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Ecology Study Guide 4: Ecosystems - Introduction by Hank Green

1. Define ecosystem using an example.

2. The main ideas that you will focus on this chapter are:




How the abiotic and biotic components of an ecosystem interact as a whole, which
boils down to two things:
a) How energy flows through an ecosystem
b) How matter (chemicals) cycles in an ecosystem
These are governed by the laws of physics.
Energy is required to produce organic matter (biomass) from inorganic (abiotic)
matter. This is called primary production. Hence the primary production of any
ecosystem depends on and is limited by the energy it receives and the nutrients
(inorganic/abiotic matter) it has.
As energy flows through the different trophic levels, only about 10% of the energy is
transferred from the trophic level below it. Since energy is used to make organic
matter, the dry mass of the trophic level is used to indirectly measure the available
energy in that trophic level.
The biogeochemical cycles of water, carbon, nitrogen and phosphorus.

Concept 55.1 The Flow of Energy and Cycling of Matter in Ecosystems are Governed
by the Laws of Physics
3. Study Fig 55.4. Trace the flow of energy through the ecosystem.

Where does energy enter most ecosystems? How is it converted to chemical energy
and then passed through the ecosystem? How is it lost?
4. (6 min) (3 min) Watch these videos
and answer the same questions as in # 3.
5. The laws of thermodynamics make it possible for energy to flow from one trophic level to
another. State the first and second law of thermodynamics.
6. - The 10% Rule
Why is energy lost as heat during energy transfer from one trophic level to the next in an
ecosystem? (You need some knowledge of the second law of thermodynamics and the concept
of entropy to answer is question.)
7. State the Law of Conservation of mass and relate it to the cycling of matter in an

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8. What are detritivores or decomposers and what role do they play in nature? Give
examples of these organisms.

Concept 55.2: Primary Production and how it is Limited

9. Define primary production. Why is this amount important for the ecosystem?

10.In most ecosystems on Earth, sunlight is the ultimate source of energy. It has also been
calculated that only 1% of the visible light that strikes the earth is used in photosynthesis.
11. Here is a Ted video on the difference between gross pp
and net pp, and how to calculate them in an aquatic ecosystem. See if you get the correct
a) Distinguish between gross primary production and net primary production
b) Summarize how the gross primary production of an aquatic ecosystem was determined.

12.What is meant by limiting factor? What factors may limit the primary productivity in
aquatic ecosystems?

13.Study Table 55.1. Determine the limiting nutrient for the Sargasso Sea samples from the
data provided. Justify your reasoning.
14.If experimenters wanted to determine if nitrogen or phosphorus were limiting factors in
aquatic samples, how might the data table change if phosphorus was found to be the
limiting nutrient? (Modify the data table 55.1 as required)
15.During certain seasons in ponds and lakes, and in certain places in the ocean there are
upwellings. Find out more at (This is a good but incomplete video from No need to subscribe.
You will get the idea.) Then watch
a) What are upwellings and why are they important?
b) Why do upwellings occur in closed bodies (like lakes) of water seasonally?
16.Usually freshwater lakes have nutrient limitations. But sometimes sewage and fertilizers
can increase these nutrient levels triggering the growth of massive amounts of algae
(called algal blooms). This process is called eutrophication, and although it increases the
primary productivity of the lake in the short term, the long term effects of this could be

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deadly. Many species of fish and other heterotrophs at all trophic levels die. Propose a
possible explanation for this observation.

17. List at least four factors that limit primary productivity in terrestrial ecosystems. Explain
how each of these abiotic factors limit primary production on land.
18.Venus fly trap is a plant (yes, it photosynthesizes) that eats insects. Why is this ability
considered to be an adaptation for these plants? (NOTE: An adaptation is any trait that
increases the survival and reproductive ability of a species.)
19.Discuss the pros and cons of adding fertilizers to soil to increase productivity.

Concept 55.3 Secondary Production and Inefficiency of Energy Transfer

20.What is net secondary production? Why is it significantly lower than the net primary
production in an ecosystem?

21.What does assimilation of primary production mean? How is it used to calculate

production efficiency of consumers?
22.If an insect that eats plant seeds containing 200J of energy uses 60J of that energy for
respiration, excretes 100J in its feces, what is its net secondary production? What is its
production efficiency?
23.Explain why there are only a limited number of trophic levels in an ecosystem.
24.Explain why the pyramid of numbers as well as the pyramid of biomass (in most
ecosystems) tapers as we move up the trophic levels.
25. Notice that most biomass pyramids have greatest biomass on the bottom of the
pyramid. Label the trophic levels on the figure. Explain why the second pyramid of
biomass is inverted.

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26. Why do people who have limited diets in overpopulated (and usually poor) parts of the
world eat low on the food chain?

Concept 55.4 Biological and geochemical processes cycle nutrients between

organic and inorganic parts of an ecosystem

Hank Green explains water and carbon cycle.

Nitrogen and phosphorus cycle

Pay particular attention to the nutrient cycles in Figure 55.14. Note the key processes in each cycle.
27. Use the figure below to describe the water cycle. Specify the roles of evaporation, transpiration, and

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28. Use the figure below to describe the carbon cycle. In doing so, explain how carbon enters the living system
and how it leaves, indicate the role of microorganisms in the cycle, and identify the reservoir for carbon.

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29. Use the diagram below to describe the nitrogen cycle. In doing so, indicate the role of microorganisms in
nitrogen fixation, nitrification, and denitrification.

30.Of the four matter cycles, which one tends to be more localized in ecosystems? Why?
31.What is the relationship between temperature and rate of decomposition in an ecosystem?
Propose an explanation for this observation.
32.Why is decomposition in hot deserts so slow?
Test your understanding:
Level 1: 1. _____



Level 2: 4. ______




Level 3: Do # 9, 11

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