Energy pyramid example . To summarize: In the flow of energy and inorganic nutrients through the ecosystem, a few generalizations can be made: 1. The ultimate source of energy (for most ecosystems) is the sun 2. The ultimate fate of energy in ecosystems is for it to be lost as heat. 3. Energy and nutrients are passed from organism to organism through the food chain as one organism eats another. 4. Decomposers remove the last energy from the remains of organisms. 5. Inorganic nutrients are cycled, energy is not. The diagram above shows how both energy and inorganic nutrients flow through the ecosystem. We need to define some terminology first. Energy "flows" through the ecosystem in the form of carbon-carbon bonds. When respiration occurs, the carbon-carbon bonds are broken and the carbon is combined with oxygen to form carbon dioxide. This process releases the energy, which is either used by the organism (to move its muscles, digest food, excrete wastes, think, etc.) or the energy may be lost as heat. The dark arrows represent the movement of this energy. Note that all energy comes from the sun, and that the ultimate fate of all energy in ecosystems is to be lost as heat. Energy does not recycle!! The other component shown in the diagram are the inorganic nutrients. They are inorganic because they do not contain carbon-carbon bonds. These inorganic nutrients include the phosphorous in your teeth, bones, and cellular membranes; the nitrogen in your amino acids (the building blocks of protein); and the iron in your blood (to name just a few of the inorganic nutrients). The movement of the inorganic nutrients is represented by the open arrows. Note that the autotrophs obtain these inorganic nutrients from the inorganic nutrient pool, which is usually the soil or water surrounding the plants or algae. These inorganic nutrients are passed from organism to organism as one organism is consumed by another. Ultimately, all organisms die and become detritus, food for the decomposers. At this stage, the last of the energy is extracted (and lost as heat) and the inorganic nutrients are returned to the soil or water to be taken up again. The inorganic nutrients are recycled, the energy is not. Many of us, when we hear the word "nutrient" immediately think of calories and the carbon-carbon bonds that hold the caloric energy. IT IS VERY IMPORTANT that you be careful in your use of the word nutrient in this sense. When writing about energy flow and inorganic nutrient flow in an ecosystem, you must be clear as to what you are referring. Unmodified by "inorganic" or "organic", the word "nutrient" can leave your reader unsure of what you mean. This is one case in which the scientific meaning of a word is very dependent on its context. Another example would be the word "respiration", which to the layperson usually refers to "breathing", but which means "the extraction of energy from carbon-carbon bonds at the cellular level" to most scientists (except those scientists studying breathing, who use respiration in the lay sense). 1. A community is an association of interacting populations of different species living in a particular habitat. 2. Five factors shape the structure of the community: a. Interactions between climate and topography dictate rainfall, temperature, soil composition, and so on. b. Availability of food and resources affects inhabitants. c. Adaptive traits enable individuals to exploit specific resources. d. Interactions of various kinds occur among the inhabitants; these include competition, predation, and mutualism. e. Physical disturbances, immigration, and episodes of extinction affect the habitat. 3. Interactions can occur between any two species in a community and between entire communities. 4. There are several types of species interactions: a. Neutral relationship: neither species directly affects the other (example: eagles and grass). b. Commensalism: one species benefits and the other is not affected (example: bird’s nest in tree). c. Mutualism: there is a symbiotic relationship where both species benefit. d. Interspecific competition: both species are harmed by the interaction. Predation and parasitism: one species (predator or parasite) benefits COMMUNITIES II. Factors That Shape Community Structure A. A habitat is a place where an organism lives; it is characterized by distinctive physical features, vegetation, and the array of species living in it. 1. A community is an association of interacting populations of different species living in a particular habitat. 2. Five factors shape the structure of the community: a. Interactions between climate and topography dictate rainfall, temperature, soil composition, and so on. b. Availability of food and resources affects inhabitants. c. Adaptive traits enable individuals to exploit specific resources. d. Interactions of various kinds occur among the inhabitants; these include competition, predation, and mutualism. e. Physical disturbances, immigration, and episodes of extinction affect the habitat. 3. Several community properties are the result of the factors above. a. Varying numbers of species are found in feeding levels from producers to consumers. b. Diversity tends to increase in tropical climates, creating species richness. c. Relative abundance refers to the number of individuals of each species; dispersion describes how the individuals are dispersed through the habitat. B. The Niche Concept 1. The niche of each species is defined by the sum of activities and relationships in which it engages to secure and use the resources necessary for its survival and reproduction. 2. The potential niche is the one that could prevail in the absence of competition; the realized niche results from shifts in large and small ways over time as individuals of the species respond to a mosaic of changes. C. Species Interactions 1. Interactions can occur between any two species in a community and between entire communities. 2. There are several types of species interactions: a. Neutral relationship: neither species directly affects the other (example: eagles and grass). b. Commensalism: one species benefits and the other is not affected (example: bird’s nest in tree). c. Mutualism: there is a symbiotic relationship where both species benefit. d. Interspecific competition: both species are harmed by the interaction. e. Predation and parasitism: one species (predator or parasite) benefits while the other (prey or host) is harmed. III. Mutualis m A. The yucca moth feeds only on the yucca plant, which is completely dependent on the moth for pollination–classic example of mutualism. B. This example is a form of symbiosis which implies an intimate and rather permanent interdependence of the two species on one another for survival and reproduction. IV. Competitive Interactions A. Categories of Competition 1. Competition within a population of the same species (intraspecific) is usually fierce and may result in depletion of a resource. 2. Interspecific competition is less intense because requirements are less similar between the competitors. 3. There are two types of competitive interactions regardless of whether they are inter- or intraspecific: a. In exploitation competition, all individuals have equal access to a resource but differ in their ability (speed or efficiency) to exploit that resource. b. In interference competition, some individuals limit others’ access to the resource. B. Competitive Exclusion 1. Competitive exclusion suggests that complete competitors cannot coexist indefinitely. 2. When competitors’ niches do not overlap as much, the coexistence is more probable. 3. Differences in adaptive traits will give certain species the competitive edge. C. Resource Partitioning 1. Similar species share the same resource in different ways. 2. Resource partitioning arises in two ways: a. Ecological differences between established and competing populations may increase through natural selection. b. Only species that are dissimilar from established ones can succeed in joining an existing community. V. Predation A. Predation Versus Parasitism 1. Predators get their food from prey, but they do not take up residence on or in the prey. 2. Parasites get their food from hosts, and they live on or in the host for a good part of their life cycle; they may or may not kill the host. B. Dynamics of Predator-Prey Interactions 1. Many of the adaptations of predators and their victims arose through coevolution. 2. The dynamics, ranging from stable coexistence to recurring cycles, depend on: a. the carrying capacity of prey population in the absence of predation, b. the reproductive rates of the prey and predator, c. the behavioral capacity of the individual predators to respond to prey density. 3. Stable coexistence results when predators prevent prey from overshooting the carrying capacity. 4. Fluctuations in population density tend to occur when predators do not reproduce as fast as their prey, when they can eat only so many prey, and when carrying capacity for prey is high. VI. Predator/Prey Interactions - Evolutionary Results A. Camouflage is any adaptation in form, color, patterning, or behavior that allows a prey or predator to blend with its surroundings. B. Warning coloration in toxic prey offer bright colors or bold patterns that serve as a warning to predators. C. In mimicry, prey not equipped with defenses may escape predators by resembling toxic prey. D. Moment-of-truth defenses allow prey animals defend themselves by startling or intimidating the predator with display behavior. E. Adaptive responses to prey are adaptations used by predators to counter prey defenses. VII. Parasitic Interactions A. Kinds of Parasites 1. Parasites may live on the surface of the host (ectoparasites) or within the host’s body (endoparasites). 2. Microparasites include bacteria, viruses, and protistans; macroparasites include flatworms, nematodes, and small arthropods. 3. Social parasites depend on the social behavior of another to complete the life cycle; for example, cowbirds lay their eggs in the nest of other birds, which unknowingly incubate and hatch the cowbirds’ eggs B. Evolution of Parasitism 1. Natural selection tends to favor parasite and host adaptations that promote some level of mutual tolerance and less-than- lethal effects. 2. Usually death results only when a parasite attacks a novel host or when the number of parasites overwhelm the host’s defenses. C. Parasitoids 1. Parasitoids are a type of insect larvae that kill other insect larvae by feeding on their tissues. 2. This provides natural control of insect populations. VIII. Community Stability and Change A. Succession 1. Ecological succession is the predictable developmental sequence of species in a community. a. Pioneer species are the first to colonize an area, followed by more competitive species. b. A climax community is the most persistent array of species that results after some lapse of time. 2. Primary succession happens in an area that was devoid of life. a. Pioneer species help to improve soil fertility; they are usually small, low-growing plants with a short life cycle and an abundance of seeds. b. Gradually other, usually larger, species join or replace the pioneer species. 3. In secondary succession, a community reestablishes itself to a climax state after a disturbance that allows sunlight to penetrate. B. The Climax-Pattern Model 1. It was once thought that the same general type of community would always develop in a given region because of constraints imposed by climate. 2. According to the climax-pattern model, a community is adapted to a total pattern of environmental factors–climate, soil, topography, wind, fires, etc.–to create a continuum of climax stages of succession. C. Cyclic, Nondirectional Changes 1. Community stability may require episodes of instability that permit cyclic replacement of equilibrium species, thus maintaining the climax community. 2. A good example are the necessary fires in the forests of California that rid the areas of underbrush. D. Restoration Ecology 1. Natural restoration of the climax community takes a long time. 2. Active restoration involves human intervention to speed the re- establishment of a damaged ecosystem. IX. Community Instability A. How Keystone Species Tip the Balance 1. A keystone species is a dominant species that can dictate community structure. 2. For example, when sea stars (keystone predator on mussels) were removed from a habitat, mussels increased in number and in turn preyed on enough other species to reduce the community from 15 to 8. B. How Species Introductions Tip the Balance 1. Geographic dispersal of species can occur in three ways: a. A population might expand its home range by slowly moving into outlying regions that prove hospitable. b. During the course of a lifetime, individuals may be rapidly transported across great distances (jump dispersal), as in bilge water of large ships. c. A population may move out from its home range over geologic time, as by continental drift. 2. Some introduced species have proved beneficial: soybeans, rice, wheat, corn and potatoes; others are notoriously bad: water hyacinth, kudzu, rabbits in Australia, gypsy moths, zebra mussels, and Africanized bees. X. Patte rns of Biodiversity A. Mainland and Marine Patterns 1. The number of species increases from the Arctic regions to the temperate zone to the tropics. 2. Diversity is favored in the tropics for three reasons: a. More rainfall and sunlight provides more food reserves. b. Species diversity is self-reinforcing from herbivores to predators and parasites. c. Traditionally, the rate of speciation has exceeded the rate of extinction. B. Island Patterns 1. Islands distant from source areas receive fewer colonizing species (distance effect). 2. Larger islands tend to support more species (area effect). 3. Species numbers increase on new islands and reach a stable number that is a balance between immigration rate for species new to the island and the extinction rate for established species.