ecology defined + a description of the components of an ecosystem

Ecology is the study of environmental systems, i.e. ecosystems, and how each of the different parts of a given ecosystem interact. It is sometimes known as the economics of nature. Aldo Leopold is often considered the grandfather of ecology because of his passion for understanding how each of the various parts of the natural world interact. In 1941 he was quoted as saying:

“A science of land health needs, first of all, a base datum of normality, a picture of how healthy land maintains itself as an organism.” 

An ecosystem is the given the biological community that exists in a given space. It is here that energy is exchanged and the cycling of elements emerges. Ecosystems are affected by the chemical and physical factors that make up that environment. As we are all part of an ecosystem, their protection and maintenance are essential. Furthermore, the air, water and land are all interconnected, so harm to one ecosystem impacts others.

The abiotic (non-living) components present in ecological systems are:

  • Sunlight which is required for the process of photosynthesis
  • Temperature which affects what life can exist in a given location
  • Precipitation that is affected by the climate of the area and the Earth itself
  • Water/Moisture which is necessary for all living creatures
  • Soil/Water Chemistry that affects all life in a particular environment

The biotic (living) components are:

  • Primary producers which are the photosynthetic plants necessary in every system
  • Herbivores that are anatomically and physiologically adapted to consuming plants
  • Carnivores who derive their energy exclusively from animal tissue
  • Omnivores that obtain nutrients from a variety sources, including plants, animals, fungi and algae, which are often opportunistic consumers because they do not have the specialized skills of carnivores and herbivores
  • Detritivores that get their nutrients from decomposing plants and animals which contribute to the composition process and the nutrient cycle

Ecosystems are important because they are the foundation for life on this planet. Each interconnected part of these systems plays a fundamental part. When these systems are disrupted it affects not only one specific area but the planet as a whole.

Michigan, t. R. (2008, October 31). The Concept of the Ecosystem. Retrieved from Global Change:
Hall, C. (2013). Ecology. Retrieved from