Ecosystem Structure And Components: Detailed Explanations


This article would highlight the structure of an ecosystem along with various components that are important to support the functioning of the ecosystem. 

Ecosystem is described as the structural and functional unit of ecology, where various living organisms engage in interacting with each other along with the surrounding environment. 

What is ecosystem structure?

In general terms, “eco” is defined as habitat and “system” is defined as a process where a complex series of interconnected components are maintained. The structure of an ecosystem is established as the interconnection of biotic as well as abiotic components which ensures effective distribution of the existing energy across the environment. 

The biotic and the abiotic components are entirely interrelated in nature within the ecosystem. It is identified as the open system where all the energy and various components can independently flow throughout the boundaries of the ecosystem. 

What are ecosystem components? 

The two main components that can be identified within the ecosystems are:

Biotic components

These are the components that have life within the ecosystem. Considering the factor nutrition, the biotic components can be effectively classified, which would be autotrophs, heterotrophs, the consumers and the decomposers. 

Abiotic components

These are the components within the ecosystem that are entirely non-living in nature. The components are water, soil, air, sunlight, various nutrients, turbidity, temperature, wind, minerals, altitude and more. 

Ecosystem components diagram 

ecosystem structure
Ecosystem components from Wikimedia

What are the trophic levels of ecosystem?

There are five different key levels within an ecosystem which are as follows: 

Plants and Algae

These form the lowest levels in the trophic level and are called the autotrophs. As the name suggests, “auto” means self and “troughs” mean to synthesise. Thus, autotrophs are the ones that could synthesise their own food through the process of photosynthesis. 

Autotrophs engage in taking energy from the sun and gather enough nutrients from the soil in order to manufacture food. Hence plants and algae are not dependent on other organisms for food and forms the primary source of food. 

Primary consumers

In the second level of the trophic system are the herbivores which are listed as the primary consumers. These consumers only survive on various forms of plants or algae as the main source of energy. Herbivores do not have the ability to manufacture their own food, instead are entirely dependent on the autotrophs. 

Examples would include: cow, goat, rabbits etc.

Secondary consumers

In the third level are the carnivores that directly feed on the herbivores as their source of energy. These gather energy from the herbivores that were gathered by eating plants. 

Examples would include: spiders, rats, fish, foxes etc. 

Tertiary consumers

In the fourth level are either carnivores or omnivores. Omnivores are the ones that feed on both animals and plants. This level animals receive a lower set of energy than the animals in the third grade. Upper the trophic level, lower would be the energy. 

Examples would include: human beings, etc.

Quaternary consumers

These are the consumers that prey on the tertiary consumers as a source of energy. These are found at the top of the food chain with no more natural predator.

Examples would include: Bear, lion, eagle, etc. 

Decomposers 

These are the saprophytes which are dependent on dead and decay matter as the source of energy. These form an essential part of the ecosystem as it helps in recycling the nutrients within the soil, which are further used by the plants. Then the cycle continues. 

Examples would include: fungi and bacteria. 

What are the abiotic components of an ecosystem?

These are chemical or physical factors that have a direct impact on the living components of life. The abiotic factors can be listed into three different components: 

Edaphic factors

“This term has been derived from the Greek word “edaphos” which means the floor. Thus, this factor would include the soil or the stratum. Thus, land topography like depressions, slopes, valleys, elevations and mountains would be included under this factor. 

Topographic factors

These are the factors which include surface exposure, slope and altitude. These components tend to have large-scale modifications and can have huge impact on the biotic factors as well as other abiotic factors. Examples that can lead to topographic factors are farming, mining, dam building and more. 

Climatic factors

These are the factors that include light, temperature, precipitation, humidity and wind. All these contribute to the growth of the biotic factors within the ecosystem. 

How do the components of an ecosystem interact?

An ecosystem has a defined set of interactions between the living and the non-living components within a certain specified area. These series of interactions are identified as the result of flow regarding energy in acyclic flow from the abiotic components to the biotic components through the food web. 

Interactions Between Abiotic and Biotic

Living organisms have the ability to adapt to the abiotic environment in terms of their survival needs.

Example would include: Mammals having thick fur in cold environments. Animals like ants and termites dig mud to manage shelter. 

One of the most important interactions between biotic and abiotic would be the process of photosynthesis, which is the basic reaction to drive life on earth. Here, the plants or algae utilise the abiotic component light to prepare food and oxygen is formed as a by-product, which supports all other life forms on earth. 

Biotic Interaction

In terms of representing the biotic interactions, there are various types, which are as follows:

Predation or parasitism

In this interaction, one organism is completely dependent on the other in a negative manner. 

Example: Red fox (Vulpes vulpes) and hare (Lepus europaeus) interaction. The hares consume the grass and the fox consumes the hares. Thus, the hares are negatively affected, while the fox benefits. 

Competition

Here, both organisms are negative and either one has to get eliminated for the other one to survive. 

Example: both, deer and rabbits are dependent on grass, but deer being stronger would eat the grass faster which can lead to the rabbit to starve. 

Commensalism

Here, one organism is harmed whereas the other one remains neutral. 

Example: Remora fish with other fishes. Remora fish tend to ride other fishes and sharks and then are dependent on their leftover food. Thus, this would not affect the other fishes but is benefiting Remora fish. 

Mutualism

Here, Both the associated organisms are benefited from the interactions.

Example: plants and birds with pollinators. The birds would get nectar from the flowers of the plants and in return, the birds would carry the pollen and help the plants to reproduce.

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