Ecosystems: Definition, Types and Components

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If you have ever imagined a community of plants and animals like grass, rabbit, snake, eagle and a bear in you mine before, the first thought that should have come to you would have been from where do they get their food and how do they survive living together in such a community? It is possible you’ve had an idea or no ideaon how these organisms behave in a givenenvironment they are, but here are some useful facts to enlighten or probabily help you to learn more about thier relationships.

Living organisms form a food chain and feed on each other for their survival. All living things and non-living things in our environments depend on each other to survive, there are many reasons why they do so and the reasons are not far fetch, living things depend on each other for production, shelter, pollination, nutrients and for food. This relationship could be harmful in some cases and in other cases; it may be of great benefit to one another. Plants and animals in a given location on a daily basis compete for food, sunlight, space, soil and water, and these living organisms exhibits different characteristics in this given habitat such that enable their survival. Living and non-living organisms cant really live independently, but have to depend on each other to survive, in other word they feed on each other to survive while living together in an environment called an Ecosystem.

What is an Ecosystem?

An ecosystem is defined as a group of living organisms or biotic (plants,animals andmicrobial species) living together in a particular natural environment and interacting with non- living components or abiotic (air, water, nutrients, soil and light, water, atmosphere, temperature, and humidity) in the same environment.

“Ecosystem was first introduced in 1935 by a British ecologist called Sir Arthur Tansley in a publication while looking for a way to draw attention to the importance of transfers of materials between organisms and their physical environment. Tansley specifically described an ecosystem as a whole system, and not just the organism-complex, but including the whole complex of physical factors forming the environment. The author did not just look at ecosystem as natural units, but as mental isolates.

Arthur Tansleyfurther defined the whole ecosystem using the termecotope, describing it as the interactive system established between biocoenosis (a group of living creatures) and their biotope (the environment in which they live). He also added that in an ecosystem, living organisms are continually engaged in a set of relationships with each other and that the relationships are what make up the environment in which they live.

To add to his definition, ecosystemgenerally is a group of living organisms (plant, animal and other living beingsalso referred to as a biotic community or biocoenosis) living together in a certain habitat (or biotope), functioning as a loose unit. These components and their interactions with with each other form a dynamic and complex new whole, functioning as an “ecological unit with additional characteristics that cannot be found in the individual components.Nor could any organism live completely on its own without interacting any other species of organism.

However, Ecosystem is not defined based on how large an area is or based on the population of living organisms in a particular location. There is no specific size of an environment or community consisting of plants and animals to describe what ecosystems should be, but any interaction between communities of plants and animals, whether small or large defines an ecosystem.

Difference between Ecosystem and biome

The difference between ecosystem and a biome is that the term ecosystemis a community of living organisms living in a particular location that interact with their non-living environment and with the presence of energy flow and nutrients cycle. An ecosystem covers few square meters or may cover a portion of a continent; it can be as small as a pond or as large as an ocean.

A biome on the hand is a large geographical area consisting of plants and animals and is defined by certain characteristics such as climates, locations, and species of living things, adaptation, and features. Biomes are distributed on different continents of the world and they are named based on the dominant species found there.

Types of ecosystem

There are different types of ecosystems, and they are classified based on their different characteristics and factors such as species, food chain, location, and soil. Different types of ecosystems include-

  1. Grassland ecosystems
  2. Desert ecosystems
  3. Marine ecosystems
  4. Fresh water Ecosystems
  5. Mountain ecosystems
  6. Tundra ecosystems

Types of ecosystems

  • Grassland ecosystems

The grassland ecosystems are particularly found in the tropical or temperate regions, these comprise mainly of the grasses with a little number of shrubs and trees. Grazing animals, herbivores and insects are the dominant species of animal found in these ecosystems. The two types of grasslands are the savannah and the prairies grassland. Savannahs are the tropical grasslands, which are dry seasonally and have a large number of predators and herbivores, while prairies are temperate grasslands with low or small large shrubs and trees. Prairies consist of three types of grasses which are- mixed grass, tall grass and short grass prairies. One of the popular grasses in the prairie is a big bluestem among other ones. You can learn more on grassland here.

  • Desert ecosystems

Desert ecosystems experience heavy wind which usually accompanied with heavy sand dunes, this communities consist of scanty and dwarf trees, scanty shrubs, camel thorn tree and some few animals who often find their foods at night because of the hot temperature of the sun. The desert ecosystem receives very limited amount of precipitation seasonally, which is the reason why it has low species in terms of plants and animal. Read more on desert biome.

  • Marine ecosystems

Marine ecosystems are the largest of all ecosystems, they are purely salty water habitat, but serve as home for millions of plants and animal species compare to the fresh water ecosystem. Get more information on marine environment

  • Fresh water Ecosystem

Fresh water ecosystems have low salt content unlike the marine ecosystems; some examples of freshwater ecosystems are rivers, springs, ponds, streams and lakes. These ecosystems are divided into two groups- The lentic or still water ecosystem such as the lakes and ponds, and the lotic or the flowing water ecosystem such as the streams and creeks. Freshwater ecosystems are home for various species like algae, plankton, amphibians, turtle, snow leopard, Mekong giant fresh water, and insects.

  • Mountain ecosystems

The mountain ecosystems are ecosystems found in the mountainous areas, they consist of scattered, but diverse species in terms of the habitats that it provides. Various plant and animal species are found in this ecosystem, animals may differ in size depending on the location, but there are few small animals in these environments. However, the temperature at a very high altitudes is very cold, only treeless alpine vegetation survive at the top, while the lower slopes supports montane vegetation. Animals living in these environments have thick fur to shield themselves from the cold.

  • Tundra ecosystems

Tundra ecosystem is a very harsh environment with slow growing plants species, the soil is poor in nutrients and can hardly support plant growth, and this is due to the frozen ground, which prevents plant roots from penetrating downward. The dominant plants in these environments include lichens, mosses and short shrubs, and animals like wolves, owls, hares, polar bears, deer and rodents are found here. Read more on tundra here.

These ecosystems are further classified into two major groups such as terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems. the terrestrial ecosystems are communities of living and non-living organisms found only on the solid land,

The terrestrial ecosystem
The terrestrial ecosystem


, while the aquatic habitats are the living and non-living organisms found in water. What differentiates the terrestrial habitat from the aquatic habitat is the little the amount of water and light availability in both habitat and this is also seen as a limiting factor for the existence of living organisms. However, the terrestrial ecosystems are designed to survive in environments with limited water supply.

The aquatic ecosystem
The aquatic ecosystem


Components of the ecosystem

An ecosystem comprised of biotic components, which include all living organisms, and abiotic components which also consist of non-living organisms. Examples of biotic components are plants, animals and microbial species. Few examples of abiotic components are air, water, nutrients, soil and light, atmosphere, temperature, PH, and humidity.

There is a continuous flow of energy, recycle of carbon and nitrogen in ecosystems through interaction between various organisms. These interactions occur in different ways, and they help to create a balance in the ecosystem. The sun supplies most of the energy needed by living organisms, Plants are very important organisms as they trap energy from the sun through the process of photosynthesis and channel it into the ecosystem for other organisms to benefit from, these organisms benefit from this process, while feeding directly on plants and on animals that feed on the plants.

Interactions between abiotic components in the ecosystem

  1. Soil– the soil the home for all living organisms including worms, insects, rodents and microorganisms, and it also supports growth.
  2. Water– the soil and atmosphere are made up of water; water is also stored in the body of many living things as an essential material needed by all organisms to carry out their different metabolic activities.
  3. Atmosphere– the atmosphere consists of carbon dioxide, oxygen and nitrogen. Carbon dioxide is used for photosynthesis, oxygen for respiration and nitrogen for nitrogen fixation.
  4. Sunlight– sunlight is the main source of energy for all organisms in a natural ecosystem. Looking at the aquatic ecosystem where there is no much light supply, you could still find plankton, algae, see weed, and kelp grow on the surface of the water where there is little light penetration it affects the survival of the living components. Plants need solar energy to carry out photosynthesis and photosynthesis cant take place without the sun.
  5. Air- plant roots and various soil organisms need air for aerobic respiration; air is also required by soil for aeration and decomposition of organic matters.
  6. Temperature and Humidity temperature and humidity determine many properties of air, and of materials in contact with the air. Humidity in the air determines the amount of water organism loses. In addition, a suitable temperature is necessary for all the metabolic activities.
  7. Soil PH- the PH is the measure of acidity and alkalinity of the soil, the amount of acidity in the soils affects the survival of organisms, different organisms have their soil preferences; some prefer live on acidic soil, while others prefer alkaline soil.

All living organisms require all these materials, and they are gotten from the same environment in which they live. Living organisms are the major producers, consumers and the decomposers. They interact with each other in different ways and they create some feeding patterns (food chain) within ecosystems. A Food chain is a complex process that shows how different organisms relate with each other by the food they eat. Food chain is also a linear process that creates a link in a food web starting from the producer, consumers to decomposers.

Factors affecting ecosystem

Both biotic and abiotic factors affect the life and population of organisms in the ecosystems

Availability of food, water, space, nutrients, soil, predation, air, heat, and competition are the limiting factor limits the size of population growth in a given ecosystem.

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