The Ecological SystemIf the thought of teaching your children about ecosystems seems a bit of a challenge – particularly if science wasn’t exactly your favourite subject at school – help is at hand! As with all subjects breaking information down into digestible, age appropriate chunks is the easiest and most child-friendly approach, and illustrating your information-sharing with pictures and real-life examples can transform a child’s learning experience. Discussing a subject like ecosystems might not sound like the most exciting way to spend an afternoon, but combined with a walk in the park, woods, or even your garden, where examples of ecosystems in action are all around you, the subject can be totally brought to life. And who knows, you might even learn something yourself!

What is the Ecological System?

The ecological system, in simple terms, is the environment in which man; animals and organisms live and rely on each other for survival. Within the ecological system there can be many eco-systems that are made up of lots of different elements, for example, flora, fauna, lower life forms, water and soil.

That Sounds Complicated!

There are easier ways to think of it! For instance, if you view it in terms of different environments that all link in some way to another, for example, plants that rely on soil and water to survive…animals that rely on plants to survive.

So What Makes An Ecosystem?

Within an ecosystem there are living and non living elements. These are abiotic and biotic – abiotic being the non living example, biotic being living. You might wonder how important the non-living factors are – the answer is very! The non-living factors play a major role in the ecosystem because without them (in the form of water, heat etc.) the living would not be able to function. So, the biotic elements – the plants and animals – all need help from the abiotic in order to survive!

Ecosystem Communities

Within an ecosystem there are communities. These communities are linked by food chains – put simply, when biotic (living) elements eat each other they become part of a food chain. At the start of this chain there are ‘producers’, the things that do not need to eat other elements in order to survive. They get their energy from photosynthesis – carbon dioxide and sunlight. The producers are eaten by other biotic factors who rely on them for their survival, so their energy, gained from the photosynthesis, goes on to provide the energy for the next element in the chain. These biotics are called ‘consumers’, Consumers? What are they?

“A heterotrophic organism that ingests other organisms or organic matter in a food chain” So called, basically, because they ‘consume’ other organisms in order to live, rather than obtaining it directly themselves through sunlight!

What Does Heterotrophic Mean?

A heterotrophic organism is one that synthesises its own food – in other words, it is dependent on other organic substances for nutrition.

How Many Types of Consumers are There?

Consumers: Can be divided into four types, herbivores, carnivores, omnivores, and decomposers.

Decomposers:These feed on dead plant and animal matter and make organic nutrients available to the ecosystem.

Herbivores: Herbivores are animals that feed mainly or only on plants.

Carnivores: Carnivores are any animals that eat flesh.

Omnivores: Omnivores can, and do, eat both plant and animal matter.