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2 Tutorials that teach Ecosystems Ecology
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Ecosystems Ecology

Ecosystems Ecology

Author: Sophia Tutorial

Recognize an organism as either a producer, consumer, or decomposer.

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what's covered
This tutorial will cover the topic of ecosystems ecology, which is the study of physical and biological structures and processes of living and nonliving components of an ecosystem. We will discuss ecosystem phenomena, as well as the flow of energy through ecosystems.

Our discussion breaks down as follows:

  1. Ecosystem Ecology
  2. Phenomena
  3. Flow of Energy

1. Ecosystem Ecology

Ecosystem ecology is the study of physical and biological structures and processes of living and nonliving components of an ecosystem. You may recall that ecosystems are the living and nonliving components that interact in a given area.

The difference between ecosystem ecology and population, or community ecology, is that ecosystem ecology includes the study of the abiotic or nonliving elements. Ecosystem ecology considers the interactions between the following:

  • The atmosphere, such as the gases in the air like carbon, nitrogen, and oxygen
  • The lithosphere, such as rocks like phosphate, potassium, and calcium
  • The hydrosphere, such as the water in our oceans, surface land water, and groundwater
  • Living organisms

In general, remember that ecosystems do not have clear boundaries, and their edges can change over time.

2. Phenomena

Ecosystem ecologists often study large-scale issues and phenomena that include:

  • Production of solar energy
  • Flow of energy through an ecosystem
  • Flow of nutrients through an ecosystem
  • Decomposition, and the role that it plays
  • Production of biomass
  • Weather and climate, and their effects on an ecosystem

3. Flow of Energy

The ecological pyramid below, also known as a trophic pyramid, illustrates the flow of energy in an ecosystem.

Trophic Pyramid

All energy in an ecosystem originates from sunlight, which is converted into sugars through photosynthesis by primary producers. These producers are also known as autotrophs because they produce their own food. Most plants and plankton are autotrophs.

Heterotrophs fill out the rest of the pyramid because they get their sustenance by consuming other organisms. The energy then flows upward in an ecosystem through various levels, from primary producer to primary consumer, such as a rabbit that eats vegetables. Next, secondary consumers, like a snake, eat an organism from the group below it. Finally, tertiary consumers, like an eagle or a hawk, eat an organism from the group below, completing the pyramid.

big idea
The energy is transferred as one level feeds on the one below it and metabolizes that energy.

Eventually, all energy ends up back at the bottom when organisms die. They are then broken down and consumed by the decomposer group. This group is filled with things like worms and mushrooms.

Today we learned about ecosystem ecology, or the study of physical and biological structures and processes of living and nonliving components of an ecosystem. We discussed a variety of ecosystem phenomena, and explored the flow of energy through ecosystems.

Source: Adapted from Sophia instructor Jensen Morgan, TROPHIC PYRAMID CC HTTP://BIT.LY/1ODRPTS