LS2.B: Cycles of Matter and Energy Transfer in Ecosystems

How do matter and energy move through an ecosystem?


K-2 3-5 6-8 9-12
Matter cycles between the air and soil and among organisms as they live and die.

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The atoms that make up the organisms in an ecosystem are cycled repeatedly between the living and nonliving parts of the ecosystem. Food webs model how matter and energy are transferred among producers, consumers, and decomposers as the three groups interact within an ecosystem. Photosynthesis and cellular respiration provide most of the energy for life processes. Only a fraction of matter consumed at the lower level of a food web is transferred up, resulting in fewer organisms at higher levels. At each link in an ecosystem elements are combined in different ways and matter and energy are conserved. Photosynthesis and cellular respiration are key components of the global carbon cycle.

Grade Band Endpoints for LS2.B

from A Framework for K-12 Science Education: Practices, Crosscutting Concepts, and Core Ideas (pages 153-154)

By the end of grade 2.Organisms obtain the materials they need to grow and survive from the environment. Many of these materials come from organisms and are used again by other organisms.

By the end of grade 5.Matter cycles between the air and soil and among plants, animals, and microbes as these organisms live and die. Organisms obtain gases, water, and minerals from the environment and release waste matter (gas, liquid, or solid) back into the environment.By the end of grade 8.Food webs are models that demonstrate how matter and energy is transferred between producers (generally plants and other organisms that engage in photosynthesis), consumers, and decomposers as the three groups interact—primarily for food—within an ecosystem. Transfers of matter into and out of the physical environment occur at every level—for example, when molecules from food react with oxygen captured from the environment, the carbon dioxide and water thus produced are transferred back to the environment, and ultimately so are waste products, such as fecal material. Decomposers recycle nutrients from dead plant or animal matter back to the soil in terrestrial environments or to the water in aquatic environments. The atoms that make up the organisms in an ecosystem are cycled repeatedly between the living and nonliving parts of the ecosystem.By the end of grade 12.Photosynthesis and cellular respiration (including anaerobic processes) provide most of the energy for life processes. Plants or algae form the lowest level of the food web. At each link upward in a food web, only a small fraction of the matter consumed at the lower level is transferred upward, to produce growth and release energy in cellular respiration at the higher level. Given this inefficiency, there are generally fewer organisms at higher levels of a food web, and there is a limit to the number of organisms that an ecosystem can sustain.The chemical elements that make up the molecules of organisms pass through food webs and into and out of the atmosphere and soil and are combined and recombined in different ways. At each link in an ecosystem, matter and energy are conserved; some matter reacts to release energy for life functions, some matter is stored in newly made structures, and much is discarded. Competition among species is ultimately competition for the matter and energy needed for life.Photosynthesis and cellular respiration are important components of the carbon cycle, in which carbon is exchanged between the biosphere, atmosphere, oceans, and geosphere through chemical, physical, geological, and biological processes.

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Introduction to LS2.B

from A Framework for K-12 Science Education: Practices, Crosscutting Concepts, and Core Ideas (page 151)

Ecosystems are ever changing because of the interdependence of organisms of the same or different species and the nonliving (physical) elements of the environment. Seeking matter and energy resources to sustain life, organisms in an ecosystem interact with one another in complex feeding hierarchies of producers, consumers, and decomposers, which together represent a food web. Interactions between organisms may be predatory, competitive, or mutually beneficial. Ecosystems have carrying capacities that limit the number of organisms (within populations) they can support. Individual survival and population sizes depend on such factors as predation, disease, availability of resources, and parameters of the physical environment. Organisms rely on physical factors, such as light, temperature, water, soil, and space for shelter and reproduction. Earth’s varied combinations of these factors provide the physical environments in which its ecosystems (e.g., deserts, grasslands, rain forests, and coral reefs) develop and in which the diverse species of the planet live. Within any one ecosystem, the biotic interactions between organisms (e.g., competition, predation, and various types of facilitation, such as pollination) further influence their growth, survival, and reproduction, both individually and in terms of their populations.