
The raw materials like dead plants and animals and their remains are known as detritus. These detritus are then processed by several microbes called saprophytes which lead to their breakdown.
Decomposition as a process takes place in five different steps: Decomposition Process
- Fragmentation – It is the first step in the process of decomposition. Fragmentation means the breakdown of detritus into smaller pieces by the detritivores.
- Leaching – The fragmented particles may contain a lot of water-soluble nutrients which are inorganic in nature. These nutrients get dissolved in the water and seep into the soil and get precipitated in the process of leaching.
- Catabolism -Once the complex material is broken down into smaller particles and the inorganic nutrients are removed, it is time to convert the detritus into simpler inorganic compounds. This process is carried out by various fungal and bacterial enzymes by the process of catabolism.
- Humification – It is the process of formation of a dark colored layer of amorphous substance on the soil called humus. It cannot be decomposed easily as it is highly resistant to action by microbes. The layer of humus is very rich in nutrients as it provides high fertility to the soil.
- Mineralisation – It is the final step in the process. Mineralisation is the process of the degradation of the hummus to release inorganic nutrients.
As we have discussed the mechanism of decomposition, let us now see the factors that affect the rate of decomposition.
- Oxygen availability
- Chemical composition of the detritus
- Climatic condition
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