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Chapter 4:

Energy and matter in ecosystems

Energy sources for life

The Sun provides energy as radiant energy, visible

light, non-visible radiation and heat.
Energy sources for life

Heat from Earths core supplies thermal energy to

support organisms in regions where conditions are
How do living organisms use energy?

Autotrophs (producers) transform the Suns energy

into high energy chemical bonds during the synthesis
of organic materials. Autotrophs produce all of the
organic matter, or food, for all other organisms in an
ecosystem rely on for nourishment.
How do living organisms use energy?
How do producers transform the Suns
Producers transform sunlight into chemical energy
in a biochemical process called photosynthesis.
Figure 4.4
Photosynthetic autotrophs including (a)
algae, (b) plants and (c) cyanobacteria
transform energy from sunlight and
store it as chemical energy in the
bonds of glucose.
How do living organisms use energy?

Heterotrophs (consumers) depend on autotrophs

directly or indirectly for their energy needs and their
supply of matter. Heterotrophs consume other
How do living organisms use energy?

Photosynthesis, producers and

Photosynthetic efficiency
How well a producer converts light energy into
carbohydrates during photosynthesis.

This depends on the:

amount of light
availability of raw materials.
Gross primary productivity (GPP)
The amount of plant mass produced by
autotrophs varies depending on the availability of
raw materials and sunlight, as well as with
environmental temperatures. Photosynthetic
efficiency fluctuates with the seasons, with
latitude and with altitude

Gross primary productivity (GPP) refers to the

total amount of plant mass produced by the
autotrophs in an ecosystem
Net Primary Productivity (NPP)
Not all of the GPP of an ecosystem is available to
consumers for food, since some of it is used by the
producers themselves
The amount of energy available to other organisms to
consume is call the net primary productivity. The NPP of
an ecosystem is calculated by taking the GPP and
subtracting the amount of energy required for cellular
respiration by the producers
This remaining energy is in the form of biomass dry
weight of organic matter
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NPP is expressed as a rate of change of biomass over
one year
How do living organisms use energy?

Consumers obtain matter and energy from

Consumers cannot carry out photosynthesis and
therefore cannot derive their energy directly from
the Sun. Animals of all sizes from insects to
elephants must obtain their energy from the food
they eat.
How do living organisms use energy?

Why is energy so
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Modelling the ecosystem: transfer of energy and matter

Food chains
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Figure 4.8 a) A generalised food chain; b) A food chain in the ocean

Modelling the ecosystem: transfer of energy and matter

Energy loss in food chains

The 10% rule in ecology states that only about
10% of the energy at one trophic level is passed
on to the next level.
The remaining 90% is lost to the surroundings
as heat energy and chemical energy in wastes.
Modelling the ecosystem: transfer of energy and matter

Food chain modelling to measure trophic efficiency

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Modelling the ecosystem: transfer of energy and matter

Eat or be eaten: food webs are integrated food chains

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Quantitative modelling to predict change

Pyramid of numbers
Food webs give qualitative information about
ecological relationships and energy pathways, but
they dont provide numerical data

Ecological pyramids can provide quantitative

relationships between trophic levels of a community
in terms of:
numbers of organisms involved
the biomass (the amount of organic matter)
the amount of energy transferred from one trophic
level to the next.
Quantitative modelling to predict change

Pyramid of numbers
Quantitative modelling to predict change

Pyramid of biomass
Quantitative modelling to predict change

Pyramid of energy
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Full circle: How does matter get recycled?

A matter of recycling
Full circle: How does matter get recycled?

Material cycling models

The way in which matter is cycled has a large effect on the availability of nutrients.
Nutrient cycles feature the following two main components:
1. A biological component that follows how the element cycles through organisms
2. A geochemical component showing how the element cycles through soils and
rocks, water and the atmosphere.
Given the interdependent manner in which these components are related,
nutrient cycles are also called
biogeochemical cycles
Carbon Cycle
The carbon cycle maps out the pathway of carbon
through the earths spheres. Carbon is one of the
most important elements in the world and can be
found in anything from coal, methane gas, within
living organisms in proteins, carbohydrates, or
Carbon Cycle
Carbon is removed and returned to the atmosphere by the
carbon cycle which can be broken down into the processes
of transpiration, photosynthesis and combustion
Photosynthesis removed carbon from the atmosphere to
make sugars
All living things respire releasing carbon dioxide to the

When we burn fuels

we also release carbon
into the atmosphere
Full circle: How does matter get recycled?

Carbon cycle
Nitrogen Cycle
The nitrogen cycle models how nitrogen moves
throughout the worlds biosphere. Like the carbon
cycle, it involves the interaction between plants,
bacteria, animals and the atmosphere
Nitrogen Cycle
All organisms use nitrogen to build proteins, RNA
and DNA, but most of it os locked as atmospheric
nitrogen (N2)
Nitrogen can be fixed into useable nitrogen
(ammonium or nitrate) via three different ways
1. Lightning
2. Microbes or nitrifying bacteria e.g. Rhizobia
bacteria on legumes
3. Human activity including synthetic fertilisers
Nitrogen Cycle
Atmospheric nitrogen is removed primarily
through the action of microbes and bacteria. They
live in the soil, often as part of a relationship with
specific plants called legumes. These bacteria
may also be free-living.
Both lightning and volcanic eruptions also lead to
nitrogen fixation
Nitrogen Cycle
Nitrogen is added back to the atmosphere by
denitrifying bacteria and through air pollution
Most of the atmosphere (78% of air) is nitrogen
gas. This is the pure form of nitrogen
In animals, plants and soil. Nitrogen is in the form
of ammonia and nitrogen compounds known as
Full circle: How does matter get recycled?

Nitrogen cycle and fixation

Full circle: How does matter get recycled?

Nitrifiers and denitrifiers

Nitrifiers convert decaying material into nitrites
Nitrifying bacteria convert the ammonia released in urine and decaying
faeces, dead plants and animals to nitrite ions (NO2). Other bacteria convert
the nitrites to nitrates that, only then, can be absorbed by plants.
Denitrifiers convert nitrites into atmospheric nitrogen
Plants growing in waterlogged soils have a shortage of oxygen. Denitrifying
bacteria convert nitrates in the soil to nitrites. This releases oxygen required
for their metabolic processes.
How does nitrogen reach the ocean?
In the oceans, some of the available nitrogen (such as nitrate and ammonium
compounds) is brought in by rain and the activities of nitrogen-fixing