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Chapter 15

Our Environment
Environment includes all of the external factors affecting an organism. These factors may
be other living organisms (biotic factors) or nonliving variables (abiotic factors), such as
temperature, rainfall, day length, wind, and ocean currents.
What happens when we add waste to our environment?
• Some of this waste may be broken down by Biological processes (eg. Saprophytes
like fungi and bacteria) and this waste is called BIODEGRADABLE.
Examples: plant and animal waste, vegetable peels etc.
• Some of this waste will not be broken down by Biological Processes and this waste is
Examples: Polythene bags, plastics, metal objects etc. Non biodegradable
substances can be
harmful to the environment.

An ecosystem is a natural system consisting of all plants, animals and microorganisms

(biotic factors) in an area functioning together with all the non-living physical (abiotic) factors
of the environment.
The abiotic components of an ecosystem include various physical and
chemical factors.
Physical factors: Eg. Sunlight and shade , average temperature, average
precipitation, nature of soil (for terrestrial ecosystems) etc.
Chemical factors: Eg. Level of water and air in soil , level of plant nutrients dissolved
in soil moisture (for terrestrial) and in the water (for aquatic) etc.
Biotic Components: Organisms that make up the biotic component of an ecosystem
are usually classified as
autotrophs and heterotrophs, based on how they get their food or organic nutrients they
need to survive.

Autotrophs (producers)-are organisms that can manufacture the organic compounds they
need as nutrients from simple inorganic compounds obtained from their environment. In
most terrestrial ecosystems, green plants are the producers. In aquatic ecosystems, most of
the producers are phytoplankton, consisting of various species of of floating and drifting
bacteria and protist.
Some producers , mostly specialized bacteria, can extract inorganic compounds from their
environment and convert them into organic nutrient compounds without the presence of
sunlight. These producers are called chemosynthesis.

Heterotrophs(consumers)-are organisms which cannot synthesize the organic nutrients

they need and get their organic nutrients by feeding on the tissues of producers or other
consumers. There are several classes of of consumers, depending on there food source.
1. Primary consumers (herbivores) feed directly on plants or other producers.
2. Secondary consumers (carnivores) feed only on primary consumers.
3. Tertiary or higher level consumers feed only on animal-eating animals.
4. Omnivores can eat both plants and animals.Examples are pigs, rats, cockroaches,
and humans.
5. Detrtivores (decomposers and detritus feeders) live off of detritus, parts of dead
organisms and castoff fragments and waste of living organisms. Decomposers
digest detritus by breaking down the complex organic molecules in these materials
into simpler, inorganic compounds. Decomposers consist of various bacteria and
Natural and Artificial Ecosystems
Natural ecosystems: Forests, ponds and lakes
Artificial Ecosystems (manmade): gardens, crop fields, aquarium


A food chain is the flow of energy from one organism to the next. Organisms in a food chain
are grouped into trophic levels — from the Greek word for nourishment, trophikos — based
on how many links they are removed from the primary producers. They usually start with a
primary producer and end with a carnivore. A food chain shows how each living thing gets
its food. i.e. WHO EATS WHOM. Each link in this chain is food for the next link.
Grass Deer

Most animals are part of more than one food chain and eat more than one kind of food in
order to meet their food and energy requirements. These interconnected food chains form a
food web.

• A food web extends the food chain concept from a simple linear pathway to a
complex network of interactions.
• Food webs show how many animals are interconnected by different paths.
• FOOD WEBS show how plants and animals are connected in many ways to help
them all survive.

Trophic levels are the feeding position in a food chain

such as primary producers, herbivore, primary carnivore,
etc. Green plants form the first trophic level, the
producers. Herbivores form the second trophic level,
while carnivores form the third and even the fourth
trophic levels.

Transfer of Energy in Food Chains: Energy and organic compounds are passed from one
trophic level to the next. What is the efficiency of the transfer? In a highly efficient transfer
almost all of the energy would be transferred -- 80% or more. In a low efficiency transfer
very little energy would be transferred -- less than 20%. In a typical food chain, not all
animals or plants are eaten by the next trophic level. In addition, there are portions or
materials (such as beaks, shells, bones, etc.) that are also not eaten. That is why the transfer of
matter and energy from one trophic level to the next is not an efficient one.
One way to calculate the energy transfer is by measuring or sizing the energy at one trophic
level and then at the next. Calorie is a unit of measure used for energy. The energy transfer
from one trophic level to the next is about 10%. For example, if there are 10,000 calories at
one level, only 1,000 are transferred to the next. This 10% energy and material transfer rule
can be depicted with an ecological pyramid that looks like this:
To summarize: In the flow of energy and inorganic nutrients through the ecosystem, a few
generalizations can be made:
1. The ultimate source of energy (for most ecosystems) is the sun
2. The ultimate fate of energy in ecosystems is for it to be lost as heat.
3. Energy and nutrients are passed from organism to organism through the food chain as
one organism eats another.
4. Decomposers remove the last energy from the remains of organisms.
5. Inorganic nutrients are cycled, energy is not.

Biological magnification
Biomagnification, also known as bioamplification, or biological magnification is the
increase in concentration of a substance, such as the pesticide DDT, that occurs in a food
chain as a consequence of:
• Food chain energetics
• Low (or nonexistent) rate of excretion/degradation of the substance.
Biological magnification is the tendency of pollutants to become concentrated in successive
trophic levels. Often, this is to the detriment of the organisms in which these materials
concentrate, since the pollutants are often toxic. Biomagnificationoccurs when organisms at
the bottom of the food chain concentrate the material above its concentration in the
surrounding soil or water. Pollutants
that biomagnify have another characteristic. Not only are they taken up by the producers, but
they are absorbed and stored in the bodies of the consumers. This often occurs with
pollutants soluble in fat such as DDT
The "best" example of biomagnification comes from DDT. This long-lived pesticide
(insecticide) has improved human health in many countries by killing insects such as
mosquitoes that spread disease. On the other hand, DDT is effective in part because it does
not break down in the environment. It is picked up by organisms in the environment and
incorporated into fat. Even here, it does no real damage in many organisms (including
humans). In others, however, DDT is deadly or may have more insidious, long-term effects.
In birds, for instance, DDT interferes with the deposition of calcium in the shells of the bird's
eggs. The eggs laid are very soft and easily broken; birds so afflicted are rarely able to raise
young and this causes a decline in their numbers.


Environmental Problems: Depletion of Ozone Layer, Waste Disposal
Ozone depletion
describes two distinct, but related observations: a slow, steady decline of about 4 percent
per decade in the total amount of ozone in Earth's stratosphere since around 1980; and a
much larger, but seasonal, decrease in stratospheric ozone over Earth's polar regions during
the same period. The latter phenomenon is commonly referred to as the ozone hole.
CFCs and other contributory substances are commonly referred to as ozone-depleting
substances (ODS). Since the ozone layer prevents most harmful UVB wavelengths (270–
315 nm) of ultraviolet light (UV light) from passing through the Earth's atmosphere, observed
and projected decreases in ozone have generated worldwide concern leading to adoption of
the Montreal Protocol banning the production of CFCs and halons as well as related ozone
depleting chemicals such as carbon tetrachloride and trichloroethane. The ozone layer in
the stratosphere blocks out the sun’s deadly ultraviolet rays. It acts as our planet’s
natural sunblock.It is suspected that a variety of biological consequences such as
increases in skin cancer, damage to plants, and reduction of plankton populations in
the ocean's photic zone may result from the increased UV exposure due to ozone

Waste Disposal
Every year, millions of tons of "trash“ are generated.. Less than one-quarter of it is
recycled; the rest is incinerated or buried in landfills. With a little forethought, we
could reuse or recycle more than 70 percent of the landfilled waste, which includes
valuable materials such as glass, metal, and paper. This would reduce the demand
on virgin sources of these materials and eliminate potentially severe environmental,
economic, and public health problems.
The Eco friendly mantra is

Answer the following questions:

1. Why is non biodegradable waste more harmful than biodegradable waste?

2. A crop field is termed as an artificial ecosystem. Why?

3. Why does the same enzyme not break down everything that we eat?

4. Animals like cows can digest cellulose , but humans cannot. Give reasons.

5. Comment on the statement “we will not get any energy if we eat coal.”

6. What is the role of UNEP in protecting the ozone layer?

7. What would happen if there was no ozone in the stratosphere?

8. Classify the following as biotic and abiotic components:

Rainfall, a rose plant, soil, fish, earthworm, fertilizer, temperature, bacteria.

9. Match the following:

Herbivores Producers First Trophic level
Plants Secondary consumers Second Trophic level
Small carnivores Primary consumers Third Trophic level
Large carnivores Tertiary consumers Fourth Trophic level

10. Why does a food chain normally consist of only 4-5 steps?

11. How is the ‘flow of energy’ different from the ‘flow of nutrients’ in an

12. Wheat , meat and humans will have varying amounts of pesticide residues in

their body. Comment on the statement and explain the phenomenon


13. How much solar energy is captured by the green plants? Trace this energy in

a food chain till it reaches the lion. The other members of the food chain are

plants and deer. The plants are receiving 1000,000 joules of energy from the