Producers, Consumers, and Decomposers - Energy Flow in Ecosystems

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What is the role of detritivores in an ecosystem?

Eat waste organic matter

Why is the number of steps in a food chain limited?

Energy is lost as heat along the way

What best describes a food web?

A complex of interconnected food chains

Which statement accurately describes ecological pyramids?

Ecological pyramids represent the relative energy values of each trophic level

What is the main function of decomposers in an ecosystem?

Break down waste organic matter

Why does energy dissipate into the environment as it moves through trophic levels?

Energy is lost as heat during metabolic processes

What is the main function of an ecological niche?

To describe the place and function of an organism within the ecosystem

How does resource partitioning help reduce competition among species?

By dividing resources such as food, nest sites, and feeding locations

Which type of interaction involves a relationship between members of two or more species?


What is a key way in which humans accelerate the loss of phosphorus from the land?

By altering natural processes such as mining and deforestation

Which best describes the concept of habitat within an organism's niche?

The place where the organism lives

What type of symbiosis is exemplified by a relationship where one organism benefits but the other is neither harmed nor helped?


How does resource partitioning contribute to reducing niche overlap among species?

By allowing different species to feed in distinct areas of the ecosystem

Which interaction occurs when organisms compete for the same resources in an ecosystem?


What is the main cause of the increasing atmospheric CO2, a major contributor to climate change?

Increased burning of forests

Which term describes an ecosystem member that has a significant influence on the entire ecosystem despite not being the most abundant species?

Keystone species

In a predator-prey relationship, what does the predator consume?


What is the term for a coevolutionary 'arms race' where predators evolve to catch prey better and prey evolve to escape predators efficiently?


Study Notes

Producers, Consumers, and Decomposers

  • Decomposers: bacteria and fungi that break down dead organisms
  • Detritivores: consumers that eat waste organic matter, important for ecosystem health
  • Decomposers and detritivores work together to recycle nutrients

Energy Flow in Ecosystems

  • Energy flow: the passage of energy in a one-way direction through an ecosystem
  • Energy is lost as heat along the way, limiting the number of steps in a food chain
  • Food chains: a series of organisms that eat other organisms, with each level being a trophic level
  • Food webs: a complex of interconnected food chains in an ecosystem

Ecological Pyramids

  • Ecological pyramids: graphical representations of the relative energy values of each trophic level
  • Pyramids of numbers: show the number of organisms at each trophic level
  • Pyramids of energy: illustrate how energy dissipates into the environment as it moves


  • Three main types of symbiosis:
    • Mutualism: both organisms benefit
    • Commensalism: one benefits, the other is unaffected
    • Parasitism: one benefits at the expense of the other


  • Predation: the consumption of one species (prey) by another species (predator)
  • Coevolutionary "arms race" between predators and prey
  • Examples: cheetahs sprinting to catch prey, prey evolving to better escape predators


  • Competition: the interaction among organisms that vie for the same resources in an ecosystem
  • Can be complex and involve multiple species
  • Examples: competition for food, living space, and other resources

Keystone Species

  • Keystone species: crucial to the maintenance and function of an ecosystem
  • Not necessarily the most abundant species, but have a significant influence on the ecosystem
  • Examples: top predators, species that have a disproportionate impact on their ecosystem

Case Study: Global Climate Change and the Carbon Cycle

  • Increasing atmospheric CO2: the biggest culprit in climate change
  • Generated by burning fossil fuels, clearing and burning forests
  • Has increased 20% in the last 50 years

The Phosphorus Cycle

  • No atmospheric component: phosphorus cycles between land and organisms
  • Phosphorus in soil is absorbed by plant roots
  • Humans accelerate loss of phosphorus from the land

Ecological Niches

  • Ecological niche: the totality of an organism's adaptations, use of resources, and lifestyle
  • Describes the place and function of an organism within the ecosystem
  • Takes into account all aspects of an organism's existence

Resource Partitioning

  • One way species avoid or reduce niche overlap
  • Serves to reduce competition for resources
  • Examples: timing of feeding, nest sites, and location of feeding
  • Example: resource partitioning of five warbler species, each feeding in different areas of the tree

Test your knowledge on producers, consumers, decomposers, and the path of energy flow in ecosystems. Learn about trophic levels, food chains, and the importance of detritivores and decomposers for ecosystem health.

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