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Biology LibreTexts

44.1C: Community Ecology and Ecosystem Ecology

  • Page ID
    14149
  • Community ecology studies interactions between different species; abiotic and biotic factors affect these on an ecosystem level.

    LEARNING OBJECTIVES

    Distinguish between community ecology and ecosystem ecology

    KEY TAKEAWAYS

    Key Points

    • Community ecology focuses on the processes driving interactions between differing species and their overall consequences.
    • Ecosystem ecology studies all organismal, population, and community components of an area, as well as the non-living counterparts.
    • The mutualistic relationship between the Karner blue butterfly and ants are of interest to community ecology studies since both species interact within an area and affect each other’s survival rate; in turn, they are both affected by nutrient -poor soils, which are part of the ecosystem ecology.

    Key Terms

    • community: a group of interdependent organisms inhabiting the same region and interacting with each other
    • conspecific: an organism belonging to the same species as another
    • heterospecific: an organism belonging to a different species to another

    Community Ecology

    A biological community consists of the different species within an area, typically a three-dimensional space, and the interactions within and among these species. Community ecologists are interested in the processes driving these interactions and their consequences. Questions about conspecific interactions often focus on competition among members of the same species for a limited resource. Ecologists also study interactions among various species; members of different species are called heterospecifics. Examples of heterospecific interactions include predation, parasitism, herbivory, competition, and pollination. These interactions can have regulating effects on population sizes and can impact ecological and evolutionary processes affecting diversity.

    For example, the larvae of the Karner blue butterfly form mutualistic relationships with ants. Mutualism is a form of a long-term relationship that has coevolved between two species and from which each species benefits. For mutualism to exist between individual organisms, each species must receive some benefit from the other as a consequence of the relationship. Researchers have shown that there is an increase in the probability of survival when Karner blue butterfly larvae (caterpillars) are tended by ants. This might be because the larvae spend less time in each life stage when tended by ants, which provides an advantage for the larvae. Meanwhile, the Karner blue butterfly larvae secrete a carbohydrate-rich substance that is an important energy source for the ants. Both the Karner blue larvae and the ants benefit from their interaction.

    image

    Karner blue butterfly caterpillar: Karner blue butterfly caterpillars form beneficial interactions with ants. This mutualistic relationship is an example of a community ecological study, which aims to examine the interactions between different species living in an area.

    Ecosystem Ecology

    Ecosystem ecology is an extension of organismal, population, and community ecology. The ecosystem is composed of all the biotic components (living things) in an area along with that area’s abiotic components (non-living things). Some of the abiotic components include air, water, and soil. Ecosystem biologists ask questions about how nutrients and energy are stored, along with how they move among organisms and the surrounding atmosphere, soil, and water.

    The Karner blue butterflies and the wild lupine live in an oak-pine barren habitat. This habitat is characterized by natural disturbance and nutrient-poor soils that are low in nitrogen. The availability of nutrients is an important factor in the distribution of the plants that live in this habitat. Researchers interested in ecosystem ecology could ask questions about the importance of limited resources and the movement of resources, such as nutrients, though the biotic and abiotic portions of the ecosystem.

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