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Word Count: 1,144
An ecosystem is the complex of living organisms their physical environment and all their interrelationships in a particular unit of spaceThe principles underlying the study of ecosystems are based on the view that all the elements of a life-supporting environment of any size whether natural or man-made are parts of an integral network in which each element interacts directly or indirectly with all others and affects the function of the whole All ecosystems are contained within the largest of them the ecosphere which encompasses the entire physical Earth geosphere and all of its biological components biosphereAn ecosystem can be categorized into its abiotic constituents including minerals climate soil water sunlight and all other nonliving elements and its biotic constituents consisting of all its living members Linking these constituents together are two major forces the flow of energy through the ecosystem and the cycling of nutrients within the ecosystemThe fundamental source of energy in almost all ecosystems is radiant energy from the sun The energy of sunlight is used by the ecosystems autotrophic or self-sustaining organisms Consisting largely of green vegetation these organisms are capable of photosynthesis--ie they can use the energy of sunlight to convert carbon dioxide and water into simple energy-rich carbohydrates The autotrophs use the energy stored within the simple carbohydrates to produce the more complex organic compounds such as proteins lipids and starches that maintain the organisms life processes The autotrophic segment of the ecosystem is commonly referred to as the producer levelOrganic matter generated by autotrophs directly or indirectly sustains heterotrophic organisms Heterotrophs are the consumers of the ecosystem they cannot make their own food They use rearrange and ultimately decompose the complex organic materials built up by the autotrophs All animals and fungi are heterotrophs as are most bacteria and many other microorganismsTogether the autotrophs and heterotrophs form various trophic feeding levels in the ecosystem the producer level composed of those organisms that make their own food the primary-consumer level
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