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Eco-Column Lab Introduction In real ecosystems, there are different components or levels that work in harmony to continue supporting

life. Typically, we would find a terrestrial level where most of the plants and animals are located, a decomposition level where dead organic materials are decomposed to their original stages, and an aquatic level supporting life and receiving nutrients from the other two levels. It is then that by creating an eco-columns, we are creating a mock of a real ecosystem to take into accounts what factors aid the life that is on it. In our eco-column lab we have a base which is the aquatic level because nutrients from the other two levels eventually runoff into the water; through the vertical structure, we would allow the nutrient flow into the water like in a real ecosystem. The level above the aquatic base was the decomposition level in which we had organic waste including chopped fruit mixed with wet soil to allow its decomposition. There would be a release of the nutrients resembling the decomposition of dead organic matter in real ecosystems and its return to its basic nutrient components. The highest level was the terrestrial level which had different layers of soil and rocks until the topsoil which was the location where we planted out seeds. This level represents the real top level of ecosystems due to the stratification of the soil and the emergence of plants on top. As evident, creating the mock ecosystem allowed us to take into consideration the factors that are required by an ecosystem to maintain life and reach sustainability for a long period of time, on a smaller scale of time for our purposes and smaller ecosystem.

Decomposition and Decomposers In our eco-column we have a level focused on the decomposition of organic materials. Decomposition is the process in which nutrients that compose organic organism are released with the help of decomposers. Decomposition itself depends on the presence of oxygen. When a decomposing organism is exposed to oxygen, it is known as aerobic. On the contrary, if it has the absence of oxygen throughout its decomposition process, it is categorized as

an anaerobic process. In this case the decomposition level had minimal access to oxygen. Water is also another factor is proper decomposition so we approximated how much water the eco-column needed based on the visible moisture of the soil. When conditions were met, the microorganisms and bacteria decomposed the fruit and organic waste that went into our decomposition layer. The nutrients released would then be carried into the aquatic layer through the run-off of the water. The contribution of decomposers to the process of decomposition has an impact of the effectiveness, and the organic material received the help from natural decomposers like bacteria, fungi, and small animals. Decomposers have the ability to biodegrade organic matter in order to receive nutrients and energy from it. By decomposing the organic matter, they also return nutrients back to the environment taking a major role in the biogeochemical cycles like the carbon cycle, nitrogen cycle, and phosphorous cycle.

Nitrogen Cycle The nitrogen cycle consists of the element nitrogen shifting from the atmosphere, to soil, to plants. To begin the cycle nitrogen that is in its gas form in the air converts to ammonia then ammonium becoming usable to plants made possible by specific bacteria in the soil (nitrogen fixation). Plants utilize ammonium in their development as it is a necessary nutrient for their growth. Ammonium is a type of nitrate, which we kept track of in our ecocolumn. Animals then consume the producers meaning they consume the nitrogen in them, which is returned to as ammonia through their waste products and dead bodies in a process called ammonification. Nitrogen in the soil is finally returned to its original, atmospheric form through

denitrification. We measured the levels of nitrate on our aquatic level because we wanted to understand which levels of nitrate concentration are ideal to maintain the fish alive. As visible, nitrogen makes itself present in cases of decomposition as it is returned to nature though the dead bodies of animals, their wastes, or even the dead plants themselves.

Carbon Cycle The element of carbon also takes on a cycle through the atmosphere, water, soil, and living organisms. It initiates when carbon dioxide is utilized by producers during photosynthesis, and it is used as a component in their final product called glucose. Animals then consume the producers (or plants), and though cellular respiration, glucose is broken down to produce carbon dioxide, energy, and water. After animals and plants die, carbon ends up in the soil, which becomes entombed in the earth. Through extensive and intricate processes the carbon can become fossil fuels, which people burn and place carbon in the atmosphere. The plants in our eco-column resemble the carbon cycle as they take the carbon dioxide for their survival. A specific example includes the aquatic plant the fish had because the fish would release carbon dioxide that the plant would use and exchange with oxygen (dissolved oxygen) which was a factor in keeping our fish alive. Procedure In order to construct the eco-column, we collected all the materials needed including the six clear 2 liter bottles. We began by cutting the tip of a bottle to use it as the aquatic chamber (A). Two more bottles bases were cut for the decomposition level (C) and the terrestrial level (D). Then we cut the tip and base of a bottle in order to serve as a supporter for the joining of the aquatic chamber and the decomposition level (B). After all the cutting, the lowest bottle A was filled with fish tank rocks and water and a fish was placed in it along with an aquatic plant. After that we drilled small holes into a cap and placed it on the bottle C which would be our decomposition. Next the decomposition level was made by mixing organic material (freshly cut grass and chopped fruit) and moist soil inside the bottle. Another cap was drilled

with small holes on its perimeter and a large one in the center for a straw to be held. That cap went on the terrestrial level of bottle D. The terrestrial level was made by placing rocks at the base and layering with sand and different types of soil with topsoil at the top with high moisture for plant growth. Marigold and carrot seeds were planted in that layer and they were lightly covered with more soil. Then it was time to put the column together. We placed the sleeve or bottle B on top the water chamber and on it we placed the decomposition bottle. We secured them by taping the connection of the aquatic level with the sleeve and the decomposition with the sleeve. Above the decomposition level we placed the terrestrial level and secured them together with tape. The last part in building it was pouring enough water from the open terrestrial level in order to have the plants grow; the water would slowly make its way all the way down through the column due to the holes in the caps. Every week we took apart the column and tested the water for the dissolved oxygen levels, pH, temperature, and nitrate and phosphate concentration. The soils moisture and accessibility to light were also measured with a monitor along with their pH levels in the decomposition level and the terrestrial level. The height of the tallest plant was another measurement we took. After recording everything we would tape the column back in place and put it under the heat conducting light. That was repeated every week until the end of the experiment.