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Ecosystems, one of the most important functional units that humans have created and established in order to better understand nature, are made up of different components.

These complex systems in which life develops are formed by a network in which components of different kinds interact with each other, making possible the correct functioning and optimal balance of ecosystems. To better understand the characteristics of every ecosystem, it is vitally important to know how to differentiate its components, the role that each one of them plays within the ecosystem, as well as to know the meaning of other terms that we sometimes find in articles and definitions that speak of ecosystems. . This is the case, for example, of the terms habitat, biotope, biome, biocenosis or ecological niche.

We do not need to be experts or experts in ecology to be able to differentiate these terms, since a little curiosity about the functioning of nature and the occasional article on the subject is enough, such as this one by Green Ecologist, in which we will tell in detail what are the components of an ecosystem.

What is an ecosystem and its main types

When we speak of an ecosystem, we speak of a biological system in which all the interactions between living things and the environment in which they develop (habitat), as well as the resources that the ecosystem itself provides and the different energy currents that occur in it. The term was coined by Roy Clapham in 1930, given the need to better understand the interrelationships that are established between communities of living beings and the physical environment that surrounds them, whatever the corner of the planet.

Ecosystems are in turn part of another larger biological unit: biomes. These natural regions present similar characteristics, harboring similar species of flora and fauna. Each biome is made up of ecosystems that differentiate them from each other.

In this way, we can find different types of ecosystems, depending on the environment in which they exist:

  • Terrestrial ecosystems: where deserts, jungles, forests, tundras, grasslands (grasslands, steppes and savannas) and scrublands are included.
  • Aquatic ecosystems: seas, lakes and ponds (lentic ecosystems of relatively stagnant waters), as well as rivers, streams or springs (lotic ecosystems, where the movement of water occurs in a single predominant direction).
  • Mixed ecosystems (water-land) and air-ground (air-land): coasts, wetlands, mangroves and marshes.
  • Artificial or non-natural ecosystems of modified landscapes (created by humans): urban and rural.

In this other Green Ecologist article we explain more about what an ecosystem is. In addition, here we leave you a video that explains in detail the definition and types of ecosystems and below you will be able to know their components.

What are the components of an ecosystem

Each ecosystem is made up of structural components and functional components. Let's see in more detail what they consist of and put some examples of the components of an ecosystem to understand them better.

Abiotic components of an ecosystem

Within the structural ones we find the physical components and the chemical components (abiotic). It is about the lifeless elements such as soil, humidity, climate, temperature, heat, altitude and latitude, sunlight, wind, atmospheric pressure, and water; as well as the organic and inorganic chemical substances that together constitute the habitat, that is, the space that living beings occupy.

Biotic components of an ecosystem

Sayings living beings They are the constituents of the second large group of structural components of an ecosystem, the biotic (living) components, which include the different species of animals and plants. All of them play a vitally important role within the ecosystem and we can classify them, according to their role within the food chain, into producer organisms (autotrophs, they synthesize their own food from chemical components), consumer organisms (heterotrophs, they consume already synthesized food ). This last group is divided in turn into primary consumers (herbivores), secondary (carnivores that feed on herbivorous animals), tertiary (carnivores that feed on other carnivores) and the group of decomposers (those that feed on dead organisms and excrement).

Living beings are grouped into populations (groups of individuals of a single species) and communities (different populations living in the same ecosystem). Each individual plays a role or role within each community and the ecosystem, which corresponds to their ecological niche.

On the other hand, functional components of the ecosystem (energy flows, nutrient cycles, water and carbon cycles and food chains) are responsible for allowing the interrelationships that occur in ecosystems, between living beings and the environment in which they inhabit. In the images below you can see an ecosystem full of biodiversity and a diagram of the components of an ecosystem.

In this other post we talk about the Differences between biotic and abiotic.

How an ecosystem works - summary

Now that we know the different components of an ecosystem and the main types that exist, let's briefly describe how ecosystems work, what kind of relationships exist in them and what other terms are important to fully understand this topic.

The different biological communities of living beings (also known as the biocenosis of the ecosystem) interact with each other in a given space (biotope), which provides and guarantees the environmental conditions they need to survive, whatever the type of ecosystem in which they live.

Focusing on the relationships between the different communities of an ecosystem, we can find negative relationships (such as parasitism, competition and predation), as well as positive relationships (situations of commensalism, mutualism and cooperation between species and communities) and neutral relationships (in which both groups neither benefit nor harm each other, giving itself a situation of neutrality).

In this way, the ecosystem remains in constant operation, where the flows of matter and energy and the relationships of the organisms create an ecological succession in the communities. This allows the development of the different components of the ecosystem and the maintenance of an optimal balance between living beings and the environment. Here you can learn more about What is ecological succession, stages and examples.

If you want to further expand the topic of the functioning of ecosystems, this image below and this other article by Green Ecologist on How an ecosystem works can help you.

If you want to read more articles similar to What are the components of an ecosystem, we recommend that you enter our Ecosystems category.

  • García, J.E. (2003). Investigating the ecosystem. Research at School Magazine, 51, 83-100
  • Tansley, A. G. (1935). The use and abuse of vegetational concepts and terms. Ecology, 16(3): 284-307
  • Sánchez- Cañete, F.J. and Ponte, A. (2010) Understanding ecology concepts and their implications for environmental education. Eureka Magazine on Science Teaching and Dissemination, Vol. 7.
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