Forest Creek Click to enlarge image
Image: Mark Semeniuk
© Mark Semeniuk

The word ecosystem means ecological systems. Ecology is the study of ecosystems

An ecosystem includes all the living things (plants, animals and organisms) in a given area, interacting with each other, and with their non-living environments (weather, earth, sun, soil, climate, atmosphere). In an ecosystem, each organism has its own niche or role to play.

Ecosystems are the foundations of the Biosphere and they determine the health of the entire Earth system.

Sir Arthur George Tansley (1871 –1955) was an English botanist who introduced the concept of the ecosystem into biology

Ernst Heinrich Philipp August (1834 –1919) was a German biologist, naturalist philosopher, physician, professor, marine biologist, and artist who discovered, described and named thousands of new species mapped a genealogical tree relating all life forms invented many words commonly used by biologists today, such as phylum, phylogeny, and ecology.

An ecosystem is a community of living organisms (plants, animals and microbes) in a particular area.

The term `eco' refers to a part of the world and `system' refers to the co-ordinating units. An ecosystem is a community of organisms and their physical environment interacting together. Environment involves both living organisms and the non-living physical conditions. These two are inseparable but inter-related. The living and physical components are linked together through nutrient cycles and energy flows.

The organisms in an ecosystem are usually well balanced with each other and with their environment. An ecosystem may be natural or artificial, land-based or water-based. Artificial systems may include a cropland, a garden, a park or an aquarium. Introduction of new environmental factors or new species can have disastrous results, eventually leading to the collapse of an ecosystem and the death of many of its native species. Some of the major non-living factors of an ecosystem are: Sunlight Water Temperature Oxygen Soil Air

How big is an ecosystem?

Ecosystems can be of any size, but usually they are places. An ecosystem may be of very different size. It may be a whole forest, as well as a small pond. An ecosystem may be as large as the Great Barrier Reef or as small as the back of a spider crab's shell, which provides a home for plants and other animals, such as sponges, algae and worms.

Ecosystem boundaries are not marked (separated) by rigid lines. Ecosystems are often separated by geographical barriers such as deserts, mountains, oceans, lakes and rivers. As these borders are never rigid, ecosystems tend to blend into each other. Therefore, a lake can have many small ecosystems with their own unique characteristics. As a result, the whole earth can be seen as a single ecosystem, or a lake can be divided into several ecosystems, depending on the used scale. Scientists call this blending “ecotone”

Ecosystem diversity

Ecosystem diversity is the variety of ecosystems in a given place. An ecosystem is a community of organisms and their physical environment interacting together. For food, shelter, growth and development, all life systems interact with the environment. This is why it is necessary to preserve the ecosystems.

Scales of Ecosystems

Ecosystems come in indefinite sizes. It can exist in a small area such as underneath a rock, a decaying tree trunk, or a pond in your village, or it can exist in large forms such as an entire rain forest. Technically, the Earth can be called a huge ecosystem.

Ecosystems can be classified into three main scales.
Micro: A small scale ecosystem such as a pond, puddle, tree trunk, under a rock etc.
Messo: A medium scale ecosystem such as a forest or a large lake.
Biome: A very large ecosystem or collection of ecosystems with similar biotic and abiotic factors such as an entire Rainforest with millions of animals and trees, with many different water bodies running through them.