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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 alsobiome.
This entry comes from Encyclopædia Britannica Concise. For the full entry on ecosystem, visit Britannica.com.