People breathe in oxygen and breathe out carbon dioxide, so you might think that carbon dioxide is not important. This is not true! If the air didn't have carbon dioxide, all green plants would die! Plants take in carbon dioxide from the air and use sunlight to convert (through photosynthesis) the carbon dioxide and water (from the soil) into sugar and oxygen. Some of the sugar is used by the plant for its life processes (such as growing and reproducing); the excess is added to plant tissues as carbohydrates, fats, and protein. Carbon is an element that readily combines with other elements to make organic compounds. All life on earth is carbon-based. A lot of your body is made of carbon and some of your body carbon parts were plant parts a few months ago. Carbon, used by all living organisms, continuously circulates in the earth's ecosystem. In the atmosphere, it exists as colorless, odorless carbon dioxide gas. Plants take in carbon dioxide during photosynthesis and give out carbon dioxide during respiration. When herbivores eat the plants, they acquire the carbon stored in plant tissues. Much of the food (carbon compounds) eaten is used up for the herbivore's life processes and given off as carbon dioxide in respiration but some is stored in animal tissues. If that herbivore is then eaten by a carnivore (or omnivore) the carbon (stored in the animal tissues) will be passed on again. Dead plants and animals decay and carbon dioxide is released into the atmosphere to be used by plants again. The carbon cycle repeats itself endlessly. No matter is created or destroyed in this process.
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