How Does Energy Flow Through the Ecosystem?

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Sun fuels plants

  • Light, a form of energy, provides one of the basic components needed by green plants to produce food in the form of sugar. This action occurs through photosynthesis by the chlorophyll of the plant. These plants, also referred to as producers, release a small amount of the energy they capture in the form of heat.

Animals consume plants or other animals

  • Herbivores, known as consumers, consume plants. These animals use the plants to generate their own form of energy. When the plants eaten enter the digestive system of these consumers, the body breaks the food down into usable components, including sugar. The mitochondria in the cells of the animal converts the sugars into ATP, the form of energy necessary for life. Animals which eat other animals, carnivores, digest the meat into its basic parts, and use the sugar from it to produce their own ATP. The energy produced by animals also helps to regulate body temperature, and this energy is dissipated from the body in the form of heat.

Decomposers finish the movement of energy

  • Once a plant or animal dies, its body does not remain whole forever. Over time, bacteria and other decomposers break the body down into their own form of energy. The decomposers are the final stop for energy in the ecosystem. They use this last bit of energy to produce heat. Energy can only begin to flow again with the sun's light.

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