Ecology: Trophic Transfer of Energy in an Ecosystem
What is an Ecosystem?
Ecology, the study of the interactions of living organisms with one another and with their environment, is the study of ecosystems, an ecological system encompassing a community and all the physical aspects of its habitat.
A place where a certain species lives is called its habitat, and groups of different species living together are called a community. All of the physical aspects of a community are called an ecosystem.
The Transfer of Energy
Energy Flow in an Ecosystem
Ecosystems run on energy, which comes in from the sun. Life is possible because photosynthesis captures the light energy from the sun and turns it into the chemical energy of organic molecules. This is a basic principle in ecology. The organic molecule compounds are composed of what we call food, which gives us energy.
The energy budget of an ecosystem is determined by primary productivity, the amount of organic materials that the photosynthetic organisms of an ecosystem, produce.
Energy flows through food webs, a network of feeding relationships in an environment, which contain food chains, a linear pathway of energy transfer in an ecosystem. Food chains are composed of trophic levels: a group of organisms that have the same source of energy.
- The lowest trophic level consists of primary producers: plants, algae, bacteria...etc.
- The 2nd level: cows, horses, chickens, ducks...etc.
- The 3rd level: tigers, wolves, snakes...etc
- The 4th level: tertiary consumers (Top carnivores) such as a hawk eating a snake. A carnivore eating another carnivore.
Omnivores are animals that eat both plants and animals.
Transfer of Energy
Where Do Organisms Get Energy From?
An organism acquires energy from the food it eats. Some of that energy is stored as fat, some is lost through wastes, urine, and feces. But most escapes as heat, which is produced when energy is transferred from one form to another. Only 10% of energy if incorporated into the next trophic level, so because the loss of energy from one level to the next is so great, the number of trophic levels is limited.
Loss of Energy at Each Transfer Step
To sum up, once a producer receives energy from the sun, it is eaten by a primary level consumer and gives around 10% of its energy to the primary level consumer. 90% is lost as heat. This process of ecology happens in an ecosystem all the time. The transfer of energy in an ecosystem is very inefficient, that is why consumers at the top of the food chain must constantly eat a lot of food, because less and less energy is available as we go further into the food chain.
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