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 Submitted as an amendment to Michigan's Natural Resources and Environmental Protection Act, the changes stemmed from a need to protect the state's ecosystem. Jenna Prestininzi, Detroit Free Press, 15 May 2023 While the Josh Hader trade upset their ecosystem in a 2022 season that fell one win shy of a wild-card berth, the bullpen has reloaded impressively, and starters have gone deep enough to keep Devin Williams, Joel Payamps and Co. to the lightest workload in the majors. Gabe Lacques, USA TODAY, 12 May 2023 The warming waters put reef ecosystems at even more risk, in addition to coral bleaching, ocean acidification, disease, and more. Laura Baisas, Popular Science, 11 May 2023 But Botting and Muir think Castle Bank truly represents an ecosystem dominated by small life-forms. Jack Tamisiea, Scientific American, 10 May 2023 Beyond the human cost of unemployment, though, there’s an entire ecosystem in which writers come up, often through precisely those workmanlike shows, to learn the ropes. James Poniewozik, New York Times, 10 May 2023 Spain has also generated a large ecosystem of companies that export technology for animation and VFX productions. Emiliano De Pablos, Variety, 10 May 2023 The country’s hot startup ecosystem, which lured such investors as SoftBank and Tiger Global, is facing questions on financial accountability and discipline, expensive acquisitions, heady valuations and whether investors overestimated India’s total addressable market, or TAM. Megha Mandavia,, 10 May 2023 So, in 2022, when the sea urchins suddenly began dying at rapid rates once again, researchers quickly searched for an explanation for the collapse—which could hold serious consequences for the whole aquatic ecosystem. Carolyn Hagler, Smithsonian Magazine, 8 May 2023 See More

These examples are programmatically compiled from various online sources to illustrate current usage of the word 'ecosystem.' Any opinions expressed in the examples do not represent those of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback about these examples.

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 8 Jun. 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

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