Energy Flow in Ecosystem

Biologic communities are groups of creatures, plants, and microorganisms that are dependent on one another and other living things. The unusual kind of biotic community that arises or is observed in a place is mostly influenced by abiotic or non-living forces. The unusual kind of biotic community that arises or is observed in a place is mostly influenced by abiotic or non-living forces. All of a region’s physical and chemical characteristics that serve to both support and constrain the biota are included in these abiotic parameters. Climate-related elements like sunlight, temperature, air, precipitation, salinity, soil, and soil nutrients are among the non-biological or abiotic factors that greatly influence how well the ecosystem functions.The term “ecosystem” refers to the fundamental organisational unit of the intricate web of living things and the biotic environments in which they exist.

Now let’s understand the concept of energy.


The ability to do work is energy. Energy changes that are controlled by the laws of thermodynamics are how life appears. The transfer of energy through the ecosystem’s components is what allows ecosystems to exist and function and the organising principles of the biosphere are based on thermodynamics.Energy has the capacity to operate and moves matter in all of its forms. In general, energy is divided into two main categories: kinetic energy and potential energy. Energy in motion, such as light heat, electric current, or any physical motion, is known as kinetic energy. Potential energy is stored energy; hence, a material, system, or structure with stored energy has the potential or aptitude to release one or more kinds of kinetic energy, such as stored energy in batteries, stretched elastic to throw a stone, etc.

Forms of Energy

Energy is generally categorised into four types: chemical, electrical, mechanical, and radiant energy.

  • Chemical energy is held in chemical bonds and eventually converted from potential to kinetic energy, such as in the case of fuel molecules.
  • Charged particle motion, such as the electric current flow in our homes, produces Electric energy.
  • Mechanical energy is used in any physical movement, such as moving a table or pedalling a bicycle.
  • Radiant energy is electromagnetic spectrum energy that flows in waves like radio waves, X-rays, and infrared waves.The radiant energy is in the form of electromagnetic waves which are released from the sun during the transformation of hydrogen to helium constitutes the fundamental source of energy.

All life forms need the chemical energy in their food as their primary source of energy. In a specific way, the atoms that make up food transform chemical energy, which is obtained by converting solar radiant energy stored in food for living creatures into potential energy.
Energy cannot be created or destroyed; it can move from one form to another in a variety of ways, but the overall amount of energy in the universe never changes. It can change from radiant energy to chemical energy, mechanical energy to chemical energy, kinetic energy to potential energy, potential energy to kinetic energy, and a number of other paths.

Energy Tranformation
The rules of thermodynamics, which are energy laws, actually underlie the energy transformation or change of form from one to another. These two laws are explained in the following lines:
The law of conservation of energy, generally known as the first law of thermodynamics, says that energy is never created nor destroyed but only changed from one form to another. Therefore, the amount of energy consumed relative to the total amount of energy created in all of its forms would be equal if the energy form were compared at the receiver point.
Entropy, or the second law of thermodynamics, states that some of the useful energy will inevitably be lost during the energy conversion process. Entropy refers to the degree of flaw, degeneration, or imperfection in the system that causes this loss of useful energy. Energy is wasted as heat at each stage of the conversion process. As a result, energy moves from higher to lower levels, which suggests that during transformation, energy’s potential for work is decreased.

Energy dynamics in the Earths’ Environment

Solar energy controls all fundamental systems and processes on the surface of the earth. The sun provides all of the energy needs for the biotic and abiotic components, respectively. The solar energy that is available to the Earth is stored in its environment and is constantly changing forms, especially in the case of heat and chemical (organic) compounds. This energy travels through the environment in two separate ways—as heat and as organic matter.

  • Geophysical Path and Ecosystem– This process starts when solar energy is received, reflected back into space, absorbed by the atmosphere, and converted to heat by the ocean and land surface layers. This transformed heat is temporarily resorbed in the environment where it is temporarily collected. The heat path is observed to carry more than 99 percent of solar energy. All physical and chemical systems and processes that occur on the surface of the Earth are driven by this heat.It is these systems that convert thermal energy into other forms of energy, such as kinetic energy, which manifests as a variety of movements and water and wind ciculations, or potential energy, which can be observed in the mass of snow or other precipitation.0
  • Organic Path and Ecosystems– These important systems are those that connect the creation and decomposition of organic matter with the storage and release of energy. The first step on the organic path is photosynthesis, a crucial process where producers (green plants) convert a significant amount of solar radiation’s energy into high-potential energy organic molecules for their bodies using the raw materials present in the environment, such as carbon dioxide, water, and other elements. This enormous task of energy transformation is made possible by the green pigment chlorophyll found in green plants, which absorbs the light energy from the Sun.

The producers and consumers in an ecosystem can be divided into several trophic levels, or feeding groups. Trophic level refers to the specific position that a group of organisms occupy in a food chain, such as primary producer, primary consumer, secondary consumer, or tertiary consumer. Heterotrophic organisms get their energy by eating herbivores, carnivores, and other higher order consumers, who in turn eat herbivores, while detritivores eat waste that has been formed. The food chains are organised into trophic levels, which are three to five levels of energy conversions that each represent a specific role in the ecosystem. Food webs are composed of interconnected food networks.


At the base of the food chain, plants serve as the ecosystem’s principal energy source by absorbing solar energy and converting it into chemical energy that can be stored. The entire ecosystem receives its energy from the Sun through the plants. The food chain, which consists of a number of interdependent consumers, is how the organic molecule that plants produce is transferred to other organisms. Energy continues to move from one organism to another in the ecosystem as organisms that consume plant material synthesise some of this in their own bodies into the flesh of animals that eat plants, which in turn feeds other animals.


Consumers require energy to synthesise all of the molecules required for the body’s growth, maintenance, and repair. A critical element of cell respiration is the release of potential energy from organic molecules that the organism needs to carry out its functions. As a result of cell respiration, organic molecules like glucose are broken down. Carbon dioxide is emitted as a byproduct and oxygen is absorbed during the process.

The primary consumers, or herbivores, make up the second level of the feeding chain at this trophic level. These include cattle and all other plant-eating animals, followed by carnivores or secondary consumers like snakes, cats, and lions, among others, who devour meat. The fourth level, for instance, is the tertiary consumers. This category of carnivorous eaters includes hawks and eagles. Humans, apes, monkey raccoons, and black bears are all omnivores that perform both carnivorous and herbivorous tasks.

According to the rule of thermodynamics, the energy conversions involved in the body’s usage of potential energy from glucose are not entirely efficient. The waste heat generated by the body acts as the source of body heat. Nearly 10% of the organic material consumed by a consumer is converted for use in body tissue growth, maintenance, and repair, while the remaining 60% of the food is oxidised for energy and released as waste into the environment. The remaining 40% is excreted as poop.


Decomposers are heterotrophic organisms that eat both dung and dead organic debris. Decomposers such as fungi, bacteria, and protozoa feed on dead organic matter, and eventually the waste products of the final line of decomposition are mineral nutrients which are reabsorbed by the soil, which are crucial for primary producers and are thus recycled by plants back to the ecosystem. Scavengers such as vultures, worms, and crabs also feed on dead remains.

Energy flow and Efficiency

The efficiency with which organisms consume their food resources and turn them into biomass determines how much energy moves through the food chain. This is referred to as trophic level efficiency of ecological efficiency and is dependent on two different sorts of factors: the availability of fundamental nutrients for photosynthesis being constrained and disruption brought on by the external interaction with the environment. Effective photosynthesis requires ingredients like light and heat, water, carbon dioxide, and nutrients all need to be present in sufficient amounts for photosynthesis to occur. If any of these elements are lacking, photosynthesis is considered to be limited by that particular element’s value. Similarly, an abundance of any element may also prove to be a limiting factor for a particular ecosystem, such as any form of pollution in the water or atmosphere. The disruption of photosynthesis caused by the external environment includes rapid floods, storms, draughts, and other events. For instance, significant soil erosion will restrict nutrient availability, while storm damage will physically harm plant leaves. With these abrupt and ongoing changes, ecosystems are always adjusting.

It has been observed that human interference is making earth’s ecosystems more complex in addition to natural limiting forces. The ecosystem’s energy flow efficiency suffers indirect losses as a result of a variety of anthropogenic activities, such as overgrazing, pollution, and deforestation. As human populations, resource exploitation, and expanding habitation of land and marine portions of the world have multiplied many times over the course of history, there has been a general tendency towards increased scale and frequency of disturbances by humans.

It is quite difficult to measure the flow of energy throughout an entire community. The basic trophic structure is determined by the total solar energy input and the efficiency of its transformations at each level; the number of trophic levels, the complexity of the food webs, and the annual rate of generation of organic matter are all crucial to the ecosystem’s survival.

Share your thoughts about this topic with us.


  • Environmental Geography Module, ePG Pathashala, Energy Flow in Ecosystem.
  • Energy flow, Wikipedia.
  • National Geographic Encyclopaedia.
  • Saxena H. M., 2017, Environmental Geography, New Delhi.

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