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ECOLOGY

4.1 SPECIES, COMMUNITIES AND ECOSYSTEMS

SPECIES

A species is a group of organisms that interbreed to produce fertile offspring.

Cross-breeding can happen but unlikely as the offspring are almost always infertile, this prevents gene mixing.

E.g. there are 41 different types of bird of paradise; they usually only reproduce with others of its type
(interbreeding) and hybrids (crossbreeding) are rare, which causes each of the variants to remain distinct.

POPULATION

A population is a group of organisms of the same species who live in the same area at the same time.

Having 2 populations of the same species living in 2 areas may be the reason for why they are unlikely to
interbreed, they are considered as the same species as long as they could potentially interbreed.

But when time passes, as the two populations undergo independent evolution, there starts to be some
recognizable differences. They are still considered to be the same species until they cannot interbreed and
produce fertile offspring.

NUTRITION

All organisms need a supply of organic nutrients like glucose and amino acids for growth and reproduction.

They can obtain these organic compounds through 2 means:

AUTOTROPHIC NUTRITIO N (SELF-FEEDING)

Organisms that make their own carbon compounds from carbon dioxide and other simple substances by
carrying out photosynthesis in chloroplasts using sunlight

E.g. Arabidopsis thaliana an autotroph used as a model plant

Many of the autotrophs are plants and algae. However, not all of them are autotrophic as some lack
chloroplast (so they dont photosynthesize) and they obtain carbon compounds from other plants by growing
on them (so they are parasitic)

E.g. Ghost orchid, Venus fly trap

So, in short, plants and algae are mostly autotrophic, although some are parasitic
HETEROTROPHIC NUTRITION (FEEDING ON OTHERS)

Organisms that obtain their carbon compounds from other organisms

E.g. Humming birds a heterotroph that obtain nectar from plants

There are 3 types of heterotrophs: Consumers, detritivores and saprotrophs

CONSUMERS (FEED ON L IVING MATTER)


They are heterotrophs that feed on living organisms (or just-dead animals) by ingestion (swallowing or
endocytosis), then digestion takes place internally.

E.g. lion feeds off a gazelle by chewing followed by swallowing; paramecium takes in food by endocytosis and
digest the food inside vacuoles.

They can be divided into different trophic levels; primary consumers feed on producers, secondary consumers
feed on primary consumers, et cetera.

DETRITOVORES (FEED ON DEAD MATTER)


They are heterotrophs that obtain organic nutrients from detritus (dead organic matter) by internal digestion
and then absorbing the product of digestion.

Detritus may be:

Dead leaves and other plants of plants


Feathers, hairs and other dead parts of animal bodies
Feces from animals

E.g. Earthworm ingests dead organic matter into their gut while unicellular organisms ingest detritus into food
vacuoles; dung beetle larvae feed by ingesting feces rolled into a ball by their parents.

SAPROTROPHS (A.K.A. DECOMPOSERS) (FEED ON DEAD MATTER)


Like detritovores, they feed on dead organic matter but unlike them, saprotrophs secrete digestive enzymes
into the dead organic matter and digest them externally instead, they then absorb the products of digestion.

They are also known as decomposers as they help break down organic compounds in dead organisms and
return elements like nitrogen back into the ecosystem (recycling of nutrients) so that they are available for use
again by other organisms.

E.g. Many bacteria and fungi are saprotrophic

MIXOTROPHIC NUTRITIO N

Some unicellular organisms can use both methods of nutrition

E.g. Euglena gracilis a mixotroph that makes food by photosynthesis when there is sufficient light, but it can
also feed on detritus or smaller organisms by endocytosis
COMMUNITIES

A community is formed by populations (hundreds or thousands) of different species living and interacting
with each other and all species are dependent on other species for their long-term survival.

The interaction could be that one species will benefit while the other will be harmed (e.g. host-parasite) or
mutualistic, where both benefits (e.g. humming bird-plant).

Chi-squared test can be used to test for association between 2 species by quadrat sampling.

CHI SQUARED TEST

Skill:

Testing for association between two species using the chi-squared test with data obtained by quadrat
sampling

The presence of two species within a given environment will be dependent upon potential interactions
between them

If two species are typically found within the same habitat, they show a positive association

Species that show a positive association include those that exhibit predator-
prey or symbiotic relationships

If two species tend not to occur within the same habitat, they show a negative association

Species will typically show a negative association if there is competition for the same resources

One species may utilise the resources more efficiently, precluding survival of the other species
(competitive exclusion)

Both species may alter their use of the environment to avoid direct competition (resource
partitioning)

If two species do not interact, there will be no association between them and their distribution will be
independent of one another

QUADRAT SAMPLING
The presence of two species within a given environment can be determined using quadrat sampling

A quadrat is a rectangular frame of known dimensions that can be used to establish population
densities

Quadrats are placed inside a defined area in either a random arrangement or according to a design
(e.g. belted transect)

The number of individuals of a given species is either counted or estimated via percentage coverage

The sampling process is repeated many times in order to gain a representative data set

Quadrat sampling is not an effective method for counting motile organisms it is used for counting plants and
sessile animals
In each quadrat, the presence or absence of each species is identified

This allows for the number of quadrats where both species were present to be compared against the
total number of quadrats

QUADRAT SAMPLING MET HOD

CHI-SQUARED TESTS
A chi-squared test can be applied to data generated from quadrat sampling to determine if there is a
statistically significant association between the distribution of two species

A chi-squared test can be completed by following five simple steps:

Identify hypotheses (null versus alternative)

Construct a table of frequencies (observed versus expected)

Apply the chi-squared formula

Determine the degree of freedom (df)

Identify the p value (should be <0.05)

Skill:

Recognising and interpreting statistical significance


EXAMPLE OF CHI-SQUARED TEST APPLICATION
The presence or absence of two species of scallop was
recorded in fifty quadrats (1m2) on a rocky sea shore

The following distribution pattern was observed:

6 quadrats = both species ; 15 quadrats


= king scallop only ; 20 quadrats =
queen scallop only ; 9 quadrats =
neither species

STEP 1: IDENTIFY HYPOTHESES


A chi-squared test seeks to distinguish between two distinct possibilities and hence requires two contrasting
hypotheses:

Null hypothesis (H0): There is no significant difference between the distribution of two species (i.e.
distribution is random)

Alternative hypothesis (H1): There is a significant difference between the distribution of species (i.e.
species are associated)

STEP 2: CONSTRUCT A TABLE OF FREQUENCIES


A table must be constructed that identifies expected distribution
frequencies for each species (for comparison against observed)

Expected frequencies are calculated according to the following


formula:

Expected frequency = (Row total Column total) Grand total

STEP 3: APPLY THE CHI-SQUARED FORMULA


The formula used to calculate a statistical value for the chi-squared test is as follows:

Where: = Sum; O = Observed frequency; E = Expected frequency

These calculations can be broken down for each part of the distribution
pattern to make the final summation easier

Based on these results the statistical value calculated by the


chi-squared test is as follows:

2 = (2.20 + 2.38 + 1.59 + 1.73) = 7.90


STEP 4: DETERMINE THE DEGREE OF FREEDOM (DF)
In order to determine if the chi-squared value is statistically significant a degree of freedom must first be
identified

The degree of freedom is a mathematical restriction that designates what range of values fall within
each significance level

The degree of freedom is calculated from the table of frequencies according to the following formula:

df = (m 1) (n 1)

Where: m = number of rows; n = number of columns

When the distribution patterns for two species are being compared, the degree of freedom should
always be 1

STEP 5: IDENTIFY THE P VALUE


The final step is to apply the value generated to a chi-squared distribution table to determine if results are
statistically significant

A value is considered significant if there is less than a 5% probability (p < 0.05) the results are
attributable to chance

When df = 1, a value of greater than 3.841 is required for results to be considered statistically significant (p <
0.05)

A value of 7.90 lies above a p value of 0.01,


meaning there is less than a 1% probability
results are caused by chance

Hence, the difference between observed and


expected frequencies are statistically significant

As the results are statistically significant, the null hypothesis is rejected and the alternate hypothesis
accepted:

Alternate hypothesis (H1): There is a significant difference between observed and expected
frequencies

Because the two species do not tend to be present in the same area, we can infer there is
a negative association between them

Practice Question

Two species of fir tree are found along the coast of Southern California.
These two tree species are the Grand Fir (Abies grandis) and the Noble Fir (Abies procera).
Their distribution patterns were establsihed via 150 quadrat samples, yielding the following results:
25 = both present ; 30 = Noble Fir only ; 45 = Grand Fir only ; 50 neither present
Activity: Use the chi-squared test to determine if these two plant species show association.
ECOSYSTEM

An ecosystem is formed by a communitys interaction with the abiotic environment.

The abiotic environment may strongly affect its inhabitants and sometimes
the living organism may influence the abiotic environment.
One Another
community community
E.g. Wave action on rocky shore creates a very hostile environment where
only well-adapted organisms can survive; Specialized plants grow in loose
wind-blown sand and their roots help stabilize the sand to encourage more
Abiotic
sand to deposit while their leaves break the wind. environment

Both community-community and community-environment interactions exist


in an ecosystem and ecology is the study of both the components and the interactions between them.

NUTRIENTS

While autotrophs and heterotrophs obtain organic compound by photosynthesis and feeding on other
organisms respectively, they both obtain inorganic nutrients from the abiotic environment.

Inorganic nutrients like nitrates and phosphates are needed to make organic compounds like DNA while some
other elements are used in minute trace but nonetheless essential.

Autotrophs obtain all of the elements from the abiotic environment while heterotrophs obtain carbon and
nitrogen from food and other inorganic nutrients from abiotic environment.

Despite of the limited supply of chemical elements on Earth, the elements fortunately will not run out thanks
to nutrient recycling (e.g. carbon and nitrogen cycles); elements are passed from organism to organism before
it is released back to the abiotic environment.

SUSTAINABILITY OF ECOSYSTEM

Something that can continue indefinitely is described as sustainable.

There are three requirements for sustainability in ecosystem:

Nutrient availability (can be recycled indefinitely; decomposers help return elements to soil)
Energy availability (cannot be recycled so constant supply is needed)
Detoxification of waste products (Nitrosomonas bacteria in soil use toxic ammonium ion for energy)

Mesocosms can be set up to try to establish sustainability. They are small experimental areas that are set up as
ecological experiments and they allow ecological experiments to be done in replicate mesocosms to find out
the effects of varying one or more conditions.
4.2 ENERGY FLOW

SUNLIGHT AND ECOSYSTEMS

Autotrophs are producers that use light energy from the Sun directly and there are 3 groups of autotrophs
that photosynthesizes: plants, eukaryotic algae (e.g. seaweed that grow on rocky shores) and cyanobacteria.

The amount of energy supplied to ecosystem in sunlight varies around the world; it depends both on the
sunlight intensity (insolation is a measure of solar radiation) and the abundance of producers in the area.

E.g. Sahara Desert may receive a huge amount of sunlight but little energy become available to organisms due
to scarcity of producers while the redwood forests of California may receive less sunlight, the amount of
energy available is higher as producers are more abundant.

Heterotrophs cannot use light energy directly so they feed on producers to obtain carbon compounds as
energy source.

ENERGY CONVERSION

Producers convert light energy to chemical energy by photosynthesis, using chlorophyll and other
photosynthetic pigments in the process. The chemical energy is used to make carbohydrates and lipids.

Producers can release energy from their carbon compounds by cell respiration for use in cell activities, some
heat is lost in the process. The majority of the carbon compounds made by producers is still available to
consumers (heterotrophs).

ENERGY IN FOOD CHAINS

A food chain is a sequence of organisms, each of which feeds on the previous one. Arrows in a food chain
indicate the direction of energy flow.

There are usually between 2 and 5 organisms and its rare to have more as much of the energy become lost at
each level (only about 10% of energy is available at each level to higher consumers).

RESPIRATION AND ENERGY RELEASE

Energy released in respiration (in forms of ATP) is used to support such cell activities as:

Macromolecule synthesis (e.g. DNA, RNA, protein)


Pumping molecules or ions across membrane by active transport (e.g. chloride ions in sweat)
Moving things inside cell (e.g. actin and myosin for muscle contraction or DNA movement)

In cell respiration, ATP can be produced when carbon compounds like carbohydrates and lipids are oxidized.
The exothermic oxidation reaction produces energy that drive the endothermic ATP synthesis reaction. Cells
transfer chemical energy from glucose or other organic compounds to ATP instead of releasing the energy
directly as heat as energy is usually not used directly and energy stored in ATP can be used for many different
activities. Such energy conversion is never 100% energy efficient because of the 2 nd law of thermodynamics,
some energy is always lost as heat, which cannot be converted into any other form of energy.
ENERGY LOSS AND ECOSYSTEM

Heat is released during cell respiration, which makes living organisms warmer and can be helpful in
poikilotherm (cold-blooded) animals, whose metabolic rate depends on temperature, while in homeotherms,
heat generation can be modified to maintain a constant body temperature.

The concept of energy flow (energy loss between trophic levels) explains the limited length of food chains:

Phytoplankton Shrimps Salmon Osprey

Producer Primary consumer Secondary consumer Tertiary consumer

Biomass is the total mass of a group of organisms and it consists of the cells and the tissues of the organism,
including the carbohydrates and other organic compound it contains. And since carbon compounds have
chemical energy, biomass has energy too. The energy added to biomass by each successive trophic level is
less.

REASONS:

Most of the energy in food that is digested or absorbed by organisms in a trophic level is released in
respiration or used in cell activities. It is therefore lost as heat. The only source of energy available to
higher organisms are the carbon compounds that have not been used up.
The organisms in a trophic level are not usually entirely consumed by organisms in the next trophic
level. (e.g. locusts only consume a small part of plants in the area; predators may not eat materials
from prey such as bones or hair. This locked form of energy is passed to saprotrophs or detritivores
rather than being passed to the next trophic level.)
Not all parts of food ingested are digested and absorbed. Materials like cellulose and fibers are
indigestible and is egested in feces, which again are locked energy and are available only to
saprotrophs and detritivores.

Not only does energy available gradually become less at each level, biomass also diminishes along food chains
due to loss of carbon dioxide and water from respiration and loss of uneaten and indigestible parts from the
food chain.

Pyramid of energy can be used to show the amount of energy converted to new biomass by each trophic level
in a community, using kilojoules per meter squared per year (kJ m-2 yr-1) as unit
4.3 CARBON CYCLING

CARBON FIXATION

Autotrophs convert carbon dioxide into carbohydrates and other carbon compounds.

This has the effect of reducing carbon dioxide concentration of the atmosphere to 0.039% (which could be
lower above actively photosynthesizing areas).

CARBON DIOXIDE IN SOLUTION

Because of its soluble nature, carbon dioxide can either remain in water as a dissolved gas or combine with
water to form carbonic acid, which can then dissociate to form hydrogen ion, reducing pH of water system.

Both hydrogen carbonate ion and dissolved carbon dioxide are absorbed by aquatic plants and other aquatic
autotrophs for use in photosynthesis to make carbohydrates and other carbon compounds.

CARBON DIOXIDE ABSORPTION

Photosynthesis reduces carbon dioxide concentration in autotrophs, setting up a concentration gradient and
allows carbon dioxide to diffuse from the atmosphere or water into autotrophs.

In land plants, diffusion takes place through stomata in the underside of the leaves (such feature reduces
water loss); In aquatic plants, the entire surface of leaves and stem is usually permeable to carbon dioxide, go
gaseous exchange can occur through any part of these plants.

CARBON DIOXIDE RELEASE

Cell respiration produces carbon dioxide as a waste product and it occurs in animal cells, saprotrophs (e.g.
fungi that decompose dead organic matter) and non-photosynthetic cells in producers (e.g. root cells).

The carbon dioxide produced by respiration diffuses out of cells and passes into the atmosphere or water that
surrounds these organisms.
METHANOGENESIS

Methane is produced from organic matter in anaerobic conditions by methanogenic archaeans and some
diffuses into the atmosphere.

Methane is produced widely in anaerobic environment by 3 different groups of anaerobic prokaryotes:

Bacteria that convert organic matter into a mixture of organic acids, alcohol, hydrogen and carbon
dioxide
Bacteria that uses the organic acids and alcohol to produce acetate, carbon dioxide and hydrogen
Archaeans that produce methane from carbon dioxide, hydrogen and acetate by 2 reactions (CO 2 +
4H2 CH4 + 2H2O; CH3COOH CH4 + CO2)

Archaeans are therefore methanogenic and they carry out methanogenesis in many anaerobic environments:

Swamps, muds, mangrove forests other wetlands where the soil or peat deposits are waterlogged
Guts of termites and of ruminant mammals such as cattle and sheep
Landfill sites where organic matter is in wastes that have been buried

The methane produced by archaeans in anaerobic environment diffuses into the atmosphere and the current
concentration in the atmosphere is between 1.7 and 1.85 micromoles per mole. Methane produced in
anaerobic digester cannot escape and is burnt as fuel.

METHANE OXIDATION

Methane is oxidized to carbon dioxide and water in the atmosphere (stratosphere) by monoatomic oxygen and
highly reactive hydroxyl radicals, which explains why methane released into the atmosphere persist there on
average for only 12 years, and therefore the low atmospheric concentration despite huge production by both
natural and anthropogenic processes.

PEAT FORMATION

Peat forms when organic matter is not fully decomposed because of anaerobic conditions in waterlogged soils.

In many soils, all organic matter such as dead leaves from plants is eventually digested by saprotrophic
bacteria and fungi. Saprotrophs obtain the oxygen they need for respiration from air spaces in the soil. In some
environments water is unable to drain out of soils so the waterlogged soil becomes anaerobic and saprotrophs
cannot thrive in these conditions so the dead organic matter is not fully decomposed. Acidic condition also
tends to develop, which further inhibits saprotrophs and methanogens in their breakdown of organic matter.
Eventually, the large amount of partially decomposed organic matter become compressed to form a dark
brown acidic material called peat, which can cover as much as 3% of Earths land surface and may be up to 10-
meter deep.
FOSSILIZED ORGANIC MATTER

Partially decomposed organic matter from past geological eras was converted into oil and gas in porous
rocks or into coal.

COAL
Carbon and some of its compounds are chemically very stable and so can persist in rocks for hundreds of
millions of years. There are large deposits of carbon from past geological eras, its burial in sediments cause
them to become rock.

Coal is formed when peat deposits are buried under other sediments. After compression and heating, peat
gradually turns into coal. Cycles of sea level rise and fall cause coastal swamps to become formed and
destroyed, which leaves a seam of coal each time.

OIL AND NATURAL GAS


These are formed in the mud at the bottom of seas and lakes, where decomposition of organic matter is often
incomplete because of the anaerobic conditions. As more and more sediments are deposited, the partially
decomposed matter is compressed and heated, a chemical change occurs and this produces complex mixtures
of liquid carbon compounds or gases these are known as natural gas and crude oil, with methane being the
main component of natural gas. Deposits are often found in porous rocks such as shales or often they are
found sandwiched between impervious rocks, which prevent the deposits escape.

COMBUSTION

Carbon dioxide and water are produced by the combustion of biomass and fossilized organic matter.

Coal, oil and natural gas are different forms of fossilized organic matter, which are burnt as fuels. Such action
releases carbon trapped in fossil fuels, which are formed by photosynthesizing plants hundreds of millions of
years ago.

LIMESTONE

Animals such as reef-building corals and molluscs have hard parts that are composed of calcium carbonate
and can become fossilized in limestone.

Mollusc shells contain calcium carbonate


Hard corals that build reefs produce their exoskeletons by secreting calcium carbonate

When these animals die, their soft part are decomposed quickly. The calcium carbonate dissolves away in
acidic condition but it remains stable in alkaline condition and deposits of it from hard animal parts can form
limestone rocks on the sea bed. Roughly 10% of all sedimentary rock is limestone and limestone is about 12%
by mass carbon so huge amount of carbon are locked up in limestone.