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Preliminary Biology: Topic Summary

The Local Ecosystem

Matt Elrick

1. The distribution, diversity and numbers of plants and animals found in ecosystems are

determined by biotic and Abiotic factors.

1.1 Compare the Abiotic characteristics of aquatic and terrestrial environments.
Viscosity (how hard it is to move through a





Animals and plants experience an upward

force because water is dense.

Animals and plants do not experience

much buoyancy from air. They need to be
able to support themselves.
Surface temperatures on land vary far
more than in water. Daily and seasonal
variations may be very great. The ability
to avoid or tolerate heat gain and loss is
important in land organisms.
Atmospheric pressure decreases with
height. It may affect the breathing of
organisms and flight.
Gases are freely available in air and
diffusion is rapid.

gas or a liquid)

Buoyancy (amount of support experienced

by an object immersed in a liquid or gas)

Temperature Variation

Water heats up more slowly than air. The

temperature in a particular region varies
only a little from year to year.

Pressure Variation

Pressure in water increases rapidly with

depth. Very few organisms live at great
Gas availability in water is low and depends
on temperature. Diffusion is slower. More
gases can be dissolved at lower
temperatures. Oxygen concentration also
decreases with depth.
Water availability is rarely a problem in
aquatic environments.

Availability of Gases
Oxygen (O2) and carbon dioxide (CO2) are
important gases for living organisms.

Availability of Water
Water (H2O) is vital for the survival of all

Light Penetration

Availability of Shelter

Availability of Space

Light falling on water may be reflected,

scattered or absorbed. Light penetration in
water decreases rapidly with depth.
Not all aquatic organisms require shelter.
The substrate, rocks, vegetation and coral
reefs may provide for those that do require
May be a limiting factor in some aquatic
environments, especially for animals
requiring territory.

Water availability varies.

Light can pass freely through air. Plenty
of light is available to land organisms.
Most animals require shelter. Some
plants will only grow in sheltered
May be a limiting factor on land for both
plants and animals, particularly those
requiring territory, shelter or nesting

1.2 Identify factors determining distribution and abundance of a species in each environment.

Availability and abundance of food

Birth and death rates
Number of competitors and predators
Number of mates available
Number and variety of pathogens


Climatic conditions (rainfall, temp, humidity)

Soil characteristics (moisture content, drainage etc.)

Amount of light
Strength of natural forces (tides, currents, wind, rain, waves etc)
Water (pH, salinity, availability)
Oxygen availability

1.3 Describe the roles of photosynthesis and respiration in ecosystems.

Photosynthesis is the process by which plant cells capture energy from sunlight and use it to
combine carbon dioxide and water to make sugars (glucose) and oxygen. All living things ultimately
depend on this process. Plants use chlorophyll to capture the suns energy.

Carbon dioxide + water Chlorophyll

Sugars (glucose) + oxygen

Respiration is the process by which cells obtain energy. In this process, organic molecules (sugars)
are broken down to produce carbon dioxide and water and energy is released (in form ATP).
1.4 Identify uses of energy by organisms.

Synthesis of complex molecules (carbohydrates, lipids, proteins, nucleic acids)

Growth and repair of cells (differentiation, elongation, division)
Active transport across membranes
Functioning of special cells requiring extra energy (nerves, muscles etc.)
Transport of materials within organisms

1.5 Identify the general equation for aerobic cellular respiration and outline this as a summary of
biochemical reactions.
Oxygen + Sugars (glucose)

Carbon dioxide + water + energy (ATP)

Respiration involves a series of 50 different chemical reactions, each reaction catalysed by a

different enzyme. An enzyme is a substance that alters the rate at which a reaction occurs, but is
not used up in the reaction.

2. Each local aquatic or terrestrial ecosystem is unique.

2.1 Examine trends in population estimates for some plant and animal species within an
Populations of organisms do not remain at a constant level within an ecosystem. Population
explosion is when the population increases dramatically. Population number may also decline due to
disease, predation, competition and human impacts.
Population size is effected by:

Birth and death rates


2.2 Outline factors that affect numbers in predator and prey populations in the area studied.
Population size of an organism can also be affected by the population of another organism. If there
are more predators than prey, the prey population will be wiped out and eventually the predator
population also due to insufficient food.
If predators are absent, the prey population will increase exponentially but eventually crash due to
limited food resources.
The numbers of predators and prey in an ecosystem depend on a number of factors:

Size of ecosystem
Availability of preys food determines number of prey present
Reproductive cycles (large number of prey may be followed by increase in predators)
Diseases and pathogens present

2.3 Identify examples of Allelopathy, parasitism, mutualism and commensalism in an ecosystem

and the role of organisms in each type of relationship.
Mutualism: when two organisms both benefit from each other (eg. Cleaner cling-fish eating
parasites off sharks)
Commensalism: a relationship which benefits one species but does not affect the other (eg.
Epiphytes on tree trunks, supported by tree, do not obtain food from it)
Competition: the struggle between organisms for the same resource (eg. Feral goats use rock shelter
and food needed by rock wallaby)
Predation: feeding relationship where one animal obtains food by killing another (eg. Lion eating a
Parasitism: parasite obtains food from host (living organism), organism is harmed but doesnt
usually die. (eg. Mosquitoes sucking blood of human)
Allelopathy: production of a plant of specific chemicals (allele-chemical) which can be both
beneficial or detrimental to another plant. (eg. The Blackbutt produces a chemical which prevents
seedling from germinating close to parent plant)
2.4 Describe the role of decomposers in an ecosystem.
Decomposers absorb nutrients from dead tissue or waste products of organisms and return the
organic material to the soil. Bacteria and fungi are the main decomposers in an ecosystem.

Bacteria and fungi secrete digestive enzymes which break down detritus (dead organic matter) into
soluble organic molecules such as sugars and eventually into organic molecules such as carbon
dioxide and nitrogen.
2.5 Explain trophic interactions between organisms in an ecosystem using food chains, food
webs and pyramids of biomass and energy.
Trophic interactions (feeding relationships) in an ecosystem can be explained using food chains and
webs and biomass pyramids. The feeding level of an organism is its trophic level. The role that on
organism plays is called its niche (eg. Carnivore)
Food chain: represent one flow of energy from one organism to another. Some energy is lost as heat
at each step. Original source of energy is sun. Food chains always begin with producer organism
Food web: represents a more complex and complete energy flow. Changes to numbers of organisms
in one part may of the web may affect other organisms in the web.
Note: the direction of the arrow used in food chains/webs means is eaten by
Biomass pyramid:
Biomass is the measure of the mass of all organisms at a particular trophic level. A biomass pyramid
shows the total weight (biomass) of organisms at each level for a particular habitat

Increasing trophic
levels; biomass

3rd order (tertiary) Consumer

2nd order (secondary) Consumer
1st order (primary) Consumer

Decomposers and detritivores do not fit readily into one trophic level.
2.6 Define the term adaptation and discuss the problem associated with inferring characteristics
of organisms as adaptations for living in a particular habitat.
An adaptation is a feature of an organism that makes it well suited to its environment. Adaptations
are inherited characteristics, a result of natural selection. They help an organism to survive and
reproduce. An adaption may be either:
The problem associated with inferring characteristics of organisms as adaptation is that human
observations come from the human perspective. We can only infer or deuce that a characteristic is
an adaptation, we may not always be correct.
2.7 Identify some adaptations of living things to factors in their environment.
In order for an organism to survive and reproduce in a particular environment, they must have
features which make them well suited to that environment.

Structural: shape and size of body or structures (eg. Kangaroos forlegs have dense network of blood
vessels close to surface)
Physiological: the way the organisms structural features function (eg. The dense network of blood
vessels allow increased blood flow to the area during heat stress, helps cool down)
Behavioural: how an organism responds to its environment, how it behaves. (eg. The kangaroo licks
its forelegs to cool down)
2.8 Identify and describe in detail adaptations of a plant and an animal from the local ecosystem
Structural: They have stilt roots which lift the plant out of water. They are anchored by complex root
systems to protect from the shifting mudflat environment.
Physiological: Pneumatophores (aerial roots) push upwards through mud, their tips (lenticels) have
pores through which gaseous exchange can occur
Behavioural: Mangroves have flowers, following fertilisation and pollitation, fruits containing one
seed develop. Due to the harsh environment of the mudflats, the seeds begin to germinate before
they drop. Also, the leaves can turn away from the sun to prevent water loss due to over heating.
Structural: Has well-muscled large hind legs, large tail is used as counterweight when hopping and to
help stay upright. Has large molars for grazing.
Physiological: Have lungs as internal respiratory surface. Have very short gestation period. Have
binocular vision.
Behavioural: Sweat only during exercise to reduce water loss. Seek shade and shelter to protect
from heat. Lick forearms where blood vessels run close to surface to cool down, the evaporating
saliva creates a cooling effect.
2.9 Describe and explain the short-term and long-term consequences on the ecosystem of
species competing for resources.
Competiton occurs when members of the same or different species need the same limited resource.
Competition occurs mostly in organisms with similar niches.
Short term effects: availability of resources will decrease, then the growth of the population may
slow or decrease. If population decreases there will be less pressure on available resources.
Long term effects:

Degradation of the environment; resources become depleated

Diversity of organisms may be reduced
Extinction of an organism; as a result of survival of the fittest

Evolution; two competing species may minimise competition by evolving under strong
selection pressure to occupy different niches.

2.10 Identify the impact of humans in the ecosystem studied

Human impacts include:

Land clearing and forest degradation

Erosion and soil loss
Salination of soils
Pollution of air, water and soils
Contamination of soils and waterways through use of fertilizers and pesticides
Species and biological diversity loss
Exploitation and depletion of natural non-renewable resources
Production of non-biodegradable and poisonous waste products
Introduction of non-native species of plants and animals
Pressure on environment as a result of increasing population and higher demand for