Nutrient Cycles and Energy Flow in the Ecosystem

  • Post category:Permaculture

We use affiliate links. If you purchase something using one of these links, we may receive compensation or commission.

Nutrient Cycles and Energy Flow in the Ecosystem

The nutrient cycles and energy flow of any ecosystem are a complex interwoven dance of nature. A dance which is happening all around us, all of the time, and to which we are an integral part.

Energy flow is basically defined as the flow of energy through living organisms in an ecosystem. While nutrient cycling is basically defined as the cyclic process of moving nutrients from the environment, to living organisms, and back to the environment.

Why Do Nutrients Cycle and Energy Flows?

So why do nutrient cycles and energies flow? First let’s look at our earth’s primary source of energy, the sun. Energy is transferred from the sun to the plants through photosynthesis. Then the energy is transferred to the next organism that consumes those plants and so on. 

What Is the Flow of Nutrients and Energy in an Ecosystem?

This energy will keep flowing down its particular pathway and a linear sense from its primary source to the end of its pathway where it has been fully consumed, and converted to a variety of other things. Such as carbon matter and mineral nutrients. These elements are then locked into various cycles. Such as the carbon cycle or nitrogen and phosphorus cycles. Repeatedly cycling between living organisms and the environment.

Nutrient Cycles
Image Source

What Is the Difference Between Flow of Nutrients and Flow of Energy in an Ecosystem?

Here you can clearly see what are some of the differences between energy flow, and nutrient cycling. With the flow of energy we are dealing with there are two types: radiant and fixed. The sun produces radiant energy. While a good example of fixed would be the biomass of a plant or other living organism. 

With either type the flow of these energies is uni-directional and non-cyclic. Losing energy in every trophic level, usually through heat, and the respiratory process of bio organisms. Mineral flow or nutrient cycling is cyclic and with zero loss. As nutrient cycling is returning all that is encompassed in that cycle back to the environment from which it came. The process is inherently tied to the fundamentals of decomposition.

What Is the Relationship Between the Flow of Energy and the Cycling of Nutrients in an Ecosystem?

So to observe the relationship between the flow of energy and the cycling of nutrients in any ecosystem is a fairly simple matter. Even though understanding all of its complexities might not be. In the simplest terms the energy flow is what helps to create and move these nutrients, so they can be cycled throughout their environment. 

Beginning with the help of a variety of autotrophic organisms like algae, plants, bacteria and archaea. By using the initial energy provided, and then repeatedly recycling it through the cyclic systems of nutrient cycling the environment is able to achieve and sustain its own equilibrium.

It really is fascinating to think about. What your biomass is composed of today, in the past you could have been a carrot and cabbage, and what it will be tomorrow, only Mother Nature knows. Will I be a cashew tree, or a swimming fish in the sea? So many possibilities.