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Definition of Ecosystem
Ecological relationships develop on a physico-chemical platform.
The physical or abiotic factors include basic inorganic elements and
compounds in the form of water, carbon dioxide, oxygen, calcium,
phosphates, wind, currents, solar radiations and the by-products of
organism activity or death.

The biotic components are plants, animals and microbes. These

components interact in energy-dependent fashion. An ecological
system or Ecosystem is thus comprised of the abiotic physico-
chemical environment and the biotic assemblage of plants, animals
and microbes. Ecosystems are real but at the same time abstract
being made up of conceptual schemes developed from a knowledge
of real system.

Structure and Dynamics of Ecosystem:


In the final analysis all ecological relationships are energy oriented.

Radiant energy in the form of sunlight is the prime source of energy
for any ecosystem. This energy is used in the process of photo-
synthesis by which carbon dioxide is assimilated to give rise to
energy rich and complex carbon compounds.

The chlorophyll-bearing plants are the only organisms that are

capable of performing this vital function. These plants have been
termed producers. The energy incorporated within the producer by
the process of photosynthesis is utilized in the synthesis of other
molecules that meet the nutritional requirements of the producer
itself. So the producer may be referred to as autotroph, i.e., one who
is capable of self-feeding.

Any organism whose nutritional requirements are met by feeding

on other organism is called a heterotroph. A primary consumer then
is a heterotroph that derives its nutrition directly from the plants. A
secondary consumer is in the same token a heterotroph which
derives its energy from the primary consumer. The autotroph and
heterotroph relation may be present in an extended form.

Besides these there is another group of heterotrophs in an

ecosystem. This group is represented by micro-organisms like bac-
teria and fungi and has been termed as decomposers. The
decomposers do not take food in the in gesture manner as is the
practice of the heterotrophs. The enzymes secreted by the
decomposers act upon the dead plants and animals and some of the
products of decomposition are then absorbed. The decomposers
thus render an invaluable service to ecosystem.


The exo-enzymatic digestive activity of the decomposers releases

the basic elements bound in protoplasm to the environment and
makes the elements available to the plants for reuse. The producer-
consumer arrangement in an ecosystem is called Trophic Structure

Each food level is known as trophic level. The amount of living

material present in different trophic levels or in a component
population is called standing crop. The standing crop is expressed
in terms of Biomass or number per unit area. Biomass is measured
as living weight, dry weight, ash-free dry weight, carbon weight,
calories, etc.

The abiotic materials that remain present at any given time is

considered as standing quantity or Standing state. In studies of
ecosystem it is important to distinguish between quantities of
material and organisms present at any one time or the average over
a period of time and also the change in the standing states and
standing crops per unit of time.

It is now evident that there are two processes operating in an

ecosystem. One is energy transfer from autotroph to heterotroph
and the other one is movement of nutrient elements. The energy
transfer is unidirectional and non-cyclic while movement of
nutrition elements is cyclic.
Energy Flow in Ecosystems:
Living organisms utilize solar energy. In photosynthesis, this
radiant energy is transformed into chemical energy and in cellular
metabolism the chemical energy is again transformed into
mechanical or heat energy.

Calculation on the basis of meteorological data has revealed that

only about one fifty millionth of the tremendous solar energy
reaches the outer atmosphere of the earth at a constant rate. This
constant is called Solar flux.

The solar flux has been defined as the amount of radiant energy (of
all wave-lengths) that cross a unit area or surface per unit of/time.
The value has been estimated /to be 2 calories per square
centimeter per minute (2 cal/cm2/min.).