Complex of living organisms, their physical environment, and all their interrelationships in a particular unit of space. An ecosystem's abiotic (nonbiological) constituents include minerals, climate, soil, water, sunlight, and all other nonliving elements; its biotic constituents consist of all its living members. Two major forces link these constituents: the flow of energy and the cycling of nutrients. The fundamental source of energy in almost all ecosystems is radiant energy from the sun; energy and organic matter are passed along an ecosystem's food chain. The study of ecosystems became increasingly sophisticated in the later 20th century; it is now instrumental in assessing and controlling the environmental effects of agricultural development and industrialization. See also biome.
This entry comes from Encyclopædia Britannica Concise.
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