Similar to a car engine that is made up of multiple parts working together, an ecosystem has interacting parts that support a whole. But how do we define an ecosystem and what are the components they consist of?
Definition of an Ecosystem
Think of your home and all of the things in it. You likely have furniture, books, food in your refrigerator, family, and maybe even pets. Your home consists of a variety of living and non-living things.
Like your home, an ecosystem is any community of living and non-living things that work together. The living things are biotic features, and the non-living things are abiotic features. While ecosystems do have boundaries, they are not always clear, and it may be difficult to see where one ecosystem ends and another begins.Each ecosystem is unique, but all ecosystems have three basic components:
- Autotrophs (producers of energy)
- Heterotrophs (consumers of energy)
- Non-living matter
Plants make up the majority of the autotrophs in an ecosystem, while most of the heterotrophs are animals. Non-living matter is the soil, sediments, leaf litter, and other organic matter on the ground or at the bottom of an aquatic system.There are two types of ecosystems, closed and open.
Closed ecosystems are ones that do not have any inputs (exchanges of energy from the surrounding environment) or outputs (exchanges of energy from within the ecosystem). Open ecosystems are ones that have both inputs and outputs.
Ecosystems come in many shapes and sizes, but classifying them helps scientists understand and manage them better.
Ecosystems can be classified in a variety of ways but, most commonly, they are defined as either terrestrial or aquatic.
Terrestrial ecosystems are found on land. There are four main types of terrestrial ecosystem: tundra, taiga, temperate deciduous forest, and grassland.Tundra is an ecosystem found at very high northern latitudes, such as northern Canada, Greenland, and Siberia. This ecosystem marks a point called the tree line because this is where it gets so cold and there is such minimal sunlight that tree growth is severely hindered.Taiga is a little more conducive to tree growth because it is lower in latitude, but it is still fairly cold.
It is also found in northern latitudes, and is the largest terrestrial ecosystem on Earth. The types of trees you would likely find here are conifers (Christmas trees).In temperate deciduous forests is where we find deciduous trees – trees that lose their leaves every year.
These are trees that turn beautiful colors of red, yellow, and orange in the fall before dropping those leaves for the winter. This type of ecosystem is found in latitudes lower than the taiga, and is where we start seeing alternating seasonal changes such as warm summers and cold winters.Grassland is just what it sounds like – an ecosystem dominated by grasses.
These are those beautiful fields of waving grasses you might picture when you think of the word ‘prairie.’ Grasslands can be found all over Earth (except Antarctica), and the types of grasses you would find depends on the temperature and climate.
Aquatic ecosystems are ecosystems in a body of water. There are two types of aquatic ecosystems: freshwater and marine.Marine ecosystems are oceans, estuaries, mangroves, and salt marshes (the edges of wetlands).
Marine ecosystems have a very high salt content, which distinguishes them from the freshwater ecosystems, and can be further categorized as either open water or coastal systems.Freshwater ecosystems are lakes, rivers, streams, wetlands, springs, and ponds. The water in freshwater ecosystems is not very salty like in marine ecosystems. Freshwater ecosystems are further classified by their:
- Water flow
- Nutrient availability
An ecosystem is a collection of related parts that work together to support the whole unit. Ecosystems consist of all of the living and non-living things within them, and they vary in size, shape, and composition. Classification of ecosystems helps us better study and understand them, but sometimes classification can be difficult because the boundaries of ecosystems are not easily defined.
|Vocabulary Terms||Definitions/ Examples|
|Ecosystem||any community of living and non-living things that work together|
|Autotrophs component||producers of energy|
|Heterotrophs component||consumers of energy|
|Non-living matter component||the soil, leaf litter, sediments and other organic matter on the ground or at the bottom of an aquatic system|
|Closed ecosystems||ones that do not have any inputs or outputs (exchanging energy within the environment or ecosystem)|
|Open ecosystems||ones that have both inputs and outputs|
|Tundra||an ecosystem found at very high northern latitudes|
|Tree line||the point at which it gets very cold with minimal sunlight and tree growth is hindered|
|Taiga||more conducive to tree growth, lower in latitude, still fairly cold|
|Temperate deciduous forests||a location in which deciduous trees lose their leaves every year|
|Grassland||ecosystem dominated by grasses|
|Marine ecosystems||oceans, estuaries, mangroves, and salt marshes|
|Freshwater ecosystems||lakes, rivers, streams, wetlands, springs, and ponds|
This lesson’s purpose involves helping you prepare to:
- Convey knowledge of the definition of the term ecosystem
- Realize the three basic components of an ecosystem
- Discuss the classification of ecosystems