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ECOLOGY NOTES 2016

Ecosystem: relatively self-contained, interacting community of organisms, and


the environment in which they live and with which they interact. e.g. mangrove
(wetlands) ecosystem = community of organisms living there, soil, water, rainfall,
air, etc... Energy enters ecosystems from external source (usually the sun), flows
through the various organisms (as food, starting with producers), and ultimately
leaves (as heat energy). In contrast, matter cycles around an ecosystem, with some
atoms being reused repeatedly by different organisms.

Ecosystem: a community of organisms that, together with their physical


environment, form a self-perpetuating ecological unit OR a natural unit of living
components together with non-living components through which energy flows and
nutrients cycle.

N.B. abiotic factors affect the distribution of organisms. Include temp, pH, light,
rainfall, etc. whereas biotic factors refer to the effects of the activities of living
organisms on other organisms and encompasses food availability, predation,
competition, disease, parasitism and so on.

Habitat: specific locality with a particular set of conditions and associated


organisms (place where an organism lives)

Niche: organisms role in an ecosystem/way of life. All the ranges of environmental


conditions and resources required for an organism to survive, reproduce and
maintain a viable population.

ENERGY FLOW
Energy is needed for life (driving metabolic reactions). Photosynthesis by producers
converts light energy to chemical energy in organic molecules. This can then be
used by the producer itself, and be consumed by animals. Organic molecules are
then respired and energy in the form of ATP made available for metabolic reactions.

Ultimate source of energy for most ecosystems: sunlight. Energy flows in ONE
direction from an unending source!

Producers: provide input of energy to ecosystem via photosynthesis/chemosynthesis

Energy flowing from one organism to another is NOT recycled but is eventually lost
as heat energy and so must constantly be replaced by sunlight.

Food Chain: sequence of feeding relationships within an environment. Shows how


energy passes from producer to consumers.

Food chains illustrate how energy is transferred from one living organism to another.
Arrows show the direction in which energy flows. (Producer Primary Consumer
Secondary Consumer, etc.)
Trophic Levels = different positions in a food chain/stage at which organisms obtain
food in the same general way.

Food webs prove more accurate depictions of energy flow in an ecosystem as few
organisms rely upon a single food source; there are commonly a large number of
food chains that are inter-related. Organisms often feed at different trophic levels in
different chains. Food webs illustrate the importance of decomposers (these feed on
detritus), which receive energy from every organism in an ecosystem.

N.B. The greater the number of different species residing in a community, the
greater the complexity of the food web, and the greater the number of alternative
pathways by which food energy may travel throughout the community. It is the
very complexity of food webs in most ecosystems that makes them so
stable.

Decomposers play a vital role as they not only receive energy from all organisms
but they release valuable minerals and elements in a form that can be absorbed by
plants. Key role in recycling!

As energy is transferred from one form to another, there is always a proportion lost
as heat. As energy passes along a food chain, there are large losses at each transfer
both within and between organisms. Losses occur at each trophic level so as
energy passes along, less and less is available at each successive trophic level.
Thus, food chains are rarely more than four or five links long.

Energy transfer ALWAYS involves loss of energy both within and between
organisms. Thus energy CANNOT be recycled in an ecosystem rather, it FLOWS.

Producers convert very little light energy into chemical energy, fixing only about 1%
of the solar energy falling on them. Because:

Some light misses photosynthetic areas

Some light is reflected from leaf surface

Some light is transmitted through leaves

Some light is not within the PAR (photosynthetically active range)

Some energy losses occur due to the inefficiency of the photosynthetic


process

Other limiting factors, e.g. low carbon dioxide concentration or temperature


or even nutrient levels, may limit photosynthesis
The rate at which plants convert light energy into chemical energy is the primary
productivity.

GPP: total quantity of energy converted by plants in photosynthesis

NPP: energy which remains as chemical energy after plants have supplied their own
needs in respiration

NPP = GPP R. Only this can be passed on to the next trophic level.

GPP varies for different ecosystems for several reasons, including:

o Amount of sunlight available (varies with latitude, time of year, etc)

o Availability of different types of producer (vegetative cover)

o Availability of other factors needed for producer growth

o Temperature, water and mineral supplies

o Pests

NPP, with its important applications in agriculture, can be increased with irrigation,
fertilisers, soil management, pest removal, genetic engineering, use of artificial
light, etc.

Because energy losses occur due to respiration and in waste products at each
trophic level there is progressively less energy available at each level. THUS the
length of food chains is typically limited to 4 or 5 links as there is insufficient energy
to sustain organisms at the highest level. Chains are also restricted by the
availability of food of the preferred type, the initial biomass, and territorial space.

Trophic efficiency = % of energy at one trophic level which is incorporated into the
next trophic level. Typically 10% (i.e. successive members of a food chain
incorporate into their own biomass about 10% of the energy available in the
organisms they consume).

Energy is used for respiration to fuel metabolic processes, and thus ultimately lost
as heat energy. Only about 10% is used for growth/storage and thus available to
consumers.

Even so, losses occur as:

Not all parts are edible or consumed, e.g. woody tissue, bones

Not all parts eaten are digestible, e.g. cellulose (enzymes not available thus
voided in faeces).

Some energy is lost in excretory materials (e.g. urine)


Some energy losses occur in respiration and heat loss to the environment
(particularly so in warm-blooded organisms as much energy is needed to
maintain body temperature)

FUNDAMENTAL DIFFERENCE BETWEEN MATTER AND ENERGY ENERGY FLOW IS


LINEAR WHEREAS FLOW OF MATERIALS IS CYCLICAL.