Decomposers in a Forest Ecosystem

Of the three types of living organisms in a forest ecosystem… 

  • Producers
  • Composers 
  • Decomposers

…decomposers are some of the most overlooked, but most important. Decomposers are any organism that ingests dead organic matter and releases nutrients into the soil

Let’s talk a bit more about decomposers and give some real-world examples.

What are Decomposers and What is Their Role?

Decomposers are any organism that lives off of ingesting other dead organisms. Any plant or animal that dies in a forest and makes its way to the ground and immediately starts to be consumed by a variety of decomposers. Decomposers are incredibly valuable to forests because they give producers the nutrients they need to grow successfully. 

Decomposers ingest animal waste, leaves, wood, and caracasses and in turn produce these valuable nutrients into the soil:

  • Carbon dioxide
  • Nitrogen
  • Phosphorus

These nutrients are essential to plant life, and without soil that is rich in the nutrients, grasses, trees, and shrubs would not be able to grow. This means they play an interesting role in the food chain. They are not necessarily at the top, or bottom of the food chain because they both eat other (dead) organisms in addition to providing nutrients for other organisms.

What Are Some Examples of Decomposers in a Forest?

Now that we know what decomposers do, let’s look at some concrete examples to contextualize the unique role they play in forest ecosystems.

Decomposers are any critter or fungus that eats dead things and produces soil, most of them live on the forest floor but they can also live in trees. Here is a list of a few decomposers you may see in a forest:

  • Millipedes
  • Earthworms
  • Fungi
  • Termites
  • Slugs
  • Snails
  • Bacteria

Let’s take an example used in this “Consumers of the Forest Ecosystem” article to illustrate the process upheld by decomposers. In this example, we described a rabbit eating dandelions, a snake eating the rabbit, and a hawk eating the snake to illustrate primary, secondary, and tertiary consumers.

The hawk from this example will eventually die and end up on the forest floor. Millipedes, bacteria, and fungi will then eat away at the hawk’s carcass. As each of these organisms eats the body, they turn the energy that belonged to the hawk into energy for themselves, and in turn, pump nutrients into the soil. The nutrients are then uptaken, say, by the roots of a dandelion, and the cycle begins again.


  • Decomposers like earthworms, millipedes, and fungi ingest dead plants and animals and turn them into nutrients for the soil
  • The nutrients produced by decomposers are essential for the growth of every plant in the forest

Consumers of the Forest Ecosystem

Living organisms in a forest fall into three different categories, the forest relies on the services that each of these groups provides.

  • Producers
  • Consumers
  • Decomposers

Consumers in a forest ecosystem are also called heterotrophs because they cannot produce their own “food” as producers do. Instead, they rely on producers and other consumers as a food source.

There are three types of consumers in a forest ecosystem ranked in order of how far away they sit energetically from producers:

Let’s now cover each of the types of consumers more in-depth.

Primary Consumers

A primary consumer is an organism that eats producers for a food source. These organisms are herbivores because they only eat green things. Primary consumers occupy the lowest trophic level of the three types of consumers. If you’d like to learn more about trophic levels, check out the article “Food Chains in a Forest Ecosystem”.

Primary Consumer Example

There are many primary consumers in a forest ecosystem, including:

  • Mice
  • Butterflies 
  • Deer
  • Squirrels
  • Rabbits
  • Grasshoppers

For this article, let’s look at a rabbit as a primary consumer. The rabbit is a primary consumer because it eats plants. For example, if the rabbit eats a dandelion, it is ingesting the sugars that the dandelion has produced via photosynthesis, and the rabbit turns these sugars into energy for itself via its metabolic processes.

Secondary Consumers

A secondary consumer is an organism that ingests primary consumers as its main food source. These organisms may also eat producers–they may be omnivorous–but can also be carnivores and only eat other consumers. 

Secondary Consumer Example

There are generally fewer secondary consumers in a forest ecosystem than primary consumers because there is fewer resources/energy available to them than the amount of energy available to primary consumers. 

Some secondary consumers that the forest relies on are:

  • Frogs
  • Snakes
  • Foxes
  • Moles

For this example, let’s look at a snake as a secondary consumer. The snake is a secondary consumer when it eats the rabbit. (Remember, the rabbit is a primary consumer because it ate a dandelion.) The snake digests the rabbit and turns it into energy for itself.

Tertiary Consumers

Tertiary consumers are organisms that eat secondary consumers. These consumers occupy the top spot in the food chain–the highest trophic level–and can also be called the “apex predators” of the forest. 

Tertiary Consumer Example

Tertiary consumers are usually any large predator like:

  • Birds of Prey
  • Grizzly bears
  • Wolves

Going back to our snake and rabbit example, let’s look at where a hawk might fit into the equation. A hawk eating a snake is a tertiary consumer because the snake is a secondary consumer. The hawk ingests the snake and turns the energy the snake gained from the rabbit (and indirectly, the dandelion) into energy for itself.


  • Consumers are responsible for ingesting other organisms to gain energy. 
  • The three categories of consumers are primary, secondary, and tertiary and they are organized by how far away they sit from the source of energy (the sun).

Producers in a Forest Ecosystem

The biotic part of forest ecosystems is made up of three groups of organisms based on their role in the ecosystem:

  • Producers
  • Consumers
  • Decomposers

This article will focus specifically on producers, here is the gist of what we’ll discuss:

  • Producers are organisms that rely on the sun for the production of energy and do not ingest other organisms
  • Forest ecosystems rely on producers to harness energy from the sun and make it available to other organisms

What Are Producers and What is Their Role?

Producers are organisms that turn energy from the sun into energy for themselves and other organisms through photosynthesis, they are also called autotrophs. Producers include pretty much anything green in a forest. The green color is made by a chemical called chlorophyll which is what allows plants and algae to photosynthesize. 

Photosynthesis is the most important process to producers as it allows them to metabolize the sun’s energy. So, what does photosynthesis look like?

Sun’s energy + Water + Carbon Dioxide → Oxygen + Sugar

Producers not only serve as a major food source for many organisms in the forest, but they also pump out tons of oxygen that consumers need for respiration

  • Important note: The process of respiration is opposite to that of photosynthesis, so the products of photosynthesis are needed for respiration and vice versa, making producers and consumers reliant on each other.

Plants uptake carbon dioxide that is respired by other organisms, and along with energy for the sun, and water, turn these into oxygen that is ready to be breathed by other organisms, and sugar that can be used by cells to create energy.

This means that producers are essential to maintaining the global balance of carbon dioxide and oxygen. They make sure that not only their forest ecosystem is inhabitable, but that creatures that rely on oxygen can live all over the world.

What Are Some Examples of Producers in Forest Ecosystems?

The main producers in a forest ecosystem include:

  • Trees
  • Grasses
  • Shrubs
  • Algae

To contextualize producers, let’s look at an example of the quintessential producer in a forest ecosystem: 

  • Trees: Trees are the most important producer in a forest. They provide food and shelter to many organisms in the ecosystem. For example, birds and squirrels nest in trees, insects eat their leaves and bark, deer eat their leaves, and so on. They also play an important role in maintaining the integrity of the soil by their complex root systems, as well as helping to maintain the global supply of oxygen.


  • Producers are any organism that does not ingest other organisms to produce energy. 
  • Producers exist at the bottom of a forest food chain because they can absorb the sun’s energy and convert it to sugars. All other organisms rely on the producers’ ability to photosynthesize. 
  • Producers in a forest include trees, grasses, shrubs, and algae.

Trees are the most important producers in a forest, providing food, and shelter, and regulating air and soil quality.

Food Chains in a Forest Ecosystem

A food chain is a model that shows the relationships between all organisms in a forest ecosystem based on how they exchange energy with one another.

  • Models are pictorial or metaphorical representations of very complex systems that make those systems easier to understand and visualize

Food chains are an important model because it would be impossible to create a diagram of every single energy exchange that takes place in a forest ecosystem. The food chain model allows us to visualize the energy exchanges taking place to make the relationships in an ecosystem easier to understand.

Now let’s describe each “section” of the food chain starting from the bottom and working our way up to the top. Remember, the “bottom” of the food chain is not literally at the bottom, rather, this refers to the fact that all energy works its way up from the base level. 

We can also refer to the food chain in terms of trophic levels. A trophic level is the energy category occupied by a group of organisms based on how far away they are from the source of the energy (the sun).

From bottom to top, here is how the forest ecosystem is arranged:

So, tertiary consumers sit at the top of the food chain, in the highest trophic level. (Decomposers aren’t necessarily at the top, we’ll get into that later.) The sun makes up the base of the chain, and the producers occupy the lowest trophic level.

The Foundation of the Food Chain: The Sun

A food chain relies on the exchange of energy between parts of a forest ecosystem. But we know that energy can’t be created, as the energy of the universe is a constant. So where does all the energy needed by a forest come from? 

  • All energy cycled through a forest ecosystem originates from the sun

The sun is the most important abiotic (non-living) feature of a forest ecosystem, and all living things in the forest rely on the sun in one way or another. But how does the sun transmit energy to the forest ecosystem?

The sun emits tons of energy in the form of light that producers can uptake and turn into their form of energy (sugars) through photosynthesis.

Producers: Harnessing the Sun’s Energy

Producers are any living organism that produces its own energy by using the sun’s energy. This is pretty much any green organism in a forest. These are also called autotrophs because they produce their own food.

Producers are unique in that they do not have to “eat” anything to produce energy for themselves. Rather, they create energy through photosynthesis. The basic equation for photosynthesis is:

Carbon dioxide + Energy from the sun + Water → Oxygen + Sugars

Producers absorb carbon dioxide, water, and the sun’s energy and produce oxygen and glucose (sugar). This means that the role of producers is to produce an energy supply for consumers. Producers form the first trophic level because they take energy from the sun and turn it into energy that is available to be uptaken by consumers.

Consumers: Eating to Produce Energy

Consumers are any organism that must ingest another organism to produce energy. Consumers are also called heterotrophs because they rely on other organisms for food. 

There are three main types of consumers:

  • Primary consumers
  • Secondary consumers
  • Tertiary consumers

In terms of a food chain or trophic levels, primary consumers are situated above producers, secondary consumers are situated above primary consumers, and tertiary consumers are situated above secondary consumers.

We can now talk more specifically about each of the three types of consumers and give examples of them.

Primary Consumers

Primary consumers gain energy by ingesting producers. Any organism whose diet is made up of green things is a primary consumer. In this energy exchange, energy travels from the sun to a producer, to a primary consumer. 

Here are some examples of primary consumers in a forest ecosystem, we can also think of these as the herbivores:

  • Mice
  • Squirrels
  • Deer
  • Rabbits
  • Grasshoppers

Each one of these organisms eats plants like grasses, shrubs, berries, or trees and turns the glucose created by that plant into energy for themselves.

Secondary Consumers

Secondary consumers are any organism that ingests primary consumers, but they may also eat producers, making them omnivores or carnivores.

Here are some examples of important secondary consumers in a forest ecosystem: 

  • Snakes
  • Frogs
  • Fish

The “Top” of the Food Chain Tertiary Consumers

Tertiary consumers are organisms that eat secondary consumers. These are the major predators of the forest ecosystem. They may also eat primary consumers and are almost always carnivores.

Here are some examples of some tertiary consumers in a forest:

  • Hawks
  • Grizzly Bears
  • Wolves

They occupy the highest trophic level because they are the furthest removed from the initial source of energy (the sun).

Where it All Ends Up: Decomposers

Decomposers are any organism that ingests something that was once alive. The decomposers are not necessarily at the top or the bottom of the food chain, but they are incredibly essential for the food chain. Without decomposers, none of the organisms in a forest ecosystem would be able to live.

This is because decomposers transform dead animals into important nutrients that support the growth of producers. Here are some important decomposers in a forest:

  • Fungi
  • Worms
  • Bacteria
  • Some insects
  • Snails
  • Slugs

Decomposers ensure the health of the soils. Without them, plants would not be able to grow. Decomposers may fit better into the idea of a food chain as a cycle, rather than a pyramid, where the cycle goes from the sun, to producers, to consumers, to decomposers, and then back to producers.

Key Takeaways

  • Food chains model energy exchange between the parts of a forest ecosystem including abiotic features (like the sun), and producers, consumers, and decomposers.
  • The energy for a food chain is supplied by the sun, making the sun the energetic foundation of a food chain.
  • Producers are at the bottom of the food chain in the lowest trophic level because they create energy from the sun’s energy.
  • Consumers ingest producers, tertiary consumers are at the “top” of a food chain.

Decomposers don’t necessarily sit at the top or bottom of a food chain, but they are essential for replenishing nutrients in the soil so new producers can grow.

What are The Living and Non-Living Parts of a Forest Ecosystem?

The parts of a forest ecosystem can be divided into two categories:

  • Biotic: Any living thing in a forest ecosystem including plants, animals, bacteria, and fungi
  • Abiotic: Any non-living thing in a forest ecosystem including air, water, rocks and minerals, and climate

These two groups interact with each other to maintain the health of the ecosystem. The living parts of the ecosystem rely on both the biotic and abiotic parts to stay alive. Let’s now discuss these two very broad categories in further detail.

Biotic Parts of the Forest Ecosystem

This category includes any living thing in a forest ecosystem, it encompasses all:

  • Plants
  • Animals
  • Archaea (single-celled organisms)
  • Bacteria
  • Fungi

These are some of the main categories of life in biology, and all of them exist within forest ecosystems, from organisms comprised of only one cell, to organisms that grow hundreds of feet tall, like trees.

The biotic parts of an ecosystem can be broken down further into these three groups based on their role in the ecosystem:

  • Producers: Organisms that produce their own food from the sun and do not have to consume other organisms
  • Consumers: Organisms that gain energy from ingesting other organisms
  • Decomposers: Organisms that ingest dead organic matter (anything that was previously living) for energy

All three of these groups play an essential role in the transfer of nutrients and energy around the forest ecosystem, from the sun to plants, to insects and mammals, to fungi and bacteria.

Every living thing in an ecosystem is important to the forest as a whole, but here are some examples of some groups of organisms with very important roles in a forest: 

  • Trees: Trees photosynthesize energy from the sun, making them producers. They provide food and shelter to many forest critters from tiny insects to squirrels and eagles.
  • Mammals: Animals like squirrels, mice, and deer are consumers because they have to eat other organisms to stay alive. They help transfer seeds and nutrients to different parts of the forest.
  • Fungi: Most of the fungi in a forest are not visible. They live underground digesting dead organic matter as decomposers. When any plant or animal dies, it makes its way to the forest floor and begins to decompose with the help of fungi and other decomposers. The fungi produce nutrients in the soil that help support the growth of the next generation of plant life.

Abiotic Parts of the Forest Ecosystem

The non-living, or abiotic, parts of a forest ecosystem are a bit more complex because you cannot see all of the abiotic parts of a forest ecosystem. They are still incredibly important as they make up the environmental conditions that allow the forest ecosystem to thrive in that particular area. 

The abiotic parts of a forest ecosystem include:

  • Climate and weather
  • Air
  • Soil
  • Nutrients
  • Water
  • Rocks and Minerals

Here are some important abiotic factors that each have their essential roles:

  • The sun: This may be the most important abiotic factor in a forest as it provides energy (directly or indirectly) to every living thing in a forest. Producers need the sun to survive, and consumers and decomposers need producers to survive.
  • Climate: Climate is the general weather patterns across time like seasonality and rainfall. Plants and animals in a forest rely on a certain amount of rainfall and specific temperature changes across the year to survive. 
  • Soil: Trees and other plants in a forest need specific soil conditions to grow. The soil must be made up of a perfect blend of nutrients for plants in a forest ecosystem to thrive.


  • The forest is made up of and relies on the interaction of biotic and abiotic factors
  • Biotic elements of the forest are any living thing in the ecosystem including plants, animals, bacteria, and fungi. Each organism has a specific role in the ecosystem relative to other abiotic and biotic factors.
  • Abiotic elements of the forest are any non-living thing in an ecosystem including soil, sunlight, and climate. These abiotic elements form the environmental conditions on which the biotic elements depend.

What Makes Up a Forest Ecosystem?

A forest ecosystem is all of the living and nonliving things in a given forested area. It has many components that can be grouped in many different ways.

In this article, we will cover the different elements that make up a forest ecosystem, as well as their roles, and how they help the ecosystem to function.

The ecosystem is essentially made up of two different groups: 

  • Biotic elements: plants, animals, fungi, microorganisms
  • Abiotic elements: water, air, soil, topography, climate

These groups interact with each other to form the structure of the whole forest ecosystem. We’ll now answer these questions about the structure of forests:

Forest Ecosystem Parts

We now know that forests are a system made up of living and nonliving parts that interact with each other in order to achieve the persistence of the ecosystem itself. But who exactly are those living creatures in the forest and what do they do? How do they interact with the non-living things in the forest?

Roles of Living Things in the Forest

The living organisms of the forest ecosystem can be broken down further into these three categories:

Forest Ecosystem Diagram
Forest Ecosystem diagram

The health of the forest depends on the organisms in these three groups and the interaction between them. Let’s take a closer look at what organisms make up these roles now.

Forest Producers

Producers are any autotroph in a forest.

  • An autotroph is an organism that is able to turn nonliving matter into energy (i.e. through photo synthesis)

These are the main producers in a forest ecosystem:

  • Algae
  • Grass
  • Shrubs
  • Trees

All of these organisms are able to use energy from the sun and carbon dioxide to produce energy without consuming any other living thing. So, forest producers make up the “bottom of the food chain” because they are the first ones to turn things like sunlight and carbon dioxide into energy.

Forest Consumers

Consumers are made up of the heterotrophs of the forest. They are not able to make their own food like autotrophs, and must eat other living things to produce sugars that provide energy.

  • Heterotrophs are any organism that requires the consumption of living substances in order to produce energy.

Here are some examples of consumers you may see in a given forest ecosystem:

  • Rodents
  • Deer
  • Some insects
  • Wolves, foxes
  • Birds

Consumers can be split up further into these three groups:

  • Primary consumers derive their energy from ingesting producers
    • These species are herbivores
  • Secondary consumers derive their energy from ingesting primary consumers
    • These species are omnivores or carnivores
  • Tertiary consumers derive their energy from ingesting secondary consumers
    • These species are usually carnivores but can be omnivorous

So, who is a primary, secondary, and tertiary consumer in a forest ecosystem? Let’s look at this example:

  • A caterpillar eats a maple leaf
  • A sparrow eats the caterpillar
  • A hawk eats the sparrow

In this example:

  • The caterpillar is the primary consumer because it ate a producer (the producer being the tree leaf)
  • The sparrow is the secondary consumer because it ate the caterpillar which is a primary consumer
  • The hawk is the tertiary consumer because it ate the sparrow

Consumers occupy the “higher” part of the food chain, and tertiary consumers are usually predators like bears, wolves, and hawks that live on the “top of the food chain”. These organisms all eat and digest other organisms and turn the energy of the consumed organism into energy for themselves.

Forest Decomposers

Decomposers are a unique group of organisms in the forest that is often overlooked (literally). Decomposers are super necessary for the forest because they are able to break down waste from dead organisms, in order to provide energy for themselves, and eventually for other organisms. Most of them live in the forest floor.

Here are some examples of decomposers you may see in a forest:

  • Worms
  • Beetles
  • Mites
  • Fungi
  • Bacteria
  • Snails
  • Slugs

Bacteria and fungi make up most of the decomposers in any given forest. Although you can’t see any bacteria, and most fungi, they are constantly hard at work digesting organic matter and producing healthy nutrients in the soil that help the next generation of plants grow.

Roles of Non-Living Things in a Forest Ecosystem

Non-living elements of a forest ecosystem are necessary for the maintenance of the living organisms, just as those living organisms regulate the non-living parts of the ecosystem.

Abiotic factors in forests include: 

  • The sun
  • Climate
  • Water
  • Air
  • Rocks and minerals
  • Topography
  • Soil

The non-living factors of an ecosystem determine what type of ecosystem can exist there. A forest ecosystem can exist in lots of different abiotic conditions, but if the area does not get enough rain, does not get enough sun, or does not have the correct soil conditions a forest ecosystem cannot be established in that area. 

When we think of forests, what we usually imagine are temperate deciduous forests, these are forests that have mild temperatures, not too much rainfall, and where trees lose their leaves in the winter. 

The abiotic conditions necessary for a temperate deciduous forest to exist are:

  • 30-60 inches of annual precipitation
  • Warm summers, cold winters
  • Fertile soil composed of air, water, minerals, and organic matter
  • Elevation under 9,000 feet

If any of these abiotic conditions drastically change, the deciduous forest ecosystem may not be able to survive, as many plants, animals, bacteria, and fungi will die off. However, minimal changes in precipitation, warmth, and soil composition will determine what specific species can and cannot live in that particular forest.

Putting it All Together: The Structure of a Forest Ecosystem

We know that an ecosystem is a set of interrelated parts. We’ve gone through its parts, but how are they related?

The biotic and abiotic factors are structured in a way that they are able to exchange energy and matter in order to maintain the health of the ecosystem. The basic structure of any forest ecosystem is as follows:

  • The sun provides energy to producers like trees, shrubs, and grasses
  • The producers photosynthesize the sun’s energy to produce carbohydrates
  • Consumers eat producers, or other consumers, and metabolize the food as energy for themselves
  • Producers and consumers die, and decomposers digest the nutrients of the once-living organisms and make nutrients that return to the soil that will soon help new producers grow
  • Meanwhile, water, air, wind, and soil regulate temperature and nutrients that help keep the cycle going

As you can see in this general structure, every living and non-living part of a forest is essential to the health of the forest. To learn more about forest functioning and what the forest provides, check out this article. 

Conclusion | Important Takeaways

  • A forest is made up of abiotic and biotic features.
  • The living things in a forest include producers, consumers, and decomposers. Producers get energy from the sun, consumers get energy from other organisms, and decomposers get energy from dead organisms.
  • The non-living things like climate, minerals, soil, and water support the life and growth of the living things.
  • Abiotic conditions and biotic elements interact to form the structure of the forest ecosystem, whose function is to provide for every living thing in the forest.

How is a Forest Ecosystem Structured and What are its Functions?

Forest ecosystems are all around us, they’re responsible for producing the world’s oxygen and contain many of the living species in the world, but how do they do it? What structures do they have that allow them to provide resources and homes to so many living things?

First, let’s discuss the definition of an ecosystem since the term is a bit vague:

  • An ecosystem is a group of living and non-living things working together to maintain each other and interacting through the transfer of energy and materials. An ecosystem includes all plants, animals, and any organism, along with the abiotic features of the area like the air, and water.

So, an ecosystem is not just plants and animals, it’s every living and nonliving thing. The ecosystem also includes abiotic systems like climate and topography. More specifically, a forest ecosystem is an ecosystem that encompasses an area with relatively dense tree cover.

We’ll now answer the following questions about forest ecosystems:

How Are Forest Ecosystems Structured?

The “structure” of an ecosystem refers simply to the parts of the environment and how they are related to each other. It is often drawn in a diagram–think food webs–but the structure is much more complex in reality.

Forest Ecosystems and Energy

Forest ecosystems, like all ecosystems, are organized and structured through interrelated parts that exchange energy. The energy is transferred via two main routes:

  • The sun: plants capture energy from the sun and turn it into food
  • Biological matter: plants and animals are eaten by other plants and animals

So the sun is the primary source of energy in a forest ecosystem and food like plants and animals are secondary, tertiary, or quaternary forms of energy.

Because all forms of life indirectly or directly require the sun’s energy, we can see the sun as a sort of foundation on which the structure of the forest ecosystem is built. Without the sun’s energy, no living thing could exist.

Generalized Forest Ecosystem Structure

The structure of a forest ecosystem is incredibly complex and it would be nearly impossible to map out every energy transfer among every abiotic and biotic feature of a forest. But lucky for us, we have a great general idea of how this process works. Let’s take a look at an example…

  1. The sun’s light shines and is absorbed by grass and turned into energy via photosynthesis
  2. The grass is eaten by a mouse and converted to energy
  3. A hawk eats the mouse and turns it into energy
  4. The hawk eventually dies, and the decomposers (fungi, microarthropods, etc). Turn the hawk’s body into energy
  5. The grass uptakes the energy

Of course, we could point to many more relationships here, but the main illustration is that the ecosystem is structured around energy. You can follow the path of the energy from the sun to the soil. Here’s the path that the energy traveled in this example:

Sun → Grass → Mouse → Hawk → Fungi 

Note that water, the climate, the soil, and the air are all acting as supports here that are necessary for the continuation of this energy transfer chain.

For more detailed information on forest ecosystem structure, check out this article: What Makes Up a Forest Ecosystem?

Why are Forest Ecosystems Important?

Forests are home to an estimated 80% of the life on earth and occupy over one-third of the earth’s land surface. All the forest ecosystems in the world can be seen as one great big machine, taking in carbon dioxide and pumping out oxygen, providing us with fresh, breathable air.

In this section, we will talk about the function of a forest ecosystem on a few different scales, including a forest’s impact on:

Impact of Forest Ecosystem Function on Biodiversity

Correct ecosystem functioning is essential for the maintenance of biodiversity in the system. But what exactly is biodiversity?

  • Biodiversity refers to the number of different living species within a given ecosystem 

As we know based on the discussion of the forest ecosystem structure, every living thing in a forest relies on something else. In the example above, if the mouse were driven to extinction, the transfer of energy would end there. The hawk would have to find other food, and so would the fungi. 

The function of a forest ecosystem is to provide resources and energy to living things. So, a forest ecosystem is also functioning to protect biodiversity by keeping those living things alive. 

Why is Biodiversity Important?

While forest ecosystems function to maintain biodiversity, biodiversity also functions to maintain ecosystems. 

Biodiversity ensures that there is a species available to fill each ecological niche. 

  • An ecological niche is an area, resources, and food that a particular living being lives in or uses 

The ecosystem itself provides the living thing with its niche, and the living thing cannot live outside of its niche. The ecological niche provides that other living things are consistently able to rely on that species to fulfill their ecological niches.

For example, the mouse’s ecological niche is that it lives in the ground, drinks from the stream, and eats grass. All other living things occupy their niches relative to the mouse, and some species cannot live without the mouse. 

Main takeaway: 

  • Forest ecosystems are made up of delicately interrelated parts (living and nonliving), each with their own role in the system. One part cannot exist independently; each part relies on the other directly or indirectly.

Impact of a Forest Ecosystem on Other Ecosystems

Forest ecosystems provide nutrients and resources to other ecosystems that are interconnected around the world. 

This is why carbon released in the US may travel through the atmosphere and eventually be used by trees in the Amazon rainforest. 

Humans interact with forest ecosystems more directly by extracting resources (which also often travel around the world). 

Forest ecosystems interact with other ecosystems in these ways:

  • Ecosystem services: all the resource, regulatory, and cultural benefits that an ecosystem provides for itself and other species or ecosystems
  • Nutrient and matter cycling: air, water, organisms, and nutrients flow in and out of forests to and from other ecosystems (cycling materials can also be an ecosystem service)

Forest ecosystems function to provide services within the ecosystem, as well as outside of it. Here are a few examples of matter cycling these are all ways that forest ecosystems are connected to each other and other ecosystems:

  • Rivers and streams carry water in and out of ecosystems
  • Air carries pollen, spores, and seeds from one ecosystem to the next
  • Animals carry bugs, microorganisms, seeds, and waste from one ecosystem to another

All ecosystems are to some extent dependent on other ecosystems, and the closer they are together, the more they depend on each other. For example, two neighboring ecosystems may both depend on the water, animals, and certain other resources that travel between them.

Each forest ecosystem also impacts other ecosystems indirectly through larger-scale impacts like climate. Let’s now zoom out and talk about the earth as a whole.

Impact of Forest Ecosystem on the Global Ecosystem

The great thing about ecosystems (and systems thinking in general) is that we can imagine systems at any scale we’d like. So, the tip of a cotton swab is an ecosystem, and so is the whole globe, it just depends on what perspective we take.

Because the earth is one global system, each ecosystem within it has an effect on the state of the global system.

So, how do forests affect the global ecosystem? Here are a few big ways:

  • Nutrient cycling: Forests help to process and regulate the global supply of important nutrients like oxygen, phosphorus, and nitrogen.
    • Oxygen and carbon dioxide balance: Forests are crucial for regulating the amount of carbon dioxide and oxygen in the environment. We rely on global forests to process our carbon dioxide and provide us with oxygen. 
      • Climate regulation: Carbon dioxide is a greenhouse gas largely responsible for the diminution of the atmosphere and therefore, climate change. Since forests process carbon dioxide and turn it into oxygen, they are essential to regulating the climate.  
  • Maintaining global biodiversity: Forests don’t just function to maintain biodiversity within themselves, they also help maintain biodiversity globally. Forests provide materials necessary for the continuation of every living thing on the planet. 

Impact of Forest Ecosystems on Humans

Forest ecosystems are essential for human life. These are the ecosystem services that forests provide us with, according to the USDA:

  • Provisioning services: food, water, timber, material goods
  • Regulating services: regulating climate, water, disease, and pollination (discussed above)
  • Supporting services: soil formation and nutrient cycling
  • Cultural services: education, beauty, heritage, and recreation

We can see here that forests provide us with tangible benefits like water and timber, but also with intangible benefits like education and beauty. Human life and society would not exist today without the forest ecosystems of the earth.

Key Takeaways

  • Forests are structured around the transfer of energy and materials, beginning with the energy from the sun which is transferred through different living things and supported by abiotic features like water and minerals.
  • Forest ecosystem structure is set up to maintain the biodiversity of the system because every living and nonliving thing supports every other living thing in some way.
  • Forest ecosystems provide nutrient and matter cycling that bring abiotic and biotic materials in and out of the forest, to and from other ecosystems.
  • On a global scale, forests act as a climate regulator and help to maintain biodiversity worldwide.
  • Forests provide many tangible and intangible benefits to humans that we cannot live without.

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