What is an Ecosystem?

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What is an Ecosystem?

Ecosystems are entire living communities of plants and animals that, although diverse in nature, share common characteristics. These primarily relate to the climate and soil seen in the ecosystem. Climate, soils and vegetation interact closely to produce the characteristic nature of an individual ecosystem.


Ecosystems can be split into two main sections, abiotic and biotic elements:

1. Abiotic elements are those that are non-living, but affect the ecosystem. Examples of these include water, heat, relief, the atmosphere, soil, fire, gravity, nutrients and rocks.

2. Biotic elements are those living elements of the ecosystem. In other words the plants and animals. Within the biotic element, there are organisms, which are known as producers. These convert sunlight into energy through the process of photosynthesis. There are also organisms known as consumers, which feed on the other organisms. Within each ecosystem there is a hierarchy of producers and consumers. Energy moves between these groups as shown in the diagram below:

energy graphic

The map below shows the major ecosystems of the world:

world map

Ecosystem Temperature Rainfall
Coniferous Woodland Warm summers (12-18°C), very cold winters (less than 0°C for up to half the year) Low annual rainfall, manly falling in the summer months (approx. 500mm). Winter snow
Deciduous Woodland Warm summers (15-20°C), Reasonably cold winters (3-7°C) Precipitation throughout the year (approx. 1000mm)
Desert Very hot throughout the year (over 30°C) Very little rainfall (approx. less than 300mm)
Mediterranean Woodland and Scrub Hot summers (20-25°C), mild winters (10-15°C) Dry summers, wet winters (approx. 800mm)
Tropical Rainforest Hot throughout the year (25-30°C) Wet throughout the year (approx. 2000-3000mm)