Ecosystems, Energy, And Nutrient Cycles
Energy is the capacity to perform work, and it can only be measured in relation to how it affects matter. All organisms require energy to stay alive. All organisms also transform energy. Energy cannot be created or lost, it can only be transferred and transformed. Therefore, in order to perform any kind of function (or work) the body needs energy (the capacity to perform work), and since the body cannot create new energy, it must get energy from outside sources. All energy that is exerted within an organism is transformed into a new kind of energy, and all organisms are energy transformers. All chemical reactions in cells require energy.
Within an ecosystem, energy transfers from one organism to another. This begins with producers, then energy transfers to consumers, and then to more consumers. Producers make their own food by utilizing outside energy, such as plants use photosynthesis to create food using the energy in sunlight. Consumers, however, must obtain energy from either producers or other consumers in the form of eating them. There are three kinds of consumers: herbivores, carnivores, and omnivores. The herbivore only eats producers and no other consumers, meaning that they eat only plants and no animals. Carnivores eat only other consumers, meaning that they eat only other animals and no plants. Omnivores will eat either consumers or producers, meaning that they can eat both plants and other animals. (One of the organisms I previously observed is an interesting break from the norm of the food cycle; the Venus Fly Trap is both a producer and a consumer!) So the path that energy takes through an ecosystem is from the sun, which is the main source of energy for all nutrients, to the producers, that create food using energy from the sun and the soil, to the consumers, that eat the plants and convert the energy that the plants have taken from the sun and the soil into new forms of energy, and then to more consumers, who may eat only other animals that are also consumer or eat both other animals and the plants.
Inorganic matter, or all that is not a living thing nor a product of a living thing. Inorganic matter includes water, gasses, salts, acids, bases, and also inorganic forms of nutrients such as nitrogen, potassium, and phosphorus.
Inorganic matter moves through the ecosystem when plants and animals decompose, and also by disturbances such as fire and flood. Decomposers are microorganisms that are able to break down large molecules into smaller parts, meaning that they return nutrients from a living organism (or previously living organism) back into the earth, where they will return to the producers which will draw these kinds nutrients out of the soil to aid in production of food.
A food chain follows the path of energy transfer as organisms find food. An example of a food chain involving the animals I have observed:
Prickly Pear Cactus -> Turtles -> Wolves ->mosquito ->Venus Fly Trap -> Deer ->Wolves
This is not an example that would be expected, however, because although wolves are considered to be at the top of the food chain, meaning that they have no natural predators, they do in fact have parasites, such as mosquitos, or even flies that will eat their ears during the summer, which will then continue the food chain. It is also interesting to have the Venus Fly Trap, which is a plant, acting as a consumer in this theoretical food chain. Also, it is interesting to note that the wolf occurs twice on this food chain example, because it eats both the turtle and the deer, which is an example of how the food chain is not as simple as “one, two, three” in the way that people often imagine it.) food web follows many paths, and shows how organisms are related in many ways in their search to find food. An example of a food web including organisms I have observed:
tree produces acorns which may be eaten by many small animals, including squirrels and chipmunks, and also eaten by wild boars. In turn, these small animals may be eaten by larger animals such as bobcats and owls, and wolves may eat both these smaller animals and also the wild boars which have eaten the acorns. After they die, any of these animals may be eaten by vultures and insects, such as flies. Flies may be eaten by Venus Fly Traps, or by Black Bears which enjoy eating insects. (Food webs have no logical end point because the cycle continues forever.)
Campbell, Neil and Reece, Jane. Biology. Pearsons Higher Education, 2001.
Taylor, Martha. Student Study Guide for Biology. Pearson Benjamin Cummings, 1999.
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