The Ecosystem can be thought of as a single unit containing living things and non-living things, and the living things interact with the non-living things and also with the environment, working as a system. The Ecosystem and its Components are thought of as entities in a limited, defined space – for e.g., a forest or an ocean. However, according to some scientists and ecologists, the entire planet is an ecosystem. Ecosystems are controlled by both internal and external factors. The external factors such as the climatic conditions define how the ecosystem works, but do not get affected by the ecosystem itself.
Characteristics of an ecosystem
- Ecosystems are dynamic in nature. They are subject to periodic disturbances and are always in the process of either adapting to or recovering from a disturbance. Adapting to the conditions of the ecosystem is an important feature of the living components.
- The complexity of the ecosystem depends on the diversity in its components. So, the more number of species in the ecosystem, the more complex it is.
- The amount of energy required for the sustenance of the ecosystem is inversely proportional to its complexity. Highly complex ecosystems need less energy for their maintenance.
- Simple ecosystems increase in complexity as they develop. This process is known as succession.
- The basic functioning of an ecosystem depends on the energy cycles and material cycles.
Functions of an ecosystem
The Ecosystem and its components form a stable environment that is conducive for the sustenance of life. It can be said that in any ecosystem, there are the below functional components:
- Inorganic components – water, air and soil
- Organisms – Plants, animals, micro-organisms
- Energy source – Sun
These three factors interact with each other to make the energy cycles and material cycles.
Components of an ecosystem
- Abiotic Components
These are the non-living factors of an ecosystem. They could be resources or conditions. They can be broadly classified as Physical factors and Chemical factors.
Physical factors are as below:
- Light: Sunlight is the primary source of energy for almost all of the ecosystems. Plants use this energy through photosynthesis. The amount of sunlight received depends on geographical and climatic factors. However, plants in low-sunlight zones too can carry out photosynthesis efficiently.
- Water: On earth, life began in water. Water is extremely important for sustenance of life in any ecosystem.
- Climate: The climatic conditions, especially temperature, is an important factor which determines which living organisms can inhabit the particular ecosystem.
- Soil: The composition and characteristics of the soil influence what kind of vegetation can thrive. The vegetation in turn influences the species of animals that are found in the particular ecosystem.
Chemical factors are the organic compounds which lay the foundation of the living components. These include carbohydrates, lipids, proteins, amino acids, etc. They are utilized by the biotic components.
- Biotic Components
Depending on their role in the energy cycle and material cycle, the biotic components can be classified into the following three types:
- Autotrophic Components or Producers
These are constituted by mainly the green plants, algae, and photosynthetic bacteria. They are ‘self-nourishing’. They use energy from the sun and convert it into chemical energy. While doing this, they absorb carbon dioxide and release oxygen as a by-product of photosynthesis. Oxygen is then used by other biotic components in respiration. Hence, members of this component are known as Producers.
- Heterotrophic Components or Consumers
The Consumers are dependent on others for their nourishment. They consume what the Producers provide. They are classified further as herbivores (eating plant-based food), carnivores (feeding on other animals), and omnivores (consume plants as well as animals). Herbivores are known as the Primary consumers whereas carnivores and omnivores are the Secondary consumers.
- Decomposers and Transformers
The decomposers and transformers play a very crucial role in the maintenance of the ecosystem. All living organisms, whether plants or animals, have a certain lifespan after which they die. When living things die, their remains which are left behind contain nutrients in the form of complex compounds. Decomposers are bacteria that feed on the dead remains of plants and animals and break down complex compounds into simple compounds. The simple organic compounds are then changed into inorganic form by the Transformers. The transformers, too, are a kind of bacteria. The inorganic matter thus created is then utilized by the Producers.
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