This is a system of interdependencies among various living beings and non-living things in a given habitat.
Components of Ecosystem:
An ecosystem has two types of components, viz. biotic component and abiotic component.
All the non-living things make the abiotic component of an ecosystem. Air, water and soil are the abiotic components. Air provides oxygen (for respiration), carbon dioxide (for photosynthesis) and other gases for various needs of the living beings. Water is essential for all living beings because all the metabolic activities happen in the presence of water. Soil is the reservoir of various nutrients which are utilised by plants. Through plants, these nutrients reach other living beings.
All living beings make the biotic component of an ecosystem. Green plants play the role of producers; because they prepare the food by photosynthesis. Animals and other living beings play the role of consumers; because they take food (directly or indirectly) from plants. Bacteria and fungi play the role of decomposers; as they decompose dead remains of plants and animals so that raw materials of organisms can be channelized back to the environment.
A food chain is a simple representation of transfer of energy from the sun to different biotic components of an ecosystem. Sun is the ultimate source of energy. Green plants convert solar energy into chemical energy during photosynthesis. When an animal takes food, this energy is supplied to the animal and the process goes on. A simple food chain can be shown as follows:
Producer → Primary Consumer → Secondary Consumer
Grass → Deer → Lion
Real life cannot be as simple as a food chain shown above. In any ecosystem, there can be many food chains which are interlinked at various levels. Thus, many food chains form a network which is called food web.
Transfer of Energy through a food chain: Different levels in the food chain are called trophic level. Out of the energy consumed by an organism at a particular trophic level, 90% is utilised for its own need and rest 10% is left for the organism of the next trophic level. So, very little energy is left for the organism which is at the tertiary level. Let us assume that a green plant makes 100% energy in the form of chemical energy. 90% of this energy would be utilised for its own purpose. This would leave just 10% energy for the primary consumer. Now, primary consumer shall also utilize 90% of energy which was consumed by it. This would leave just 1% energy for (10% of 10 = 1) for the secondary consumer. By this logic, the tertiary consumer would get just 0.1% of energy which was originally made by the green plant. This is the reason, there can be just one or two organisms at the top of the food pyramid.
This explains why the population of producers is always the largest in an ecosystem; followed by the population of herbivores and then that of carnivores. Moreover, an herbivore needs to eat many plants in its lifetime to fulfill its energy need. Similarly, a carnivore needs to eat many herbivores in its lifetime.
Balance in the Ecosystem:
There is a delicate balance in an ecosystem; as far as number of organisms at a particular trophic level is concerned. An increase or decrease in population of any organism can disturb this balance. Let us take a hypothetical example to understand this. If all the deer are killed in a jungle, the lions would be left with no food. This would endanger the existence of lions. Once the lions and deer would be finished, it would result in population explosion of green plants. If all the lions die in a jungle, it would create another problem. Since no lion would be left to kill the deer, the population of deer would increase substantially. This will finish off all the green plants and finally even the deer would be left with no food for them.
Substances which can be decomposed by microorganisms are called biodegradable substances. All the organic substances are biodegradable.
Substances which cannot be decomposed by microorganisms are non-biodegradable. All inorganic substances are non-biodegradable. Many synthetic substances are also non-biodegradable.
Ozone Layer Depletion:
Ozone layer is also known as stratosphere. When ultraviolet radiations act on oxygen, the oxygen gets converted into ozone.
Ozone layer works like a protective shield for living beings. The ozone layers wards off harmful ultraviolet radiations from the sun.
Use of CFCs (Chlorofluorocarbon) has damaged the ozone layer. As a result, the ozone layer has become thinner at certain parts. In 1987, the UNEP (United Nations Environment Programme) succeeded in forging an agreement among different nations to freeze the CFC production at 1986 level. Later, an agreement was signed among different nations to phase out CFCs. It is important to note that CFC is used in refrigerators and aerosol spray. India is also a signatory of that agreement and thanks to the efforts by the United Nations and different environmentalists, the CFC emission has been put under some control.
Problems of Waste Disposal: During our day to day activities, we produce lot of waste. While some of the waste is biodegradable, a large chunk is composed of non-biodegradable substances. Plastic waste is a serious concern because plastic is non-biodegradable. We need to respect our environment and find out ways to reduce the burden on our environment.