WHAT SHAPES AN ECOSYSTEM?

An ecosystem is a community or group of living organisms that live in and interact with each other in a specific environment.

Two essential natural factors shape ecosystems:

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Biotic factors are living organisms that include plants, animals, viruses, bacteria, and fungi.

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Abiotic factors are the physical and chemical components that create the environment.

Abiotic factors include:

  • Soil
  • Altitude
  • Disturbances
  • Pollution
  • Latitude
  • Minerals
  • pH
  • Precipitation
  • Weather 
  • Wind
  • Elevation
  • Moisture 
  • Currents
  • Radiation
  • Inorganic nutrients
  • Temperature
  • Climate
  • Sunlight
  • ​Water
  • Water salinity
  • Turbidity 
  • Landforms 

Together, the biotic and abiotic factors make up an ecosystem. The biotic and abiotic elements depend upon and support each other through a variety of interactions. The constant cycling of nutrients and energy through the ecosystem is what creates a healthy and sustainable habitat that supports life.

Like humans, all living things have a tolerance to the conditions in their environment. This is why communities of living organisms can vary in different locations across the planet. In the Arctic, for example, animals have thicker fur. Do you think that a polar bear could live in a tropical climate?

Species evolve and develop physical and behavioral characteristics that are adapted to the abiotic conditions of the environment in which they live. At the same time, they are also adapted to nourish and support their habitat. Interdependence is the key to the survival of animals and the ecosystems in which they live.

So, environmental factors influence where certain species can live, creating a community of different species suited to that particular environment. The species that inhabit a region consume, move, and recycle nutrients and energy to provide a constant source of nutrients and energy that are available for other species within the same ecosystem.

CAN YOU FIND ALL OF THE ABIOTIC FACTORS OF AN ECOSYSTEM IN THIS WORD SEARCH GAME?

Go to Energy—The Source of All Things to see how these factors nurture all life on Earth.

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GLOSSARY OF TERMS

 

Abiotic components: 
Non-living chemical and physical parts of the environment that affect living organisms and the functioning of ecosystems.

Amino acid:
A structural unit that builds proteins.  

Autotrophs:
An organism that is able to form nutritional organic substances from simple inorganic substances such as carbon dioxide.

Biotic:
Any living component that affects another organism or shapes the ecosystem.

Carnivore:
An animal that feeds on flesh.

Consumers:
Organisms that need to eat (i.e., consume) food to obtain their energy.

​Decomposers:
Organisms that breaks down dead organic material.

Detritivores:
Heterotrophs that obtain nutrients by consuming dead and decaying organisms.

Ecology:
The study of interactions between biotic and abiotic factors that influence their location, population, and distribution.

Ecosystem:
A community of living organisms that live in and interact with each other and their environment.

Essential nutrients:
Nutrients required for normal physiological function that cannot be created within our body.

Fossil Fuel:
A natural fuel such as coal or gas, formed in the geological past from the remains of living organisms.

Herbivores:
An animal that feeds on plants.

Heterotrophs:
An organism that eats other plants or animals for energy and nutrients.

Nature:
The phenomena of the physical world collectively, including plants, animals, the landscape, and other features and products of the earth.

Omnivores:
An animal that eats both plants and animals.

Organism:
A form of life.

Photosynthesis:
The process by which green plants and some other organisms use sunlight to synthesize foods from carbon dioxide and water. Photosynthesis in plants generally involves the green pigment chlorophyll and generates oxygen as a byproduct.

Primary Consumers:
Organisms that eat the primary producer.

Producers:
Organisms that make their own food.

Saprovores:
An organism that decomposes organic matter outside their body using enzymes.

Secondary Consumers:
Organisms that eat primary consumers for energy.

Trophic Level:
A group of species that share the same link in the food chain/ food web.

Trophic pyramid:
Explains the movement and amount of energy passed through the food chain.

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