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Ecosystems and Ecological Communities & Succession ENV 107: Environmental Science

Ecology Ecology is the study of how organisms interact with each other and with their nonliving environment (including such factors as sunlight, temperature, moisture, and vital nutrients). What is an ecosystem? An ecosystem encompasses all the parts of a living environment (including the plants

and animals) AND the non-living components, such as water, air and the sun's energy.
Or Ecosystem is a community of different species interacting with one another and with their nonliving environment of matter and energy. An ecosystem may be small, such as a particular stream or field or a patch of woods, desert. or The units may be large, generalized types of terrestrial (land) ecosystem such as a particular type of grassland, forest.


An ecosystem has structure: non-living and living parts. Non-living parts include rocks, water and air. The living part is the ecological community, which is a set of interacting species. An ecosystem has processes. 2 basic kinds of processes must occur in the ecosystem: a cycling of chemical elements and a flow of

For example, in the presence of sunlight, green plants, algae and photosynthetic bacteria produce sugar from carbon dioxide and water, from sugar and inorganic compounds they make many other organic compounds, including proteins and woody tissue. The whole earths surface can be described by a series of interconnected ecosystem. All of the earths ecosystems together make up what we call the biosphere. Example: Some examples of small ecosystems are tidal pools, a home garden. Larger ecosystems might encompass lakes, agricultural fields, or stands of forests. Landscape-scale ecosystems encompass larger regions, and may include different terrestrial (land) and aquatic (water)

Ultimately, all of Earth's life and its physical environment could be considered to represent an entire ecosystem, known as the biosphere

Species: Groups of organisms that resemble one another in appearance, behavior, chemistry and genetic
structure form a species. Or All the members of a specific kind of plant, animal, or microbe; a kind given by similarity of appearance or capacity for interbreeding and producing fertile offspring. For instance, all human beings (Homo sapiens) resemble one another in their body structure, body systems, and they all have similar genetic structure. They are thus grouped together under the species sapiens.

Structure: An ecosystem is made up of two major parts- nonliving and living.

The abiotic or nonliving part is the physical-chemical environment, including the local atmosphere, water, nutrients, solar energy and mineral soil.

The biotic or living part, called the ecological community (plants, animals, microorganisms, sometimes
called biota), is the set of species interacting within the ecosystem.


Factors/ components of an Ecosystem

Abiotic Factor / All Nonliving Components Sunlight Temperature & precipitation, wind latitude (distance from the equator) & altitude (distance above sea level), Biotic Factor/ All living Organism Human Beings Animals Plants

Fungi Bacteria

frequency of fire, and

nature of the soil. Water & Moisture

Figures: Greatly simplified diagrams of some of the biotic and abiotic components in a fresh-water aquatic ecosystem and a terrestrial ecosystem.


Major living components of Ecosystem

Producers/ autotrophs (self-feeders): Made their own food from compounds obtained from their environment: On land, most producers are green plants. In freshwater and marine ecosystem, algae and plants are the major producers. In open water the dominant producers are phytoplankton. Most producers use the photosynthesis process. Carbon dioxide +water +solar energy Some use chemosynthesis. (Without sunlight) Consumers/heterotrophs (other-feeders): All the other organisms that do not produce their own food depend directly or indirectly on food provided by producers. Glucose + oxygen

Several classes of consumers:

Herbivores/ primary consumers (plant eaters): Some animals do not eat other animals. They survive on plants and are known as Herbivores. Carnivores/ secondary consumers (meat eaters): Some animals eat only other animals. These animals are called carnivores. Tertiary (higher-level) consumers: feed only on other carnivores. Omnivores: Some animals, like us, eat both plants and animals. These animals are called omnivores. Scavengers: feed on dead organisms that were killed by other organisms or dies naturally. Examples: Vultures, flies, crows. Detritivores: live off detritus or parts of dead organisms and cast off fragments and wastes of living organisms. Detritus feeders: extract nutrients from partly decomposed organic matter in the leaf litter, plants fragments, and animal dung. Such as crabs, carpenter ants, termites. Decomposers: consumers that complete the break down and recycling of organic materials from the remains or wastes of all organisms.


Tropic categories
Make their own organic matter from inorganic nutrients and an environmental energy source

Must feed on organic matter for energy

Producer Photosynthetic green Plants: use chlorophyll

to absorb light

Primary consumers/herbivores:
animals that feed exclusively on plants

Decomposers: organisms that feed on dead organic material

fungi and bacteria that cause rotting

Omnivores: animals that feed

Photosynthetic bacteria: use purple pigment

to absorb light

on both plants and animals

Secondary consumers/ carnivores: animals that feed on

primary consumers

Primary detritus feeders:

organism that feed directly on detritus

Chemosynthetic bacteria: use high energy

inorganic chemicals

Higher orders of consumers/ carnivores: animals that feed on

other carnivores

Secondary and higher orders of detritus feeders:

feed on primary detritus feeders

Parasites: plants or animals that Become associated with other plants or animals and feed on it over an extended period of time

Ecological Community
It is defined in two ways: The community consists of all the species found in an area, whether

or not they are known to interact

and affect one another. Example: Animals in different cages in a zoo could be called a community. The community is defined as a set of interacting species found in the same place and functioning

together to make possible the persistence of life.


Food chains
Individuals in a community interact is by feeding on one another. Energy, chemical
elements and some compounds are transferred from creature to creature along food chains, a network of feeding relationship in an ecosystem. A complex network of many interacted food chains and feeding relation ships is called a food web. Ecologists explained: the group organisms in a food web into trophic levels. A trophic level consists of all those organisms in a food web that are the same number of feeding levels away from the original source of energy. The original source of energy in most ecosystems is the sun. In other cases, it is the energy in some inorganic compounds. Green plants, algae and certain bacteria produce sugars through the photosynthesis, using the energy of the sun and carbon dioxide (CO2) from the air, so they are grouped in to the first trophic level.

Yellowstone hot springs food chain

The simplest natural ecosystem is a hot spring such as those found in Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming. Few organisms can live in those hot springs because the environment is so harsh. Water in parts of the springs is close to the boiling point. In addition, some springs are very acidic and others are very alkaline. Typically, the springs have a wide range of water temperatures, from almost boiling near the source to much cooler near the edges, specially in the winter. In a typical alkaline hot spring, the hottest waters, between 70C and 80C, are colored bright

yellow-green by photosynthetic blue-green bacteria. In slightly cooler waters, 50C and 60C, thick mats of bacteria and
algae accumulate. First trophic level: Photosynthetic bacteria and algae make up the springs first trophic level, which is composed of autotrophs. In the hot springs, as in most communities, the source of energy is sunlight. Second trophic level: Some flies, called Ephydrid flies, live in the cooler areas of the springs. One species, Ephydra bruesi, lays bright orange-pink eggs on stones and twigs that project above the mat. Another species, Aracoenia turbida, lays white eggs in the mat. The fly larvae feed on the bacteria and algae. Since these flies eat only plants, they are herbivores. These

form the second trophic level.

Third trophic level: Another fly, called the Dolichpopid fly, is carnivorous and feed on the eggs and larvae of the herbivorous flies. Dragonflies, waps, spiders, tiger beetles and one species of bird, the killdeer, also feed on the herbivorous flies. All these form the third trophic level. Fourth trophic level: Wastes and dead organisms of all trophic levels are fed on by decomposers, which in the hot springs are primarily bacteria. These form the fourth trophic level.


The entire hot springs community of organisms- photosynthetic bacteria and algae, herbivorous flies, carnivores and decomposers- is maintained by two factors: (1) Sunlight, which provides an input of usable energy for the organisms and (2) a constant flow of hot water, which provides a continual new supply of chemical elements required for life and a habitat in which the bacteria and algae can persist. An important aspect of hot sprigs ecosystem is species dominance. Dominant species are those that are most abundant or otherwise most important in the community. In the hot springs community, the species of photosynthetic bacteria or algae that is dominant, changes with the temperature; one species dominates the hotter springs and hottest regions within a spring and another species dominates cooler water. Because the algae are brightly colored, this spatial patterning in dominance is readily apparent to visitors.


A terrestrial food chain

In a terrestrial food chain the first trophic level, autotrophs, includes grasses, herbs and trees. The second trophic level, herbivores includes mice, an insect called the pine borer and other animals (such as deer). The third trophic level, carnivores, include foxes and wolves, hawks and other predatory birds, spiders and predatory insects. People are omnivores (eaters of both plants and

animals) and feed on several trophic levels.

People would be included in the fourth trophic level, the highest level in which they would take part. Decomposers, such as bacteria and fungi, feed on wastes and dead organisms of all trophic levels.

Decomposers also belong to the fourth trophic level.

Connections: Food webs and energy flow in ecosystems

The food chain determines how energy and nutrients move from one organism to another through an ecosystem. Ecologists assign each organism in an ecosystem to a feeding level, or trophic level (from the Greek word trophos, "nourishment"), depending on whether it is a producer or a consumer and on what it eats or decomposes. Producers belong to the first trophic level, primary consumers to the second trophic level, secondary consumers to the third, and so on. Detritivores and decomposers process detritus from all trophic levels. Real ecosystems are more complex than this. Most consumers feed on more than one type of organism, and most organisms are eaten by more than one type of consumer. Because most species participate in several

different food chains.

Each trophic level in a food chain or web contains a certain amount of biomass, the dry weight of all organic matter contained in its organisms. In a food chain or web, chemical energy stored in biomass is transferred from one trophic level to another. With each transfer some usable energy is degraded and lost to the environment as low-quality heat. Thus (1) only a small portion of what is eaten and digested is actually converted into an organism's bodily material or biomass, and (2) the amount of usable energy available to each successive trophic level declines.


The percentage of usable energy transferred as biomass from one trophic level to the next is called ecological efficiency. It ranges from 5% to 20%, (that is, a loss of 80-95%) depending on the types of species and the ecosystem involved, but 10% is typical. Assuming 10%, ecological efficiency (90%> loss) at each trophic transfer, if green plants in an area manage to capture 10,000 units of energy from the sun, then only about 1,000 units of energy will be available to support herbivores and only about 100 units to support carnivores. The more trophic levels or steps in a food chain or web, the greater the cumulative loss of usable energy as energy flows through the various trophic levels.

Pyramid of energy flow:

This energy loss for a simple food chain, assuming a 90% energy loss with each transfer. Pyramids of energy flow always have an upright pyramidal shape because of the automatic degradation of energy quality. Energy flow pyramids explain why the earth can support

more people if they eat at lower trophic levels by consuming

grains, vegetables, and fruits directly rather than passing such crops through another trophic level and eating grain eaters. The large loss in energy between successive trophic levels also explains why food chains and webs rarely have more than four or five trophic levels. In most cases, too little energy is left after four or five transfers to support organisms feeding at these high trophic levels. This explains why (1) there are so few top carnivores such as eagles, hawks, tigers, and white sharks, such species usually are the first to suffer when the ecosystems that support them are disrupted, and (2) these species are so vulnerable to extinction.


Ecological Succession
The balance of nature An environmental myth that states that the natural environment, when not influenced by human activity, will reach a constant status, unchanging over time, referred to as a balance or equilibrium state. The major tenets of a belief in the balance of nature are as follows: Nature undisturbed achieves a permanency of form and structure that persists indefinitely. If it is disturbed and the disturbing force is removed, nature returns to exactly the same permanent state. In this permanent state of nature, there is a great chain of being with place for each creature (a habitat and niche) and each creature in its appropriate place.

A steady state stage of succession is called a climax state that would persist indefinitely
and have maximum organic matter, maximum storage of chemical elements and maximum biological diversity.

Ecological Succession
Recovery of disturbed ecosystems can occur naturally through a process called ecological succession. This natural recovery can occur if the damage is not too great. Sometimes, though, the recovery takes longer than people would like. Ecological succession is the gradual process by which ecosystems change and develop over time. To understand succession, it is necessary to clearly understand the difference between these four terms: Habitat: A place where organisms live. e.g. a pond Population: A group of individuals of the same species in a particular location (habitat). For example, all of the Great Diving Beetle larvae and adults in the pond Community : All of the populations of species in a given area. For example, all of the numerous species of microOr-

organisms, plants and animals living in the pond.

Ecosystem : The Community together with chemical & physical environment of an area. So, ASuccession takes place because the environmental conditions in a particular place change over time Each species is adapted to thrive and compete best against other species under a very specific set of environmental conditions If these conditions change, then the existing species will be replaced by a new set of species which are better adapted to the new conditions As an example, the environmental conditions present on the bare patch of ground above would have been quite different 2 years later



Bare Ground No plant competition for light, space, nutrients or water. Soil mobile and liable to erosion and loss. A more extreme surface microclimate because the bare soil both absorbs and reflects heat more than soil covered in vegetatio n.

Two Years Later Intense plant competition for space and other resources. Soil bound by roots and plant cover. The plant cover provides a certain amount of ground insulation from extremes of temperature. There are now also a variety of microclimates within the vegetation. Plant cover and increasing humus levels help to retain water.

A drier environment because there is no plant cover to hold moisture above ground and little humus to hold it in the soil. Lower nutrient levels in the soil.

The nutrient levels in the so have increased.

il wil

Ecological succession is of two types: primary and secondary: Primary succession:

geologic activity Examples: bare rock exposed by a retreating glacier or severe soil erosion, newly cooled lava, an abandoned highway or parking lot Example: Rock -> lichen -> moss -> grass -> shrub -> trees -> oak hickory forest is initial establishment and development of an ecosystem. Begins with bare rock exposed by

Stages of Primary Succession:

Primary Succession: Establishing life on lifeless ground, Which Begins with an essentially lifeless area where there is no soil in a terrestrial ecosystem or no bottom sediment in an aquatic ecosystem. So, the process is much slower than secondary succession Examples: bare rock exposed by a retreating glacier or severe soil erosion, newly cooled lava, an abandoned highway or parking lot Soil formation begins when hardy pioneer species attach themselves to inhospitable patches of bare rocks Pioneer Species: These are often species which grow best where there is little competition for space and resources. Mosses are often pioneer species.



Balsam Fir Exposed rocks Lichens & Moses Small herbs & shrubs Heath Mat Jack pine, Black spruce Aspen Paper Birch White spruce

Primary Succession As patches of soil build up & spread, eventually the community of lichens & mosses are replaced by a new community Typically it consists of small perennial grasses (plants that live more than 2 years without having to reseed) and herbs (ferns in tropical area) These are called early successional species; grow close to the ground, can establish large populations quickly under harsh conditions & have short lives Some of their roots penetrate in the rock to create more soil The decay of their bodies add nutrient to the soil After hundreds of years, the depth & fertility of the soil become capable of storing enough nutrient and moisture to support growth of midsuccessional species of herbs, grasses & low shrubs Trees that need lots of sunlight & are adapted to local climate & soil usually replace these species As these tree species grow and create shade, they are replaced by late successional species: mostly trees that can tolerate shade. These are also often called climax community.

Secondary succession:
Are reestablishment of an ecosystem. Begins on soil from which previous community has been removed (by fire, agriculture, etc.) Example:

Grass --- Shrub --- Trees --- Oak ---Hickory forest

Secondary succession begins in an area where the natural community of organisms have been disturbed, removed, or destroyed but some soil or bottom sediment remains. Abandoned croplands, burned or cut forests, heavily polluted streams, flooded land, dammed land As some soil/sediment is present, new vegetation can usually begin to germinate within few weeks Seeds can be present in soil, or they can be carried from nearby plants by wind or deposited in the droppings of birds and animals. In the central region of Carolina, European settlers cleared the mature native oak & hickory forests & planted the land with crops. Later they abandoned some of this farmland because of erosion & loss of soil nutrients.



Patterns of Interaction
During succession one species replaces another. There are at least three patterns

of interaction among earlier and later species in succession:

3 patterns of interaction between earlier & later species of succession Facilitation Interference Life history differences

There is also a possibility of a fourth in some cases:

Chronic Patchiness

This pattern has been found to take place in tropical rain forest.
Early successional species speed the reappearance of the microclimatic conditions that occur in a mature forest. In tropical forest, temperature, relative humidity, and light intensity at the soil surface can reach conditions similar to those of a mature rain forest after only 14 years. Once these conditions are established, species that are adapted to deep forest shade can germinate and persist. Sand banks and bogs also illustrate facilitation. Sandbank grasses anchor the sandy soil so that seeds of plants that fall on the ground have a chance to germinate before they are buried too deep or blown away again. Sedges that form floating mats on the waters of a bog create a substrate where seeds of other species can lodge, germinate, and grow. Example: Pine & Oak. Pine provides the shade and act as nurse trees for oak. If there is no pine, few or no oaks will grow. Pines facilitate the entrance of oak.



Interference can be found in tropical rain forests.
Early successional species may in some way prevent the entrance of later successional species. When a rain forest is cleared, used for agriculture, and then abandoned, perennial grasses grow that form dense mats. For example: in parts of Asia, these include bamboo and Imperata, as well as thick-leaved small trees and shrubs. Together, these form stands so dense that seeds of other, later successional species cannot reach the ground, germinate, or obtain enough light, water, and nutrients to survive. Imperata either replaces itself or is replaced by bamboo, which then replaces itself. Once established, Imperata and bamboo appear able to persist for a long time.

Life History Differences:

One species may not affect the time of entrance of another; two species may appear at different

times during succession because of differences in transport, germination, growth, and longevity
of seeds. There is actually a fourth possibility: Succession never occurs and the species that enters first

remains until the next disturbance. This fourth case is called chronic patchiness.
Each of these processes occurs in nature.

Chronic patchiness: Succession depends on the common interaction between life and its
environment. In the harsh environment (deserts), energy and chemical elements required for life are limited and disturbances are frequent. In this place, physical or degrading elements dominate and succession does not occur. Again in highly polluted environments, sequence of species replacement may not occur



Bog Succession:
A bog is a body of water with acid waters and little if any surface outflow, so the waters have little current. Succession in a bog is a process that begins with open water and

ends with a forest.

Bog succession can be observed easily because the pond fills in from the edges toward the center. The center is successionally the youngest, and the bogs original edge is the oldest. In the quiet waters of the open part of a bog, sedge plants form floating mats that grow out over the waters surface. These short-lived shrubs are the pioneers. Their mat of thick, organic matter forms a primitive soil into which seeds of other plant species fall and germinate. Sediments also build up on the bottom made up of dead organic matter from aquatic animals and plants. The bog slowly fills in from the bottom to the top.