Earth, Climate & Environment

Ecosystem

Ecosystem, organisms living in a particular environment, such as a forest or a coral reef, and the physical parts of the environment that affect them. The term ecosystem was coined in 1935 by the British ecologist Sir Arthur George Tansley, who described natural systems in “constant interchange” among their living and nonliving parts.

The ecosystem concept fits into an ordered view of nature that was developed by scientists to simplify the study of the relationships between organisms and their physical environment, a field known as ecology. At the top of the hierarchy is the planet’s entire living environment, known as the biosphere. Within this biosphere are several large categories of living communities known as biomes that are usually characterized by their dominant vegetation, such as grasslands, tropical forests, or deserts. The biomes are in turn made up of ecosystems. The living, or biotic, parts of an ecosystem, such as the plants, animals, and bacteria found in soil, are known as a community. The physical surroundings, or abiotic components, such as the minerals found in the soil, are known as the environment or habitat.

Any given place may have several different ecosystems that vary in size and complexity. A tropical island, for example, may have a rain forest ecosystem that covers hundreds of square miles, a mangrove swamp ecosystem along the coast, and an underwater coral reef ecosystem. No matter how the size or complexity of an ecosystem is characterized, all ecosystems exhibit a constant exchange of matter and energy between the biotic and abiotic community. Ecosystem components are so interconnected that a change in any one component of an ecosystem will cause subsequent changes throughout the system.

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