Ecosystem (Encyclopedia of Science)
An ecosystem (or ecological system) is a collection of communities of organisms and the environment in which they live. Ecosystems can vary greatly in size. Some examples of small ecosystems are tidal pools, a home garden, or the stomach of an individual cow. Larger ecosystems might encompass lakes, agricultural fields, or stands of forests. Landscape-scale ecosystems encompass larger regions, and may include different terrestrial (land) and aquatic (water) communities. Ultimately, all of Earth's life and its physical environment could be considered to represent an entire ecosystem, known as the biosphere.
Ecologists often invent boundaries for ecosystems, depending on the particular needs of their work. (Ecologists are scientists who study the relationships of organisms with their living and nonliving environments.) For example, depending on the specific interests of an ecologist, an ecosystem might be defined as the shoreline vegetation around a lake, or the entire lake itself, or the lake plus all the land around it. Because all of these units consist of organisms and their environment, they can properly be considered to be ecosystems.
The raw materials of an ecosystem
All ecosystems have a few basic characteristics in common. They use energy (usually provided by sunlight) to build complex chemical compounds out of simple materials. At the...
(The entire section is 425 words.)
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