Ecological systems or ecosystems are very important in regard to their abiotic and biotic richness, the latter being the so-called biodiversity or diversity of living beings . Biodiversity and ecosystems, as well as genetic variations, make up one of the fundamental bases of life on our planet.
Would you like to know about ecological systems? Do you want to discover what the different types of ecosystems are and see some examples? If so, do not miss this interesting AgroCorrn article in which you will see a summary of what ecological systems are and examples of them.
What are ecological systems
We start with the definition of an ecological system . An ecological system or ecosystem is a system formed by living organisms that belong to several species, which interact with each other and organize themselves in a certain environment.
We then have, on the one hand, the biotic factors (animals, plants, fungi, protists, bacteria, etc.), whose grouping we will call biocenosis and, on the other hand, we have the abiotic factors (physical and chemical factors of the place where they live, such as the climate or the type of soil) that constitutes the so-called biotope . Here you can learn more about the Difference between biotope and biocenosis, their relationship and examples . We also offer you more detailed explanations in these other articles about What are abiotic factors, their characteristics and examples and What are biotic factors, their characteristics and examples .
It is interesting to note here that the discipline that deals with the study of ecosystems is called systems ecology , although more than a discipline it is an interdisciplinary field. Systems ecology has a holistic orientation, that is, it studies ecosystems as a whole and not just the parts that make them up.
Characteristics of ecological systems
Let’s see below what are the characteristics of ecological systems . First of all, it is important to know that one of the characteristics of ecosystems is that there are several levels of organization in them. These are:
- Individuals: characteristic organisms of certain species.
- Populations : it is the set of individuals of a species that inhabits a certain place or region at a given time.
- Communities: it is a grouping of populations of different species from a certain place or region at a given time. Here you can learn more about the ecological community and its characteristics and here about What is the biological community, its structure and examples .
- Ecosystems: it is the set of communities with each of their interactions plus the physical environment where they are. The set of ecosystems is called the biosphere.
Another characteristic of ecological systems is that energy flows through all their levels of organization, thus giving rise to three different types of individuals or trophic levels : producers, consumers and decomposers:
- Producers: they are responsible for capturing the light energy that comes from the Sun to, together with the water and minerals of the biotope, produce organic matter that has a lot of energy. Plants and algae are producing organisms .
- Consumers: they are those who consume the organic matter previously produced by the producers. Consumers can be herbivores when they eat grass (such as deer, rabbits, or caterpillars), carnivores when they eat meat (such as tigers, sharks, or lynx), or detritivores when they feed on carcasses, droppings, or waste (such as vultures, beetles or earthworms). According to their level and type of food organisms are divided into primary consumers , secondary consumers , tertiary consumers and quaternary consumers .
- Decomposers: these are those organisms that decompose the organic matter of plants and animals when they die. In the decomposition process, they transform it into inorganic compounds such as water, carbon dioxide and mineral salts that return to the substrate, being again available to producers.
The energy that the producers took is gradually lost or eliminated as they pass through each of the groups described. Why does this happen? It is because organisms use that energy to be able to move and generate heat, as well as to grow and reproduce. This gives rise to a pyramidal structure of the ecological systems , where the producers would be at the base and, on this, the different types of consumers in an orderly manner (carnivores on top of herbivores).
Types of ecological systems
The classification of ecological systems can be done based on different criteria depending on the field of interest. In this way, if we are interested in the intervention of man, they can be classified into:
- Natural ecological systems: are those in which the human being does not intervene.
- Artificial or urban ecological systems: they are those in which the human being does intervene.
If what is taken into account is how living beings adapt to their environment, then we can classify them into:
- Terrestrial ecological systems: they occur on the surface of the earth, in mountains, deserts or valleys, which present different characteristics in terms of temperature, humidity or oxygen concentration.
- Aquatic ecological systems: are those that have species adapted to aquatic environments of different salinity and temperature and correspond to 75% of the Earth’s ecosystems.
- Mixed ecological systems: are those in which two physical media (land and water or land and air) are combined.
- Microbial ecological systems: with them we refer to those that are formed by microscopic organisms.
Finally, another classification is the one that takes into account the flows of energy and matter , being able to classify them into:
- Open ecological systems: they are in which there is exchange of matter and energy with the outside.
- Closed ecological systems: they are in which there is no exchange of matter with the outside, but there is energy.
Finally, it is important to comment that there are combinations of the different classifications, for example, we can find a closed aquatic natural ecosystem or an open terrestrial artificial ecosystem.
Here you can read more about the different types of ecosystems or ecological systems and here below you can see a video on the subject. Also, in this other post we talk about the Diversity of ecosystems .
Examples of ecological systems
To finish, we give different examples of the ecological systems explained above:
- Artificial or urban ecological systems : a city, a farm, a cattle farm, a reservoir, etc.
- Natural ecological systems : any of those that will be cited below.
- Terrestrial ecological systems : a tropical forest, a savanna, a coniferous forest, a chaparral, a desert, etc.
- Aquatic ecological systems : a river, a stream, a lake, a swamp, a coral reef, deep ocean zones, etc.
- Mixed ecological systems : mangroves, river banks, etc.
- Microbial ecological systems: protozoa that coexist with bacteria and phytoplankton of different sizes, essential microbes in nutrient cycles, etc.
- Open ecological systems: all planetary ecosystems are considered open.
- Closed ecological systems: planet Earth meets the definition of a closed ecological system, as it receives energy from the Sun, but there is no exchange of matter with the universe (or this is negligible). Another example would be an ecosphere .