Ecology is the study of how many different living things work with the environment that they find themselves in. It is a paramount science to help people understand how everything depends on other organisms to, directly or indirectly, live. At the core of this science is the concept of food webs or food chains. They quickly display how energy flows through a system in any particular environment. It is all dependent on how different organisms take in energy. Some organisms called producers and they make their own food. You also have consumers that must rely on other organisms to nourish themselves. You also have decomposers that return all of back to the soil.
You will find materials that allow you to begin to understand the concept of community and population ecology. They include projects that can be used as small labs or group projects.
Get Free Worksheets In Your Inbox!
Print Ecology Worksheets
Click the buttons to print each worksheet and associated answer key.
Place the correct letter next to each vocabulary clue.
What Are Ecosystems?
Many scientists carefully study ecosystems to understand life and how all organisms interact and survive together. But what exactly is it?
An ecosystem is a physical environment with living and nonliving components. It can come in any size or form. For instance, a pond with fishes, frogs, rocks, algae, air, and other things is a single ecosystem. These components interact with each other by sharing nutrients or energy.
Giant forests, single water drops, and even artificial aquariums are all examples of ecosystems. This concept is crucial not just for your Biology class but for the survival of life. If you keep reading, you'll appreciate it more.
Biome vs. Ecosystem
Biomes and ecosystems are terms often used interchangeably. However, there are important differences between the two.
Biomes are more extensive than ecosystems. They are classified mainly based on climate or organisms that live in them. Biomes can have ecosystems within them. For instance, a forest can be considered a biome, with the forest floor and canopies being two of the ecosystems.
Other examples of biomes are reefs, tundra, savanna, mountain, and grasslands.
What Are the Components of Ecosystems?
Ecosystems are widely diverse. They come in different forms, sizes, climates, and specific members. However, they do share main components.
The components of ecosystems are divided into biotic and abiotic factors. Biotic factors refer to living organisms such as animals and plants. Meanwhile, abiotic factors are inorganic matter like air, water, sunlight, temperature, soil, etc. All of these factors interact with each other.
While all components in an ecosystem are important, there are biotic components called keystone species that greatly influence the survival of the ecosystem as a whole.
A keystone species holds the ecosystem together. Without them, other members may perish, and the balance will crumble.
They are often divided into predators, ecosystem engineers, and mutualists. Each kind plays a different role in the ecosystem.
A familiar example of a keystone species is the beaver, an ecosystem engineer. When these creatures make dams, many events follow:
New trees grow to replace the dead trees used in the dam.
Wetlands are created after dams divert water.
Organisms thrive in the new wetlands.
If the beavers were driven away from their rivers, all those mentioned above might not happen.
Like a domino effect, there would be none to few wetlands for other organisms to live in. Dead trees would be left on the sides, and new plants could not grow. The ecosystem would fall apart.
Interactions Within Ecosystems
For ecologists, understanding how all the components in an ecosystem interact with each other is essential. They do so not just to understand each species' role in the ecosystem but also to trace the flow of energy and matter.
These are some types of interactions within ecosystems:
Competition. Organisms compete for limited resources within the ecosystem.
Predation. Predators kill and eat prey.
Cannibalism. Members of the same species feed on each other.
Herbivory. Organisms feed on photosynthetic organisms, such as plants.
Mutualism. Organisms benefit from each other.
Commensalism. An organism benefits from another organism without having any effect (beneficial or harmful) on them.
Parasitism. An organism benefits from another organism while harming them.
Decomposers. Organisms that break down dead matter to release nutrients and minerals for recycling.
Interactions are the basis of food webs and nutrient cycles. Food webs reflect energy flow, while nutrient cycles reflect matter recycling. If ecologists can identify all or most of the interactions within an ecosystem, they are able to comprehend it.
An ecosystem is everything, living or not, contained within a specific area or environment. The interactions between an ecosystem's components are crucial for survival and balance. The ecosystem and its members will be significantly affected if these interactions are disrupted.