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 ecosystemic (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 As with any Apple device, this will appeal to anyone already invested in Apple’s hardware ecosystem. David Nield, Popular Science, "Choose the best streaming device for your needs," 31 Dec. 2019 Though the amount of venture capital going to all-female founding teams is at an all-time high of $3.3 billion, that only represents 2.8% of all capital invested in the startup ecosystem, according to Pitchbook. Elaine Pofeldt, Quartz, "Female entrepreneurs are turning to non-traditional sources to fund their businesses," 27 Dec. 2019 Environmentalists say that restoring the apex predators at the top of the food chain helps revive ecosystems, bringing back songbirds and salmon. Los Angeles Times, oregonlive, "26 dead wolves, 1 ranch in the spotlight," 21 Dec. 2019 In total, the pheasantshells have decreased by about 90 percent in parts of the Clinch River, along with about 50 percent of another 30 species of mussels in the ecosystem. Jason Daley, Smithsonian, "Scientists Don’t Know Why Freshwater Mussels Are Dying Across North America," 17 Dec. 2019 Invertebrates such as crustaceans, insects and worms are key players in aquatic ecosystems. Prachi Patel, Scientific American, "Sewage Treatment Offers Biodiversity Boost in U.K. River," 16 Dec. 2019 Kelp in the coastal ecosystem, Lee adds, is comparable to an old-growth forest on land. Michael R. Shea, Field & Stream, "Are Sea Otters the Next Wolves?," 11 Dec. 2019 The law, after all, requires sobriety and clarity to work, and that’s a hard sell in an ecosystem where escapism and mirrored reality are the currency. Lorraine Ali,, "Commentary: Impeachment isn’t ‘Law & Order.’ It’s time to stop viewing it that way," 6 Dec. 2019 The report illustrates how much streaming has grown in that time—and how dominant hip-hop has become in this new ecosystem. Andrew R. Chow, Time, "See the Artists Who Dominated Spotify in 2019, From Post Malone to Billie Eilish," 3 Dec. 2019

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

11 Jan 2020

Cite this Entry

“Ecosystem.” The Dictionary, Merriam-Webster Inc., Accessed 24 January 2020.

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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

Spanish Central: Translation of ecosystem

Nglish: Translation of ecosystem for Spanish Speakers

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

Comments on ecosystem

What made you want to look up ecosystem? Please tell us where you read or heard it (including the quote, if possible).


a feeling of well-being or elation

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