US Long-Term Ecological Research Network
Ecosystem ecology: integrated physical, chemical and biological processes
How much time does a phosphorus atom spend in organisms during its long journey from eroding hills to the bottom of the sea? What happens to the fertilizers we use in our gardens? How much of the Earth’s plant production is used by animals? How much by people? Why does the amount of oxygen in the air we breathe stay constant? These are some of the questions asked by ecosystem ecologists. The goal of ecosystem ecology is to understand the flow of energy and matter through organisms and their environment. Energy from sunlight is captured by plants, which can be consumed by animals or microbes. Ecosystem ecology explores questions about this production of organic energy and its transfer among organisms; other questions address nutrient cycling.;\_essential nutrients such as phosphorus and nitrogen can cycle repeatedly among organisms and the nonliving parts of ecosystems such as soil, sediment, water or the atmosphere. Studies of energy flow and nutrient cycling combine principles of physics, chemistry and biology. While many of the fundamental questions of ecosystem ecology are concerned with production and nutrient cycling, problems of environmental management have stimulated a great deal of work on ecosystems. Ecosystem ecology has been applied to understand the production by living resources that is used by people, the cycling of persistent toxic chemicals, the environmental impacts of human activities, and many other interactions of people and nature.
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Oxford University Press
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