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The Biotic Environment

Topics to cover
• Ecological principles
• Concepts of species, populations, communities and
• Dynamics of biological populations
• Interactions between species, food chains and food
• Energy flow in ecosystems
• Interaction between biotic and abiotic environments
• Refers to life in all its forms and the natural
processes that support and connect all life form
• Definition is not easy because it represents a
complex system
• We need to understand roles of different elements,
their functioning, evolving, etc.
• The variety of species and ecosystems on Earth
and the ecological processes of which they are a
part – including ecosystem, species, and genetic
diversity components.

• The variability among living organisms from all

sources including, terrestrial, marine and other
aquatic ecosystems and the ecological complexes
of which they are part; this includes diversity
within species, between species and of
• Genetic diversity – variety of genetic material within
a species or a population
• Species diversity – the number of species present in
different habitats
• Ecological diversity – the variety of terrestrial and
aquatic ecosystems found in an area or on earth
• Functional diversity – biological and chemical
processes needed for the survival of species,
communities and ecosystems
• Easier to understand if reduced to their component
• The level of organisation of biodiversity include:
– Ecosystems
– Species
– Genes
• Attributes of biodiversity
• Composition
• Structure
• Functions
• These attributes may also be examined at different
scales including regions, landscapes and ecosystems.
Level of Organisation of Biodiversity
• An ecosystem is a dynamic complex of plant, animal and microorganism
communities and non-living (abiotic) elements, all interacting as a
functional unit.
An ecosystem’s character changes as community members and physical
contexts change, sometimes crossing a threshold of tolerance within
the system that results in its inability to return to its previous form.

• Species are a complete, self-generating, unique ensemble of genetic

variation, capable of interbreeding and producing fertile offspring. They
(and their subspecies and populations) are generally considered to be
the only self-replicating units of genetic diversity that can function

• Genes are the working units of heredity; each gene is a segment of the
DNA molecule that encodes a single enzyme or structural protein unit.
Genetic diversity is the foundation of all biodiversity. Genetic variation
permits populations to adapt to changing environments and continue to
participate in life’s processes.
Attributes of Biodiversity
• Composition is the identity and variety of an ecological system.
Descriptors of composition are typically lists of the species resident in
an area or an ecosystem and measures of composition include
species richness and diversity of species.

• Structure is the physical organization or pattern of a system, from

habitat complexity as measured within communities to the pattern of
habitats (or patches) and other elements at a landscape scale.

• Functions are the result of one or more ecological and evolutionary

processes, including predation, gene flow, natural disturbances and
mycorrhizal associations as well as abiotic processes such as soil
development and hydrological cycles. Examples of functions include
predator-prey systems, water purifications and nutrient cycling.
Linkage between the Biodiversity Components and Attributes

The value of Biodiversity to Humans

Ecological Concepts
• Eco - is from the Greek word “Oikos” for house

• “The study of the relation of organisms or groups of organisms to

their environment”

• Or “The science of the interrelations between living organisms and

their environment”

• Or “The totality or patterns of relations between organisms and

their environment”

• Ecology: Study of how organisms interact with each other and with
their non-living surroundings.
The Nature of Ecology
Levels of study in Ecology:
• Organisms – single animal
• Populations – same species
• Communities – populations living
• Ecosystems – community +
physical environment
• Biosphere – all the earth’s
• An ecosystem is a dynamic complex of plant, animal and
microorganism communities and non-living (abiotic)
elements, all interacting as a functional unit.

• An ecosystem’s character changes as community members

and physical contexts change, sometimes crossing a
threshold of tolerance within the system that results in its
inability to return to its previous form.
Ecosystem Components
• Abiotic factors
• Biotic factors
• Range of tolerance for each species
– what factors are important for…
Ecosystem Components
• Limiting factors determines distributions

Physiology: the branch of biology that deals with the normal functions of living
organisms and their parts.
Common limiting factors
• Terrestrial ecosystems (on land)
– precipitation
– temperature
– soil nutrients
• Aquatic ecosystems
– temperature
– sunlight
– nutrients
– dissolved oxygen
– salinity
Limiting factors
• Abiotic factors can act as limiting factors that keep a
population at a certain level
• Desert environment -- hot temperature and little water
are the limiting factors
• Different species living in the desert are limited mainly
to those types of plants and animals that need very
little water and can survive extreme temperatures
Limiting factors
• Biotic factors can also be limiting factors
• Disease (bacteria), predators, food resources
Types of Ecosystem
Natural Ecosystems
Self operating under natural conditions; no interference by man

Terrestrial ecosystems e.g. forests, grassland

Aquatic ecosystems
• Freshwater ecosystem
• Lotic – Running water e.g. river, stream, spring etc.
• Lentic – Standing water e. g. lake, pond, well swamp etc.
• Marine ecosystems e.g. ocean, sea etc.

Artificial Ecosystems
Managed and maintained by man. E.g. cropland
Natural and Artificial Ecosystems
• Natural ecosystems may be terrestrial (meaning
desert, forest, or meadow) or aquatic, (pond,
river, or lake). A natural ecosystem is a biological
environment that is found in nature (e.g. a forest)
rather than created or altered by man (a farm).

• Artificial ecosystems: Humans have modified

some ecosystems for their own benefit. These are
artificial ecosystems. They can be terrestrial (crop
fields and gardens) or aquatic (aquariums, dams,
and manmade ponds).
Natural Ecosystem
• Genetic diversity is very high;
consists of many species of
plants and animals
• Sunlight is the main driver for
all biological cycles
• Food chains are long and
• Ecological succession takes
place over a period of time
• High sustainability
• Maximum and efficient
natural nutrient cycling

Ecological succession is the gradual process by which ecosystems change and develop over time.
Artificial Ecosystem
• Consists of one or few types of
plants; Weeds and other types of
species are removed by the farmers

• Genetic diversity is very low

• Sunlight is the main source of

energy, artificial fertilizers, manures
are supplied to the soil

• No ecological succession

• Incomplete nutrient cycling

• Designed for high productivity

• Unsustainable; addition of water

pollution and disturbance to other
Artificial ecosystems
• Zoo parks often create artificial ecosystems by
placing animals in human-made areas similar
to their natural habitat.

• Examples of man-made ecosystems are

orchards, home aquarium, zoo, botanical
gardens and park.

• These ecosystems are sustained by human


• Man-made ecosystems are created for specific

purposes. Orchards and farms are created for
agricultural benefits. Parks are built for
recreation. Zoos and aquarium are made for
study, tourism, conservation, education and
• Architectural (Structural) aspect
– The composition of biological community including species,
numbers, biomass, life history etc.
– The quantity and distribution of non-living materials like nutrients,
water etc.
– The conditions of existence such as temperature, light etc.

• Functional aspect
– The rate of flow of energy
– The rate of material (nutrient) cycles
– Biological regulation
• Regulation of organisms by environment; the response of an organism to
seasonal changes in day length (photoperiodism)
• Regulation of environment by the organism (nitrogen fixing organism,
atmospheric nitrogen is converted to ammonia by an enzyme)
Ecological interactions
Ecological interactions
• Population of two species are always interacting
with each other from the view point of nutrient
resources, habitat and protection.

• Two species can interact in many ways.

“0” no interaction
“+” population growth/beneficial/favourable
“-” population inhibition/harmful/adverse
Nutritional and Symbiotic relationships
Two ways biotic factors interact: nutritional and symbiotic

• Nutritional relationships: involves the transfer of nutrients from

one organism to another within an ecosystem

• Symbiotic relationships: an interaction among different species in

an ecosystem where they live in a close association with each

• Opinion1: In ecology, symbiosis describes a relationship between

two organisms that is beneficial to both and enhances each
organism’s chances of persisting. Each partner in symbiosis is
called a symbiont.

• Opinion 2: It is called symbiosis because at least one member of

the association benefits (gains) by the association
References on Symbiosis
• Cunningham and Cunningham Chapter 4, page 85
• Botkin and Keller, page 157, Section 8.5, Symbiosis
Nutritional relationship
Nutritional Relationships
It involves the transfer of nutrients from one organism to another within an ecosystem
• AUTOTROPHS: Organisms that can synthesize organic molecules from inorganic molecules
also called producers; can be either photosynthetic or chemosynthetic
• HETEROTROPHS: organisms that cannot manufacture organic molecules

Five types of heterotrophs

o HERBIVORES: organisms that eat only producers (plants); also called a primary or first-
level consumer; e.g. cows, elephants, goats
o CARNIVORES: organisms that eat only other animals; also called a secondary (or
tertiary) consumer; e.g. tigers, lions, wolves
o OMNIVORES: organisms that eat everything; can be a 1st, 2nd, or 3rd level consumer
e.g. bears, humans
o SCAVENGERS: organisms that eat only other animals after they are already killed;
usually a 2nd or 3rd level consumer; e.g. vultures, hyenas
o DECOMPOSERS: organisms that live on DEAD matter; also called saprophytes; e.g.
include heterotrophic plants, fungi, and bacteria
Symbiotic relationships
It involves an interaction among different species in an ecosystem that where they live in a close association
with each other

• MUTUALISM (+ , +): a symbiotic relationship in which both organisms benefit; e.g. nitrogen fixing
bacteria that live in nodes (lumps) on the roots of certain plants (legumes); the bacteria have a nice
place to live (+), and the plants benefit from getting the nitrogen they need from the bacteria (+)

• COMMENSALISM (+ , 0): a symbiotic relationship where one organism benefits (+) and the other
organism is not harmed (0) e.g. the remora (a small fish) attaches itself to the underside of a shark;
when the shark feeds, the remora disconnects and eats scraps that are left over (+); the shark is not
affected (0); barnacles (+) on whales (0)

• PARASITISM (+ , -): a symbiotic relationship where one organism, the parasite, benefits (+), while the
other organism, the host, is harmed (-); e.g. athlete's foot, a fungus, grows on human feet for nutrients
(+), while the human doesn't like it (-); tapeworms (+) in humans (-); heartworms (+) in dogs (-).

• PREDATOR-PREY (+, -): a symbiotic relationship where one organism eats another! e.g. predator--lions
(+), prey--zebra (-), fox (+) and rabbit (-). Similar to Parasitism, it can be considered a type of symbiosis
because it is the interaction of two species. It can be considered different from other types of symbiosis
because one of the organisms does not survive after the interaction.
Biotic Components of Ecosystems
Autotrophic or self-nourishing components
Use light energy to make food from simple inorganic substances (H2O, CO2)
Photosynthesis, Known as producers. E.g. Green plants, algae, photosynthetic bacteria

Heterotrophic or other-nourishing components

Utilize, rearrange, and decompose the complex materials produced by the autotrophs, Known
as consumers. E.g. Fungi, animals, humans

Macro consumers (Phagotrophs)

They feed on other organic and particulate organic matter
Herbivores (feed on plants) Primary consumer
Carnivores or predators (feed on other animals) secondary
Omnivores (feed on plants and animals) tertiary consumer

Micro consumers (Saprotrophs)

They are microscopic organisms
Bacteria, actinomycetes, fungi
Breakdown complex compounds of dead or living protoplasm
Absorb some of the decomposed / breakdown products
Release inorganic nutrient in to environment
Biological Components of Ecosystems

• Producers (autotrophs)
• Consumers
– Herbivores, carnivores,
– Decomposers and
• detritus = dead organic
Energy Flow in Ecosystems
• Food chains:
– Sequence of organisms which is a source of food for the next.
– The transfer of food energy from the producer through a series
of organisms herbivores, carnivores, decomposers.

• Food webs:
– Most species participate in several food chains (they don’t just
eat one thing!)

• Trophic levels
– The position an organism occupies in a food chain
– Each step in the flow of energy through an ecosystem (feeding
Food Chains and Energy Flow in Ecosystems
Energy received from the sun is transferred through the ecosystem by passing through
various trophic levels.
Food web
• Food webs are important in
maintaining the stability of an

• If one link is reduced that

would cause increase of
population of downstream
and decrease of population of
upstream. It will ultimately
disturb the balance.

• Length of the food chain:

Diversity in the organisms
based on their food habits
would determine the length of
the food chain.

• Substitutes at various points

of consumers in the chain:
more the substitutes more
would be the networks that
make the ecosystem stable.
Ecological Pyramids
A graphical representation to show the biomass or biomass productivity at each
trophic level in a given ecosystem.

o Pyramids of numbers
Depicts number of individual organisms at each trophic level
o Pyramids of Biomass
Showing the total dry weight, calorific value or other measure of the total living material
is present in the organisms at each trophic level
o Pyramids of Energy
Depicts the rate of energy flow and/or productivity at successive trophic levels (always
Pyramids of numbers
• Represent the number of individuals per unit area of various trophic levels

– Upright (e.g. Grassland ecosystem), mice and rabbits are fewer than grasses…, and so on

– Inverted (parasitic ecosystem) - one plant is capable of supporting the growth of several
herbivores. A few herbivores are able to offer nutrition to dozens of parasites that also
provide for hundreds of hyperparasites

– Dumbbell shaped (forest ecosystem)

Pyramids of biomass
o A graphical representation that
depicts the extent of biomass per
unit area within different trophic
levels in an ecological system.

o Measured as dry weight in grams

per sq. metre or calories per sq.

Disadvantage: It can make a trophic level appear to contain more energy than it actually does. For example,
all birds have beaks and skeletons, which despite having mass are not typically digested by the next trophic
Pyramids of biomass
Pyramids of energy
• It gives the best overall picture of the nature of an ecosystem
• The number and weight of organism at any level depends on the rate at which food is produced
• Unlike the other two cases this deals with rates of passage of food mass through the food chain
• Its shape is not affected by the size and metabolic rate of individuals

No inverted pyramids
Ecological succession
Ecological succession

Ecological succession is the gradual process by which ecosystems change and develop over

Disturbance could alter an ecosystem, either significantly changing it, or wiping it out
entirely. Examples include fire, flood, volcano, serious insect or disease outbreak, drought…

o Succession is often dictated by what time of year the space opened up, and what
organism settled there first.

o Predators can ultimately determine the ultimate species composition

o Outside disturbance increases diversity by interfering with competitive exclusion

o Succession will eventually end up “climaxed”, which is a community with a stable

number species and populations. Time scale could be few days to hundreds of years
Primary Succession
Primary succession is the series of community changes which occur on an
entirely new habitat which has never been colonized before.
Secondary Succession
Secondary succession is the series of community changes which take place
when an existing community is disturbed or destroyed, but some parts are left

Tend to be more rapid than primary succession

• Section 3.4 of Cunningham and Cunningham
• Chapter 11 of Cunningham and Cunningham
• Chapter 5 of Botkin and Keller
• Chapter 6 of Cunningham and Cunningham
• Several other online available documents