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Ecosystem- Definition, Structure, Components and Types

Jul 6, 2022

Have you heard the term ecosystem? Sounds synonymous with the environment, right? That has been a very interesting topic among science enthusiasts. It is a geographic location where the animals, birds, plants and other creatures coexist along with specified climatic conditions and landscapes. They all perform together to form a balance in their lives.

Multiple subjects are involved in the ecosystem, namely:

  1. Earth Science
  2. Biology
  3. Physical Geography
  4. Meteorology
  5. Human Geography
  6. Geography
  7. Geology
  8. Ecology

In this article, let us discuss top to bottom related to the ecosystem while briefly looking at other relevant topics and concepts.


This includes a community of living organisms existing alongside non-living things and interacting with one another on multiple occasions.


Moreover, the ecosystem acts as a functional and structural unit of ecology. Here, the lifeforms are capable of interacting with their surroundings to form a mutual bond. In simple words, it is nothing but a chain of interactive activities between living and non-living things.

The word ‘Ecosystem‘ was first introduced by an English botanist, A.G. Tansley, in 1935.


Ecosystem’s Structure

The major structure of the ecosystem is twofold: biotic and abiotic components. It involves the energy distribution in our surrounding environment. In addition, it includes weather conditions prevailing in that specific location.

The ecosystem is classified into two main components along with various other sub-components:

  • Biotic components
  • Abiotic components

Both these components are correlated with one another in an ecosystem. Moreover, it acts as an open chain of the system in which the components and energy are capable of flowing throughout the boundaries.

Given below is the flowchart for the same:


Abiotic Components

These are referred to as non-living components. They coexist alongside the living organisms in an ecosystem. Some of the abiotic components are as follows:

  • Water
  • Soil
  • Land
  • Air
  • Temperature
  • Climate
  • Minerals
  • Turbidity
  • Altitude
  • Sunlight
  • Mountains
  • Landscapes

All the abiotic components have existed since the start of the world. They all differ from one location to another. A certain region can only have water or mountains. In such areas, only relevant animals and other creatures exist. For example, if it is a sea, you can see sea creatures such as fish inside it. Meanwhile, if it is a mountain or a forest, you can witness wild animals such as lions, tigers, elephants, etc., roaming around.


Biotic Components

Biotic components indicate all living organisms in an ecosystem. The following is the classification of biotic components:

  • Autotrophs
  • Heterotrophs
  • Saprotrophs

This categorisation is purely dependent on nutrition. Saprotrophs are also termed decomposers.

  1. Producers:

In most cases, the producers are plants. They are also referred to as autotrophs. These plants generate food through a common process called photosynthesis. Furthermore, the higher-level organisms must rely on the autotrophs to survive completely. That is how the food chain works.

  1. Consumers:

These are the organisms that depend on other organisms for their food and survival. Consumers acquire food from producers. Moreover, they can be classified into three or more forms depending on the ecosystem: primary, secondary, and tertiary.

  • Primary consumers:

    In the majority of cases, the primary consumers are always herbivorous creatures. They consume plants and acquire energy from them.

  • Secondary consumers:

    Secondary consumers are the second level of consumers. They consume food from primary consumers and sometimes even producers. They can be omnivores or carnivores.

  • Tertiary consumers:

    These types of consumers depend on second consumers for food. Generally, tertiary consumers can be carnivores or omnivores.

  • Quaternary consumers:

    Usually, these consumers stay on top of the food chain and consume tertiary consumers as their food.

  1. Decomposers:

Decomposers are a fundamental part of the ecosystem. They rely on dead organisms for food. Due to their recycling nature, they are very helpful in keeping our earth clean and safe. The other name for decomposers is saprophytes which include bacteria and fungi.

Types of Ecosystem

The area of an ecosystem can be anywhere from a small oasis in a desert to a big sea. It can have a couple of miles to a thousand kilometres. They vary vastly. Let us see how they are classified:

  • Aquatic 
  • Terrestrial 

In the following passages, let us discuss them elaborately.

Aquatic Ecosystem

These are the types of ecosystems that are found in water resources such as seas, oceans, lakes, and ponds. The point is they have to be contained in the body of water. The two types of the aquatic ecosystem are:

  • Marine
  • Freshwater 
  1. Marine Ecosystem

A marine ecosystem means the containment of water in seas or oceans. The area they possess is huge compared to the freshwater ecosystem. The largest one is the Pacific Ocean. It covers almost half of the world. Its area is about 160 million square kilometres. This consists of millions of sea creatures, but it is not habitable for humans and other animals. The water’s taste is salty because it contains a higher amount of salt per litre in the oceans and seas.

  1. Freshwater Ecosystem

The second type of aquatic is the freshwater ecosystem. These possess smaller biodiversity compared to the marine ones. The freshwater ecosystem includes the following types of water bodies:

  • Lakes
  • Ponds
  • Rivers
  • Streams
  • Wetlands

No salt content is present in these ecosystems, so it is habitable to any living organism.

Terrestrial Ecosystem

Terrestrial ecosystems are soil-based ecosystems. They may be dry or wet, depending on the location and nature of the lands. We can find various types of terrestrial ecosystems around the globe. Listed below is the categorisation of the terrestrial ecosystem:

  • Grassland 
  • Forest 
  • Desert 
  • Tundra 
  1. Grassland Ecosystem

Usually, the vegetation is dominated by herbs and grasses in a grassland ecosystem. Examples of these ecosystems are tropical (savanna) grasslands and temperate grasslands.

  1. Forest Ecosystem

The forest ecosystem involves all kinds of trees, plants, animals, birds and microorganisms. They all coexist with each other to survive. Forests are fundamental for the earth’s survival as they can maintain the temperature and prevent global warming. One of the major examples of a forest ecosystem is the Amazon forest, which is situated in South America.

  1. Desert Ecosystem

The vegetation in the desert is limited. They can be found in many places in the world. You can see camels and cactuses everywhere in deserts. Deserts have very little rainfall; the daytime temperature is always high, while the nighttime is extremely cold. Therefore, surviving in deserts is hard.

  1. Tundra Ecosystem

Tundra regions are mostly found on the mountain tops or in the arctic regions. It snows a lot for most of the year and is very cold. The temperature can fall up to – 50 ℃ or more. As shown in the wildlife channels and movies, you can see a lot of penguins and polar bears there.

Major Concepts of Ecology

These are the most basic concepts in ecology that everyone should know:

  1. Food Chain

The whole food chain starts from the sun. It is the ultimate source of energy. The plants obtain energy from the sun and water and perform a biological process known as photosynthesis. It is the process used in the production of food for plants.

During photosynthesis, chemical energy is obtained as an outcome of light energy. Later, it is passed on through consecutive trophic levels.

Furthermore, this energy flow starts from plants, as a producer gets passed on through consumers. They consume the energy, which gets further through higher-level consumers called apex predators.

In addition, after the death of such top-tier consumers, they will be decayed and eaten by microorganisms which in turn will get absorbed by the roots of the plants.

Therefore, the food chain is an endless loop that starts with plants and ends with plants.

Let us see some examples of food chains:

  1. Flower → Insects → Frogs → Snakes → Eagles
  2. Flowers in water → Small fish → Big fish → Birds
  3. Carrots → Rabbit → Fox / Lion
  4. Food Web

The Food web is considered a network of food chains interlinked with one another. The Food web uses a single ecosystem to comprise all the food chains. Moreover, it is very helpful in providing an understanding of how food chains can be interconnected. 


To conclude, the ecosystem is a broad topic that includes many different things in this world. The definition includes creating a strong bond between the living and non-living things in a particular environment.

In this article, we have seen the meaning of the ecosystem where we discussed “what is an ecosystem?” and “how is it classified?”

Frequently Asked Questions

   1. Define the ecosystem and its functions?

Ecosystem is the existence of living organisms with non-living things all together for survival purposes. Their functions include:

  • Energy flow
  • Productivity
  • Decomposition
  • Nutrient cycling

2. Mention the types of ecosystems?

They are classified as follows:

  • Aquatic ecosystem
  1. Marine 
  2. Freshwater 
  • Terrestrial ecosystem
  1. Grassland 
  2. Forest
  3. Tundra 
  4. Desert 

3. Which is the largest ecosystem in the world?

Aquatic ecosystem is arguably the largest ecosystem in the world, especially the marine one. This comprises both marine and freshwater bodies. Almost 70% of this world is filled with water.



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