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 This global ecosystem consists of interlocking parts that work synergistically. Siva Vaidhyanathan, The New Republic, "Making Sense of the Facebook Menace," 5 Jan. 2021 In the near term, analysts say Apple likely has a few more urgent priorities, like building up the ecosystem around its 5G iPhone and ramping up its healthcare efforts. Clare Duffy, CNN, "Apple Car speculation is back. Here's what we know so far," 30 Dec. 2020 During these events, boaters get to understand the riverine ecosystem and its threats while taking water samples in secluded areas that aren’t normally surveyed by researchers. Marcello Rossi, Smithsonian Magazine, "24 Ways To Turn Outdoor Passions Into Citizen Science," 29 Dec. 2020 Substack has some social features, like comments sections and discussion threads, but the newsletter ecosystem seems to lack the camaraderie that animated blogging communities. Anna Wiener, The New Yorker, "Is Substack the Media Future We Want?," 28 Dec. 2020 In late January, a team of scientists led by the British Antarctic Survey will depart from the Falkland Islands to the iceberg to study its effects on the ecosystem. Sarah Gibbens, Environment, "Huge iceberg breaking up off South Georgia Island is still a threat," 28 Dec. 2020 However, while online readers like high-quality news content provided by news publishers, the digital-media ecosystem is dominated by tech intermediaries who grab most of the value. David Chavern, National Review, "Shielding Goliath from David: Congress Must Give Local News Publishers a Fighting Chance," 28 Dec. 2020 The company recognizes that small businesses are a crucial part of a local economy’s ecosystem., "Community News For The Windsor Edition," 24 Dec. 2020 There is a bunch more the Alexa ecosystem can do for you. Jim Rossman, Dallas News, "Did Santa bring you an Alexa? Let’s put it to work," 24 Dec. 2020

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

17 Jan 2021

Cite this Entry

“Ecosystem.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 19 Jan. 2021.

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More Definitions for ecosystem


How to pronounce ecosystem (audio)

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

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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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