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Introduction, Types, Characteristic Features, Structure and Function of the Ecosystems

Terrestrial ecosystem, Grassland ecosystems, Tundra ecosystems, Forest ecosystems, Desert ecosystems, Aquatic ecosystem, Marine, Freshwater,ecosystems


  • Together, organisms and their physical environment make up an ecosystem.
  • There are different types of ecosystems, including marine, aquatic, and terrestrial ones. Terrestrial ecosystems are grouped into biomes, which are large classifications.
  • Energy and matter are conserved in ecosystems. Typically, light becomes heat and matter is recycled, allowing energy to flow through the system.
  • In the face of disturbance, or disruptive events, ecosystems with a higher biodiversity tend to be more stable.
An Amazon rainforest in South America and a tide pool on the California coast have something in common, isn’t it? Even though their sizes are by orders of magnitude different, both are examples of ecosystems: a group of organisms living together in combination with the environment around them. Communities and ecosystems are closely related concepts, but a community does not include the physical environment, while an ecosystem does. Communities are the biotic components of an ecosystem, or living organisms. The ecosystem includes biotic components as well as abiotic components, including the physical environment. Small ecosystems, like those found near the rocky shores of many oceans, or extremely large ecosystems, like South America's Amazon Rainforest, can exist together.


An ecosystem, on the other hand, can vary in size from thousands of miles across to the size of a small oasis. Ecologies fall into two categories:
  • Terrestrial ecosystem
  • Aquatic ecosystem

Terrestrial ecosystem

Ecosystems on the surface of the land are exclusively terrestrial. There are various terrestrial ecosystem types distributed over different geological zones. The following are a few examples:

Grassland ecosystems

In grasslands, grasses and herbs dominate the vegetation. There are many examples of grassland ecosystems, including temperate grasslands and savanna grasslands.

Tundra ecosystems

There are no trees in tundra ecosystems, which occur in cold climates or in regions with little rainfall. Typically, they are covered in snow throughout the year. Arctic regions and mountain tops are covered with tundra ecosystems.

Forest ecosystems

There are several plants, animals, microorganisms, and abiotic factors that make up a forest ecosystem. Forests are an important carbon sink that plays an important role in regulating temperatures on earth.

Desert ecosystems

The world is dotted with deserts. Most of them receive very little rainfall. There is a high temperature during the day and a low temperature at night.

Aquatic ecosystem

Aquatic ecosystems consist of ecosystems that live in water. Aquatic ecosystems fall into two categories:

Marine ecosystems

Seas and oceans are part of the marine ecosystem. Compared to freshwater ecosystems, these are saltier and have a higher biodiversity.

Freshwater ecosystems

Wetland ecosystems include wetlands, lakes, ponds, streams, rivers, and wetlands. Marine ecosystems contain salt, whereas freshwater ecosystems do not.

Characteristic features

Based on Smith's (1966) observations most eco­systems exhibit the following general characteristics:
  • Ecosystems are fundamental structures and functions of ecology.
  • Ecosystem structure is affected by species diversity. Diversity of species is greater in complex ecosystems.
  • A functioning ecosystem is dependent on the flow of energy and material through and within it.
  • Maintaining an ecosystem requires varying amounts of energy depending on its structure. Structures that are more complex require less energy to maintain than those that are simpler.
  • The complexity of an ecosystem increases as it matures. In the early stages, these successions have a relatively high energy flux per unit biomass and a large potential energy store. As a organism matures, it accumulates less energy and its flow occurs through a variety of components.
  • Any given ecosys­tem has limits to its environment and energy fixation that cannot be exceeded without causing serious adverse effects.
  • Environments change with time, and a population's ability to adapt to those changes is affected. Organisms that cannot adapt will disappear.
There are several elements that make up an ecosystem, including vegetation, microbes, fauna, and the environment as a whole. Most ecosystems have well-defined soil, climate, vegetation, and fauna (or communities) and can adapt to, and change with, changes in the external environment. Any ecosystem functions in a variety of cycles and processes, including the water cycle and the nutrient cycle. As a result of these cycles, energy is constantly flowing, and the energy is the solar energy. In order for life to continue, nutrients have to flow between (and within) different components of the ecosystem.


Both biotic and abiotic components make up the structure of an ecosystem. Our environment is composed primarily of abiotic components. It can also encompass the climate that prevails within it. There are two main types of ecosystems:
  • Biotic components
  • Abiotic components
Abiotic and biotic components of an ecosystem are interconnected. There are no fixed boundaries in this system, and energy and components can move freely within or between these boundaries.

Biotic components

Living organisms make up an ecosystem. The three major categories of biotic components can be categorized according to nutritional requirements: autotrophs, heterotrophs, and saprotrophs.
  • Producers - Due to their autotrophic nature, plants are considered producers. Autotrophs produce food through photosynthesis, so they are called autotrophs. Due to this, all organisms higher up the food chain are dependent upon producers.
  • Consumers - A consumer is an organism that relies on another organism for nutrition. Further, consumers can be categorized as primary consumers, secondary consumers, or tertiary consumers.
  • Primary consumers - Food is provided by producers to primary consumers, who are herbivores.
  • Secondary consumers - Primary consumers are the energy suppliers for secondary consumers. There are carnivorous and omnivorous species.
  • Tertiary consumers - A tertiary consumer is an organism that relies on a secondary consumer for nutrition. In other words, they may not necessarily be omnivores.
  • Quaternary consumers - A few food chains cater to Quaternary consumers. Tertiary consumers are preyed upon by these organisms. A predator-less species is at the top of the food chain since there are no predators among them.
  • Decomposers - Fungi and bacteria are saprophytes that decompose organic matter. They directly consume dead and decomposing biological matter. Decomposers are important for the ecosystem as they assist in recycling nutrients so that plants can make use of them.

Abiotic components

An ecosystem's non-living components are its abiotic components. In addition to air, turbidity, temperature, water, winds, minerals, sunlight, nutrients, altitude, soil, etc., it also factors in sunlight.


Ecosystems serve the following purposes:
  • This organism supports life systems, regulates ecological processes, and ensures the stability of the ecosystem.
  • Nutrient cycling is also managed by biotic and abiotic components of the system.
  • In order for this ecological balance to be maintained, there must be a diversity of species on different trophic levels.
  • Minerals cycle between the biosphere and the earth.
  • By exchanging energy with the abiotic components, organic components are synthesized.
An ecosystem consists of functional components or functional units:
  • Productivity - Measures how much biomass is produced.
  • Energy flow - A sequential transfer of energy from one trophic level to another occurs through this process. Sunlight is captured by producers, used by consumers, then decomposer, and finally returned to the environment.
  • Decomposition - the act of breaking down organic matter that is dead. Decomposition takes place mostly in the topsoil.
  • Nutrient cycling - An ecosystem consists of organisms that consume and recycle nutrients in various forms.
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Ankur Choudhary is India's first professional pharmaceutical blogger, author and founder of, a widely-read pharmaceutical blog since 2008. Sign-up for the free email updates for your daily dose of pharmaceutical tips.
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