eco·​sys·​tem ˈē-kō-ˌsi-stəm How to pronounce ecosystem (audio)
plural ecosystems
: 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
: 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
ecosystemic 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

Did you know?

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.

Example Sentences

Recent Examples on the Web In a fitness ecosystem dominated by new- and old-school flash, from personal trainers on the hard sell to influencers with soft power, treats me like an adult. Lauren Michele Jackson, The New Yorker, 3 Mar. 2023 The goal, according to the Biden administration, is to shore up a digital ecosystem that’s left many people to their own (often insecure) devices. Adi Robertson, The Verge, 2 Mar. 2023 Each would employ about 10,000 workers and include a leading-edge microchip fabrication plant, research and development facilities, a robust suppler ecosystem and specialized infrastructure. Joey Garrison, USA TODAY, 1 Mar. 2023 Manesar, who is reportedly now on the run, is one of a large ecosystem of sectarian influencers on Indian social media who have benefited from the country’s nationalistic turn under Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Parth M.n., WIRED, 28 Feb. 2023 Similarly, despite all the challenges of a brutal, attritional war, the conditions for Ukraine to build a thriving tech ecosystem are promising. Eric Braverman, Fortune, 27 Feb. 2023 The plan is to try to return manufacturing to the U.S. by building at least two new clusters of leading-edge logic-chip manufacturing, with a supplier ecosystem and research and development facilities, employing thousands of workers. Dallas News, 23 Feb. 2023 Among the longest tanks in the aquarium, the exhibit will be a new ecosystem home to hundreds of colorful animals, many of them babies. Emily Deletter, The Enquirer, 21 Feb. 2023 But a closer look at the period Elias covers—when a new media ecosystem marketing to professionally ambitious women thrived—shows its success was more than a historical fluke. Jess Bergman, The New Republic, 20 Feb. 2023 See More

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.

Word History

First Known Use

1935, in the meaning defined at sense 1

Time Traveler
The first known use of ecosystem was in 1935

Dictionary Entries Near ecosystem

Cite this Entry

“Ecosystem.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 27 Mar. 2023.

Kids Definition


eco·​sys·​tem ˈē-kō-ˌsis-təm How to pronounce ecosystem (audio)
: a system made up of an ecological community of living things interacting with their environment especially under natural conditions

Medical Definition


eco·​sys·​tem -ˌsis-təm How to pronounce ecosystem (audio)
: the complex of a community and its environment functioning as an ecological unit in nature

More from Merriam-Webster on ecosystem

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