This lesson is about the difference between a community and an ecosystem. In this lesson, we’ll go over the definition for each and some key differences. We’ll also look at what makes up communities and ecosystems and some examples of each.
What Are Communities and Ecosystems?
Chances are you’ve thought of where you live as a community. Although these feel like cohesive groups of people, a community in biology has a more formal definition.
For there to be a biological community, we need to have groups of different species living together. For example, if you thought of all the plants, animals, bacteria and humans in your school, then you have a community. If you think of all the cats, dogs and humans in your neighborhood, that’s a community too.When we add in some non-living things, like rocks, soil, or water, then we have an ecosystem, which is bigger than just a community. Next, let’s take a look at how biologists organize living things, from a single organism up to ecosystem.
How Are Communities and Ecosystem Formed?
To understand communities and ecosystems, we first need to understand ecological levels from the smallest organism, all the way up to the biosphere. Organisms form species if they live together and can reproduce offspring.
A group of organisms of the same species living in the same place at the same time is called a population. If we put populations of different species together, that’s called a community. So, a community needs groups of different species to exist. When we add in the abiotic factors, or non-living things in an environment, we get an ecosystem. Many ecosystems put together in a single type of climate is called a biome, and if we put all the biomes together, we get the biosphere, or the entire Earth and it’s atmosphere that supports life.
Examples of Communities
Remember, any place that we have different groups of species living together is a community. So, communities can be found in almost any natural environment. The boundaries for communities are identified by the person studying the community, so communities can be microscopic or quite large, like the species that congregate around a river.In your shower, there is a variety of bacteria.
Some form the soap scum that we try so desperately to scrub off. Others cling to your shower curtain, and depending on where you live, some are in your water source. All these different groups of species, or populations, together are a community.Let’s look at a larger example.
In the African savanna near a watering hole, there may be a heard of zebras, a pack of lions watching them, a group of hippos bathing and maybe even an alligator or two. Because there are multiple populations living together in the same moment, this is a community.Let’s also examine something that is not a community, just to be clear.
In that same African savanna, if you are including dinosaurs that roamed the Earth millions of years ago, that is not a community. In a community, the organisms must be living in the same place at the same time.
Examples of Ecosystems
Ecosystems are like communities, made of multiple populations living at the same place at the same time, but we add in the abiotic factors of the environment. Going back to our example of the shower, if we included the porcelain and shower curtain the bacteria call home, that’s now an ecosystem. We could also include the water, sunlight from the window and temperature as abiotic factors.In a more natural ecosystem (say, the mountains) goats, monkeys, grass and small trees are a community.
If we consider the rocks, soil, temperature and sunlight, or abiotic factors, we now have an ecosystem.And what’s not an ecosystem? If we start to think about communities in multiple places, like all the rainforests on Earth, that’s no longer an ecosystem, but is now a biome. We’ve gone too big by including all the areas on Earth with a specific climate.
In summary, a community is the collection of multiple populations living in the same place at the same time.
Communities just involve biotic, or living, factors. In the African savanna, all the populations gathering around a watering hole, like hippos, zebras, lions and alligators, form a community. A community and its abiotic, or non-living factors is called an ecosystem. So, in our example of the African savanna, if we consider the soil, rocks, sunlight and water, we now have an ecosystem.