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:
Ecosystem ecologists often study large-scale issues and phenomena that include:
The ecological pyramid below, also known as a trophic pyramid, illustrates the flow of energy in an ecosystem.
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.
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.
Source: Adapted from Sophia instructor Jensen Morgan, TROPHIC PYRAMID CC HTTP://BIT.LY/1ODRPTS