An ecosystem is a complex system that comprises of a biological community of organisms that interact with their physical environment. The abiotic factors of an ecosystem refer to the non-living components that contribute to the physical environment. These components include sunlight, minerals, soil, water and climate. The abiotic components usually determine the biotic components of an ecosystem. For example, in the dessert, temperatures are high, and water is scarce and therefore only certain plants (autotrophs) occur which in turn will lead to only certain primary and secondary consumers to occur in the area. The biotic factors of an ecosystem refer to the living components of the biological community within the ecosystem. These components include the organisms of the producer level, the primary consumer level, the secondary consumer level and decomposers.

The organisms of the producer level are referred to as autotrophs. Autotrophs are the driving force of the food cycle as they are able to synthesize their own food and also provide sustenance for other organisms by generating organic matter. Examples of autotrophs are the various plants that are present within an ecosystem. The organisms that cannot produce their own food (consumers) are referred to as heterotrophs. Heterotrophs can be divided into herbivorous, carnivorous and omnivorous consumers. Primary consumers are heterotrophs that feed on the producer level. An example of this, is a giraffe (primary consumer) feeding on a tree (autotroph/producer). Secondary consumers are heterotrophs that feed on the primary consumers. An example of this, is a pride of lions (secondary consumer) feeding on a giraffe (primary consumer). Decomposers comprise of bacteria, fungi and detritivores (termites, millipedes and termites) which feed on dead or decaying organisms and in turn converts them into carbon dioxide and nitrogen through chemical reactions. The decomposers are an essential part of an ecosystem as it recycles the nutrients that can later be taken up the producers.

Additionally, ecosystems consist of functions amongst its components which are the processes working behind the scenes to ensure the continuity of the ecosystem. The major functions are nutrient cycle, energy flow and homeostasis. The nutrient cycle refers to the nutrients that are transferred from one level to another through consumption and then finally released back into the environment after death. Energy flow refers to the energy that enters an ecosystem from the sun which is taken up by the autotrophs for the purpose of photosynthesis. A percentage of this energy then moves from the autotrophs (consisting of the most energy) to the consumers through consumption. The energy decreases as it moves from one level to another. Homeostasis refers to the balance that is maintained due to both of the components being interdependent.

It is evident that ecosystems are very delicate, and that the slightest alteration may have a significant impact on the ecosystem and its surrounding environment. The human population depends on healthy ecosystems as it cleans our air, purifies our water, regulates climate, and provide us with food. It is thus crucial to be well informed of the various ecosystems in an area before commencing with any operations to satisfy human desires.

Environmental Assurance has a team of highly qualified scientists who can assist with any queries related to ecosystems and provides terrestrial services in which floral and faunal ecological studies are conducted. For more information about these services contact ENVASS at

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