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Concept of Ecosystem | Structure of Ecosystem | functioning of the Ecosystem| Types of Ecosystem

 Concept of the ecosystem:

The ecosystem is the functional unit of nature where living organism interacts with each other and also with their surrounding environment. Ecosystem varies in size, it may as small as a pond ecosystem, or as big as an ocean or forest ecosystem. Some examples of ecosystems are pond ecosystems, forest ecosystems, ocean ecosystems, etc.

The entire biosphere of the earth is considered the global ecosystem. So biosphere of the earth is a composite of all local ecosystems on the earth. 

Ecosystem Structure and Functioning:

The structure of the ecosystem mainly includes three components –

  • Ecosystem Inputs (Productivity)
  • Transfer of Energy (Food Chain, Food Web, and Nutrient Cycle)
  • Output (degradation and energy loss)

Food chains, food webs, and nutrient cycles provide links between the different components of an ecosystem.

The input (productivity) of an ecosystem has mainly two major components, biotic and abiotic. Both the components of the ecosystem work in a more integrated manner.

Ecosystems are seen as functional when all the components of an ecosystem function as a unit. The functioning of the ecosystem can be seen in the following four aspects –

  • Productivity
  • Decomposition
  • Energy flow
  • Nutrient cycle

The following image describes the structure of an ecosystem:

Structure of ecosystem UPSC

Biotic component of the ecosystem:

The biotic components of an ecosystem can be divided into three major parts—producers (autotrophs or vegetation), consumers, and decomposers.

Producers are those biological communities that actually produce food from inorganic sources through the process of photosynthesis for all living organisms of the biosphere. Green plants and some autotrophic bacteria are the productive communities of the ecosystem.

The consumer components of the biotic components are again of three types namely herbivores, carnivores, and omnivores.

Herbivores are biological communities that eat only plants and plant products, examples of herbivorous communities are cows and goats.

Carnivores are biological communities that eat only animals, examples of carnivorous communities are lions and tigers.

Omnivores are biological communities that eat animals and plants, examples of omnivores are humans and dogs.

Decomposers are biological communities that are microorganisms in nature that break down complex organic matter (animal and plant remain) into inorganic substances (carbon dioxide, water, and nutrients). Earthworms, bacteria, and other microorganisms are examples of decomposers.

Abiotic component of the ecosystem:

Examples of abiotic components of the ecosystem are soil, rock, water, air, sunlight, humidity, climate, temperature, etc.

Energy flow in the ecosystem:

Energy flow is one kind of process in the ecosystem that connect the different components of the ecosystem and makes them interdependent on each other.

Sun is the only source of energy for all ecosystems of the earth except the deep sea hydro-thermal ecosystem.

Only green plants and photosynthetic bacteria ( autotrophs) are able to fix the sun's radiant energy to make food from inorganic materials ( carbon, nitrogen, phosphorous, and other nutrients). 

Animals depend on plants ( directly and indirectly) for their food needs.

So, plants are the actual producers of energy in the ecosystem, and energy flow is unidirectional from producer to primary consumer(herbivores) to the secondary consumer to tertiary consumer.

For more energy flow, kindly read:

Nutrient cycling:

Nutrients are substances that are found in food that provide energy and the overall health of the living organism.

Nutrients in the ecosystem are never lost, they are recycled time and again indefinitely.

The movement of nutrients elements through various components of the ecosystem is called nutrient cycling. 

For more information about the nutrient cycle, please read: 

Types of the ecosystem:

The ecosystem is generally two types:

  • Artificial Ecosystem
  • Natural Ecosystem

Artificial Ecosystem:

Artificial ecosystems are those ecosystems that are man-made. Some examples of artificial ecosystems are -

  • Crop field
  • Garden
  • Swimming pool
  • Canal
  • Dam

Natural Ecosystem:

Natural ecosystems are those ecosystems that have no role in human formation and maintenance. The natural ecosystem can be divided into two types:

  • Terrestrial ecosystem
  • Aquatic ecosystem

Terrestrial ecosystem:

Land-based ecosystem comes under terrestrial ecosystems.

Examples of Terrestrial ecosystems are :

  • Tropical forest Ecosystem
  • Savana Ecosystem
  • Desert Ecosystem
  • Temperate forest Ecosystem
  • Tundra Forest Ecosystem
  • Taigas Ecosystem
  • Grasslands Ecosystem

Aquatic Ecosystem:

Ecosystem-based on water is called an aquatic ecosystem.

It can be further divided into two types:

  • Fresh Water ecosystems such as a river, ponds, marshes, wetlands, etc.
  • Saltwater ecosystems such as river mouths, coral reefs, sea, ocean, etc.

Services of the ecosystem:

    Ecosystems provide the following services –
    • An ecosystem is a reservoir of energy and materials in the form of biomass, biological species, genes, and nutrients.
    • Healthy ecosystems [such as forest ecosystems] purify air and water, reduce drought and flood, cycle nutrients, generate fertile soil, provide habitat for wildlife, maintain biodiversity keep, pollinate crops, etc.
    • Ecosystems provide aesthetic, cultural, and spiritual values.
    • Regulate and maintain the balance between the various components of the ecosystem.
    • It assimilates waste through decomposition.

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