eco·​sys·​tem | \ ˈē-kō-ˌsi-stəm How to pronounce ecosystem (audio) , ˈe-kō- \
plural ecosystems

Definition of ecosystem

1 : the complex of a community of organisms and its environment functioning as an ecological unit That influx of fresh water alters the ocean's salinity near the seafloor, a factor that influences the makeup of the ecosystems in those places.— Sid Perkins Global warming, if it proceeds as many scientists predict, threatens to undo decades of conservation work and could mean the destruction of the monarch butterfly, the edelweiss, the polar bear and innumerable other species living in fragile ecosystems, an emerging body of scientific evidence suggests.— William K. Stevens
2 : something (such as a network of businesses) considered to resemble an ecological ecosystem especially because of its complex interdependent parts Newspaper layoffs have ripple effects for the entire local news ecosystem because, as the Congressional Research Service noted, television, radio and online outlets often "piggyback on reporting done by much larger newspaper staffs."— David Sirota Lots of Walmart customers are underserved by banks and other financial institutions, [Daniel] Eckert says; the company's experiments with finance-related products and services help customers "not only save money but also have access to a financial ecosystem they were crowded out from."— Rob Walker

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Other Words from ecosystem

ecosystemic \ ˌē-​kō-​si-​ˈste-​mik How to pronounce ecosystem (audio) , ˌe-​kō-​ \ adjective
The Amazon invariably evokes superlatives and often hyperbole. Stock images such as river dimensions and biotic variety are now joined with notions of forest biomass and ecosystemic complexity. — Kent Mathewson The women of Sex and the City occasionally argued, sure, but their ecosystemic purpose—to be there for their friends as they date and search and marry—was always extremely clear. — Megan Garber

The Environment of Ecosystem

For the now-ubiquitous prefix eco-, we can thank the great German zoologist Ernst Haeckel, who in 1866 coined the term oekologie from the Greek oikos, meaning “home, place to live.” Haeckel was thinking primarily of the “homes” of animals, but by the time the word translated into English in 1875 (initially spelled “oecology”), its meaning had broadened to embrace plant habitats as well. The related term ecosystem was proposed by the British botanist Arthur Tansley, 60 years after one of his own professors first translated Haeckel’s oekologie. It may have been ecosystem, which treats eco- as a prefix to a standard English word, that gave English speakers permission to do the same in coining a host of other terms: ecosphere, ecotour, eco-friendly, and all the rest. Meanwhile, ecosystem itself has been appropriated freely in all kinds of contexts well removed from the natural environment: the “app ecosystem,” the “education ecosystem,” the “startup ecosystem,” the “pop-culture ecosystem,” the “mobile ecosystem,” the “biking ecosystem,” and so forth.

Examples of ecosystem in a Sentence

Recent Examples on the Web The business ecosystem, like its consumer counterpart, is still hungry for data. Rebecca Brooks, Forbes, "How Agile Neuroscience Helps Uncover Holistic Consumer Insights," 28 Apr. 2021 The move, which has broad support, would have a ripple effect across the digital advertising ecosystem—which relies heavily on identifying, tracking and profiling consumers. Byron Tau, WSJ, "The Ease of Tracking Mobile Phones of U.S. Soldiers in Hot Spots," 26 Apr. 2021 Voyageurs is located at the southernmost edge of the expansive boreal ecosystem, which extends hundreds of miles north to Canada’s Hudson Bay. Jacob Job, Scientific American, "National Park Nature Walks: A New Pop-Up Podcast Series," 22 Apr. 2021 Nuance and Microsoft will deepen their existing commitments to the extended partner ecosystem, as well as the highest standards of data privacy, security and compliance. Chris Smith, BGR, "Microsoft just made a $20 billion bet on the future of computing," 12 Apr. 2021 Performance tackled more areas, notably the ecosystem, quality across watching the content and available apps and services. Jacob Krol, CNN Underscored, "The best streaming sticks and devices of 2021," 9 Apr. 2021 And the pink house embodies the rapid development encroaching on a precious ecosystem, home to more than 2,500 species and subspecies of animals, half of which exist only there. Isabelle Khurshudyan, Washington Post, "Along Russia’s majestic Lake Baikal, the quest for tourism cash stalks a pristine landscape," 1 Apr. 2021 The ecosystem of the State Administration Council, as the junta that grabbed power last month calls itself, is a tangle of interconnected family trees. New York Times, "Inside Myanmar’s Army: ‘They See Protesters as Criminals’," 28 Mar. 2021 The whole ecosystem, more or less, runs on snitching. Ezra Marcus New York Times, Star Tribune, "Snitching is spreading along with the virus," 15 Mar. 2021

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'ecosystem.' Views expressed in the examples do not represent the opinion of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback.

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First Known Use of ecosystem

1935, in the meaning defined at sense 1

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Time Traveler for ecosystem

Time Traveler

The first known use of ecosystem was in 1935

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Statistics for ecosystem

Last Updated

5 May 2021

Cite this Entry

“Ecosystem.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 14 May. 2021.

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More Definitions for ecosystem



English Language Learners Definition of ecosystem

: everything that exists in a particular environment


eco·​sys·​tem | \ ˈē-kō-ˌsi-stəm How to pronounce ecosystem (audio) , ˈe- \

Kids Definition of ecosystem

: the whole group of living and nonliving things that make up an environment and affect each other


eco·​sys·​tem | \ -ˌsis-təm How to pronounce ecosystem (audio) \

Medical Definition of ecosystem

: the complex of a community and its environment functioning as an ecological unit in nature

More from Merriam-Webster on ecosystem

Nglish: Translation of ecosystem for Spanish Speakers

Britannica English: Translation of ecosystem for Arabic Speakers Encyclopedia article about ecosystem

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