The first principle of ecology is that each living organism has an ongoing and continual relationship with every other element that makes up its environment. An ecosystem can be defined as any situation where there is interaction between organisms and their environment.
The ecosystem is composed of two entities, the entirety of life, the biocoenosis and the medium that life exists in, the biotope. Within the ecosystem, species are connected by food chains or food webs. Energy from the sun, captured by primary producers via photosynthesis, flows upward through the chain to primary consumers (herbivores), and then to secondary and tertiary consumers (carnivores), before ultimately being lost to the system as waste heat. In the process, matter is incorporated into living organisms, which return their nutrients to the system via decomposition, forming biogeochemical cycles such as the carbon and nitrogen cycles.
The concept of an ecosystem can apply to units of variable size, such as a pond, a field, or a piece of dead wood. An ecosystem within another ecosystem is called a [micro ecosystem]]. For example, an ecosystem can be a stone and all the life under it. A meso ecosystem could be a forest, and a macro ecosystem a whole eco region, with its drainage basin.
The main questions when studying an ecosystem are:
- Whether the colonization of a barren area could be carried out
- Investigation the ecosystem's dynamics and changes
- The methods of which an ecosystem interacts at local, regional and global scale
- Whether the current state is stable
- Investigating the value of an ecosystem and the ways and means that interaction of ecological systems provides benefits to humans, especially in the provision of healthy water.
Ecosystems are often classified by reference to the biotopes concerned. The following ecosystems may be defined:
- As continental ecosystems, such as forest ecosystems, meadow ecosystems such as steppes or savannas, or agro-ecosystems
- As ecosystems of inland waters, such as lentic ecosystems such as lakes or ponds; or lotic ecosystems such as rivers
- As oceanic ecosystems.
Another classification can be done by reference to its communities, such as in the case of an human ecosystem.
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