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Introduction to Ecology

Unit 1 Dynamics of Ecosystems

Picture This!

The plaintive call of the loon

can be heard over a chorus
of bullfrogs and red-wing
blackbirds. Jewel-like
dragonflies chase mosquitoes
along the waters edge. An
eagle circles. A snapping
turtle suns itself. Minnows
dart in an out of wild rice in
the shallows, while pike
search for a meal in the
deep. Two canoeists remark
it is going to be a wonderful

All the living and non-living things

described in the last scene are involved in
delicately balanced interactions with one
another. How do wild rice, snapping
turtles, mosquitoes, and the water

The branch of biology that deals with the
study of the interactions among organisms
and with their environment is known as
The word eco comes from the Greek
word oikos, which means house.
Scientists who study ecology are called
Because our planet is so diverse,
ecologists tend to study smaller areas
called ecosystems.

There are 2 types of ecosystems

Terrestrial Ecosystem

An ecosystem contained on land

Located on continents and islands, water is a limiting


Aquatic or Marine Ecosystem

An ecosystem contained in water

Freshwater i.e. lakes

Salt Water/Marine i.e. oceans, lagoons


An ecosystem consists of the physical

environment (abiotic factors), and all
the living things (biotic factors).

Abiotic Factors:
i.e. water, sunlight, oxygen, soil,
nutrients, and temperature
Biotic Factors:
i.e. plants, animals, fungi, and bacteria
that live with it.

Habitat vs. Niche

Each type of living thing in an ecosystem

has a place in which it lives. This is
known as a habitat.

The combination of the job an organism

does and the place in which it lives is
called a niche.

Examples of Jobs that Organisms Do

plants and algae trap the energy in sunlight

and produce their own food (and are hence
called producers)

animals are called consumers since they

cannot make their own food, and must obtain
the food from producers.

Bacteria and fungi are decomposers. They

eat dead plant and animal remains and convert
them into substances that can be reused.

Energy Flow

Food Chains
All living things require energy to live.
The ultimate source of that energy is
the sun. Producers such as plants and
algae capture the suns energy and
transform it into organic compounds
(compounds that contain carbon).
These compounds are used to build
plant parts such as leaves and flowers,
or store extra energy in roots and

Trophic levels how many are there?

(trophic level refers to each stp in a food chain)
Tertiary consumers


Primary Consumers


Consumers cant directly transform

sunlight into organic compounds

Primary Consumers also known as

herbivores, feed directly on plants.

i.e. moose, cattle, grasshoppers, rabbits,


Secondary Consumers feed on primary

Tertiary Consumers feed on secondary

The higher level (secondary and tertiary)

consumers are also known as carnivores.

i.e. wolves, northern pike, eagles, polar bears, and

snapping turtles (carnivores, some secondary, some

- Top Carnivore refers to the organism at

the top of the food chain or web. (no known

Scavengers are carnivores that feed on

dead animals

blowflies, turkey vultures, eagles, seagulls,


Omnivores feed on both producers and


humans, black bears, red-wing blackbirds

Each step in this series of feeding

relationships is known as a trophic
level. End of lesson #1 Please complete the
crossword puzzle in your homework booklet

Food Chains Lesson #2

A sequence of organisms through which

energy is passed

tertiary consumes secondary

secondary consumes primary
primary consumes producer
producer converts energy from the sun.
Energy is passed from sun, producer, to
primary, to secondary to tertiary!

Do not

Producers and
consumers are linked
together in food

Tertiary Consumer

wild rice

Secondary Consumer
northern pike

Primary Consumer
minnows (that look
suspiciously like
goldfish here)

Food Webs

Because animals
typically feed on more
than one type of
organism, food chains
become connected in
a complex relationship
known as a food
web. The arrows
show how the suns
energy flows through
the ecosystem from
the sun, to producers,
to consumers.

An example of how food-webs can get very

Key: 1)algae 2)
zooplankton 3) bacteria
4) water strider 5)
largemouth bass
6) mosquito larva 7)
damselfly naiad 8)
bluegill 9) tadpole 10)
diving beetle 11) giant
water bug 12) crayfish
13) caddisfly larva 14)
flea 15) cyclops 16)

What Eats What? p.10 in your text.

Create 12 pieces of paper each with the name

of one of the following organisms:

Ruffed Grouse
Bunch Berries
Common Raven
Red-Tailed Hawk

Willow Tree
Cotton Tailed Rabbit
Maple Seeds

Create four food chains, 3 links each. End of lesson 2

Do BLM 1-2, 1-4, Analyzing food chains, and Check your understanding

Ecological Pyramids p. 17 in

your textbook

Energy is lost between each link in a food

chain. Much (almost 90%) of the
potential energy at each level never
reaches the next level

Where does the energy go?

Some of the energy that enters a food

chain is used as each organism carries
out its life functions. This energy is
obtained through the 'burning' or
breaking down of food
molecules. Thermal energy (heat) is
produced as a result of the burning of
these food molecules. More than half
of the energy from each food molecule is
lost as heat. Only about 10% of energy
at each trophic level is available to pass
on to the next level.

Ecological pyramids

3 types: (we will focus on the 3rd)



of numbers (p.14 in your

Where the number of organisms are counted

(producers, primary consumers, secondary
consumers etc)
We will find the number of producers is the largest,
then primary consumers, then secondary consumers

The higher trophic levels in the food chain have less

energy available to them, therefore there are fewer of

Pyramid of energy flow (p.17 in your text)


chemical energy that flows

through an each trophic level is
Again, the higher trophic levels in the
food chain contain less energy

Pyramid of Biomass (living and recently dead

biological matter) p. 16 in your textbook

It is possible to estimate the mass of all

the organisms living in a given area or
ecosystem. This estimation is known as
the biomass.

If the mass of the

producers and each type of
consumer is recorded, a
pyramid can be constructed
showing that the biomass
of the producers is
generally far greater than
that of the consumers.

The most basic way for energy or biomass to

be passed through trophic levels of an
ecosystem is for an organism from one
trophic level to eat an organism from a
lower trophic level

Symbiotic relationships

These are special relationships in which two

organism live in close association with each
other in order to benefit at least one of them.

Symboiotic relationships do not involve one

species eating another (at least not

3 common types of Symbiotic

1. Mutualism

In this relationship both organisms benefit

from their association
Ex termites have micro-organisms living in their
digestive tracts to help them break down cellulose. In
return the termites body provides the micro-organisms
a place to live, and food.

2. Commensalism

In this relationship, one organism benefits

from the relationship, while the other is not
affected (ex. Pilot fish live within the body of
sharks. The pilot fish eat the scraps left-over
from the sharks feeding. However the sharks
are neither helped, nor hurt by the pilot fish.

3. Parasitism

In this relationship, one organism (the

parasite) benefits while the other organism
(the host) is harmed or killed (ex. Tapeworms
attach to the intestines of host organisms and
absorb the digested nutrients of the host,
causing harm to the host).

End of lesson #2

The Cycles of Life p. 46 in your textbook

Nutrients: any chemical that is essential

to living things (ex. Carbon, Oxygen,
Nitrogen, Iron, Phosphorus, and Zinc etc.)

Biogeochemical Cycles: are the

processes by which nutrients move
through organisms and the environment.
These cycles are essential to the stability
of an ecosystem because nutrients often
need to be converted into different forms
so that all of the organisms in an
ecosystem can use them.

The Carbon Cycle

(read p. 43-51 for clarifications)

The carbon cycle is the flow of carbon

through an ecosystem from the
atmosphere to organisms, and back to the

The cycle consists of two phases:

Cellular Respiration

see p. 46 in your textbook

During photosynthesis,
the energy of the Sun is
used to convert carbon
dioxide (inorganic) into
glucose (organic). Plants
then change glucose into
other types of carbon
(carbohydrates). When
animals eat plants and
algae, the carbon
compounds are
converted into glucose.
The glucose is then
converted into carbon
dioxide and energy
through cellular

Copy the diagram from page 46 into

your notebook rather than trying to
copy this one!

Photosynthesis, the 1st phase :

6H2O +


carbon dioxyde


+ energy


Photosynthesis occurs in plants!!

If carbon is taken from the atmosphere

(CO2) and inserted into the food chain,
why does the earth not run out of CO2?



Cellular respiration, the second phase





6H2O+ 6CO2 +


carbon dioxyde


+ energy

Cellular respiration occurs in the

mitochondria of animals!!

Cellular respiration and hotosynthesis

are opposite reactions!
What do organisms, like humans, use to
make energy?
Oxygen and carbohydrates.

Oxygen Cycle

The cycling of oxygen is linked to the

carbon cycle
oxygen is released during

oxygen is used during respiration

Did you know

p. 50!

Much of the carbon cycle takes place in

aquatic ecosystems. The worlds oceans
and lakes hold over 50 times as much
carbon dioxide as does the atmosphere.
See figure 2.7 on page 50 and put it into
your notes.

assignment: p. 51 #1-5
BLM 2-8 Follow that Carbon Molecule
BLM 2-p Matching Carbon Terms

Answers to BLMs

Carbon cycle disruption


If the volume of CO2 produced by cellular

respiration the CO2 absorbed by
photosynthesis, the carbon cycle will not
be in balance
We know that humans produce more CO2
than is absorbed (greenhouse gases, etc).
But where do we get all that CO2 ?

During the carboniferous period (millions

of years ago) organic materials (ex plants)
decomposed under thick layers of
This process trapped carbon in the Earth
and the carbon cycle was in balance.
Humans have tapped into this carbon
source (fossil fuels) and are releasing
more CO2 into the atmosphere than we are
able to absorb unbalanced!!

Greenhouse effect (dont write)

Between 1850 and 1990, CO2 production
from burning of fossil fuels has multiplied
by 500 times.
The excess CO2 is released into the
atmosphere and the suns radiation is

The Greenhouse Effect

What is it?

greenhouse effect is what happens when

heat reflected from the Earths surface gets
trapped by particular gases; mainly water vapor
and carbon.
It is named so because it is similar to what
happens in a greenhouse.
The trapping of heat by gases is important in
maintaining the warm temperatures of our
atmosphere; without them the Earths
temperature would be to cold to sustain life.
The problem arises when there are too many
GHGs (greenhouse gases) in the atmosphere.

Short-wave radiation
(from the sun) passes
through the atmosphere

Some of the radiation is

reflected from the Earths
surface and becomes
long-wave radiation
(basically, visible light
becomes heat)
Some of the heat
escapes the atmosphere
and GHGs, but some is

The amount trapped

depends on how many
GHGs are present in the

How does Carbon end up in the

Atmosphere? (as CO2)
- Volcanoes, Hot springs, Geysers
Technology/Human Based:
- Burning of Fossil Fuels, Industrious outputs
(smoke stacks), burning and cutting down trees
and vegetation
While CO2 does end up in the atmosphere naturally,
humans contribute 130 times more into the
atmosphere than natural processes! CO2
emissions have increased 35% since the
beginning of the Industrial Age.

The nitrogen cycle (N2)

essential elements : C, O2, H2, and N2
Nitrogen is used for the construction of
proteins, DNA and other biological
molecules in cells
Organisms can absorb/eat C, O2, H2
directly from the atmosphere.

Ex water, gases, etc

The nitrogen cycle is more

complex then the C and O2 cycles because
atmospheric N2 is usually non-reactive and
must constantly be converted

(do not write)

Do not write

The atmosphere is 80% nitrogen gas (N2),

organisms cannot directly absorb it in that

To absorb atmospheric nitrogen (N2), it

must be fixed or linked to other
elements nitrogen compounds
Ex: NH4, NO3

Plants absorb nitrogen compounds (NO3,

NH4) with their roots

Organisms (animals) eat the plants or eat

organisms that eat plants
This way organisms receive the nitrogen
necessary for their diet

Plants absorb

Rabbits eat

Tigers eat rabbits

(which now have

How is nitrogen (N2) converted to

nitrogen compounds?



done by nitrogen-fixing bacteria

that live in soil or water.

These bacteria (ex Rhizobia) take N2 from the

atmosphere and convert it into usable nitrogen


Another source of nitrogen compounds

comes from waste products or dead
organisms which are being decomposed
into ammonia (NH4) by decomposers

Plants absorb nitrogen compounds from

these 2 sources (nitrogen fixing bacteria
and decomposers)


(NH4) which comes from

the decomposition of dead organisms
can be converted back into nitrogen
compounds (NO3) by nitrifying


Bacteria complete the

cycle and convert nitrogen
compounds (NH4,NO3) back to
nitrogen gas (N2).

N2 atmosphere
Nitrogen fixation

Waste and dead

in soil or
back to N2

Ammonia NH4





Biogeochemical disturbances
These cycles (C, O2, N2) are usually
needed to maintain an ecological balance
However, human activity and natural
events can upset the balance of these
What are some natural events that would
affect these cycles?

Because Nitrogen is a limiting factor, if all of

a sudden there is an abundance in
Nitrogen, some plants are able to explode
in population very quickly.
Eutrophication is the build-up of nutrients
in an aquatic ecosystem.
How does this happen?
- run-off from nitrogen using fertilizers
- human wastes and sewage
- local lawn fertilizers

How does this affect an aquatic


Eutrophication of Nitrogen

Run-off from various sources (previous slide) gets

into an aquatic system, eg: a pond/lake
Since nitrogen is no longer a limiting factor, algae is
able to grow aggressively, and blanket the top layer
of water
Now, the plant-life below the surface cannot get any
sunlight and cannot perform photosynthesis and so
they die. This means that they also are no longer
producing oxygen
Decomposing bacteria use up even more Oxygen to
break down the dead plants, which means that there
is very little dissolved oxygen left in the water
Any other organisms that need oxygen to live; fish
etc start to die because they cannot breathe!

Algal Blooms (dont write)

These flare-ups of algae

are called algal blooms
and are a large concern
for environmental officials
This phenomenon can occur in salt or
freshwater, and is currently a problem off the
west coast of Europe

What does this mean for the fishing communities

that rely on marine biota for food and trade?

Algal blooms (do write)

A population of algae due to increased

levels of nutrients (mainly nitrogen) in an
aquatic ecosystem

Algal blooms are caused by blue-green

algae also known as Cyanobacteria

Human impact on the nitrogen cycle

Artificial fertilizers, add nitrates
Burning fossil fuels releases nitrogen in
the air

Effects on soil

Nitrogen saturation excess nitrogen washes

into streams etc
Damage tree roots, causes needles to fall,
increase in soil acidity

Effects on atmosphere

Nitrogen containing gases dissolve in

water in the air, nitric acid is formed, falls
as acid precipitation

Effects on Water Ecosystem

Excess nitrogen causes rapid growth of
algae and weeds (eutrophication).

End of lesson

Important Definitions

Biodegradable: Organic matter that can be

degraded/decomposed by its physiological
Eg: The remains of a wolfs lunch are
decomposed by different kinds of bacteria. This is
possible because the remains are organic.

Non-Biodegradable: non-biodegradable
substances will not decay/decompose by
natural processes of decay
Eg: Plastics, Styrofoam, metal, glass.
Chemicals that have a high persistence are also

More Definitions

Toxin: A Poisonous substance produced

by living cells or organisms that is
potentially deadly to other organisms.
Toxins are mainly used for either
predation or defense.
Eg: A snake uses toxins to kill
(predation), while a bee uses toxins to
protect themselves (defense).

Coral Snake: Toxin = Predation

Bee: Toxin = Defense

Def- a process whereby nonbiodegradable substances (usually toxic)
collect in the tissues of organisms.
The concentration of the toxic substance
increases as we move up the food chain.
When the concentration is high enough, it
can cause mutations, sterility or death.

Ex: Grassy Narrows, Ont- aboriginals consume

the fish from the river which contain high
concentrations of mercury

Bioaccumulation video



Do you know where the term mad hatters

comes from?

Hats used to be made with mercury. Over

time, the workers absorbed the mercury into
their bodies (bioaccumulation) and started to
exhibit crazy or dillusional behaviors

Giving them the name the

Mad hatters


As toxins are stored and passed up the

food chain the amount of toxin present in
organisms increases as the trophic level

Example of Biomagnification (do not write)

DDT is introduced into an environment
through spraying for mosquitoes
The plants (producers) are able to get
the DDT out of their bodies fairly
quickly, so the toxin does not build-up
very much
When a fish comes along and eats the
plant, it consumes whatever DDT is in
the plant; however, it cannot get rid of
the toxin faster than it is consuming it,
which means that it starts to build-up.
This build-up continues to get worse as
you move up the food chain

End of lesson

Carrying capacity
Can populations grow forever in an
What would limit this growth?

Carrying capacity is the largest

population of a species that an
environment can support.

Dynamic equilibrium of an ecosystem


# of surviving organisms



A-B : At the beginning, the population

increases quickly.
C : The carrying capacity is at its max.
The # of living organisms varies but
generally stays pretty stable. The
population is able to handle small
variations in the environment. Net growth
D-E : The population decreases. This
happens when an ecosystem is affected by
some sort of ecological disaster

Ex forest fire, oil spill

Limiting factors*these influence population dynamics*

Some factors are dependant on the density

of the population.
Competition : higher the population,
the more organisms will have to compete
for food, shelter, space and reproductive
partners. Competition happens between
Different species or b/w same species.

-- Predation : higher the population

the more predators will be drawn
to that area

Crowding : overpopulation causes stress.

Stress causes animals to become
more aggressive, females may lose or
abandon their offspring.
Mortality rate
, birth rate


-- Diseases and parasites :

overpopulation facilitates the spread

Some factors are independant on the density

of the population.
Temperature extremes : temperatures
that are too hot or too cold can alter the
amount of available food or cause death

-- Drought : reduction of available food

and water

-- Fires and floods : can

kill a large portion
of the population




What is it? The variation of

organisms/species within a given
ecosystem, biome, or entire earth
The health of an ecosystem is
often determined by the level of
biodiversity present
This means that an ecosystem
with 1000 different species would be
considered healthier than one of the
same size that contained only 100

Means variety of species (fauna and flora)
within an ecosystem.
Biodiversity is reduced in extreme

The arctic, the desert, etc (there a re fewer

species able to live in those conditions)
**The more biodiverse a region is, the less
susceptible it will be to changes in the
environment, therefore is more sustainable.

Extinct has more than one definition

When we think of the term extinct we
usually connect it with an organism that
has completely been eradicated from the
Earth. However, the term has come to
mean several different things
Thus we end up with different levels of

Quagga A subspecies of Zebra

The classic dodo bird

Extinct: This term is used when every

individual of a particular species has died
everywhere on Earth
Ex: Dodo bird, mega fauna from the ice ages,
dinosaurs, Red Colubus Monkey, passenger

Species, historically, have become extinct

for a variety of reasons; natural disasters,
or being out-competed by more capable
organisms. The reason extinction has
become such an important topic is
because humans have increased the
extinction rate drastically, thereby
lowering the biodiversity of the whole

Extirpated: this occurs when a species

become extinct in a local area, but still
exists elsewhere in the world
Ex: The Beluga Sturgeon is extirpated in the
Adriatic Sea, but populations still exist in the
Caspian, and Black Seas, greater prairie chicken,
grizzly bears
The Philippine Monkey-Eating
Eagle that once lived in
several dense, mountainous
island forests in the
Philippines has now been
extirpated from several of
those islands, and it is
estimated that fewer than 200

Endangered: a population of species that is

at risk of becoming extinct/extirpated
Species that are endangered usually become
so due to habitat encroachment, slow
breeding rates, and specialized niches.
For example; a Raccoon will most likely never become
an endangered species because it is able to live in
many different habitats (urban, rural), and it is highly
adaptable. However, polar bears are endangered
because they rely on a specific environment and food.
It is likely that polar bears will become extinct in the
near future
Endangered: whooping crane, burrowing owl, Panda
(both red and giant).

Introduction and extinction

of a species
Introduced in Australia
for hunting purposes

since the rabbit
had no natural

Ate many types of

plants, which
destroyed other
animal populations
which fed on the
same plants


Caused big
problems for

Chemical and
biological methods
were set in place to
decrease the
population size.

The ability to meet the needs of the
present generation without compromising
the ability of future generations to meet
their needs.
Ecosystems are sustainable (one
generation does not affect the ability of
the next generation to survive)
Indefinite growth of a population is not
possible because resources are limited

An ecosystem with a high level of
biodiversity is very resistant to disturbances
in the environment.
However, if the survival of a key species is
jeopardized, the survival of the whole
community is also in jeopardy.

Whales, penguins and sea lions in the Antarctic

depend on the survival of krill (their main food

our impact=

sustainability of the future

Humans and sustainability

Humans activities are not sustainable.

We use non-renewable natural resources (less

available to future generations)
We produce harmful polluting wastes which
enter nutrient cycles and damage productivity
of ecosystems