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3.2-3.4 Definitions


Autotroph Organism that is able to capture energy from sunlight or chemicals and use it to produce its own food from inorganic compounds; also called a producer.
Primary Producer First producer of energy-rich compounds that are later used by other organisms.
Photosynthesis Process used by plants and other autotrophs to capture light energy and use it to power chemical reactions that convert carbon dioxide and water in to oxygen and energy-rich carbohydrates such as sugars and starches.
Chemosynthesis Process in which chemical energy is used to produce carbohydrates.
Heterotroph Organism that obtains food by consuming other living things; also called a consumer.
Scavenger Animal that consumes the carcasses of other animals.
Omnivore Organism that obtains energy by eating both plants and animals.
Decomposer Organism that breaks down and obtains energy from dead organic matter.
Detritivore Organism that feeds on plants and animal remains and other dead matter.
Food Chain Series of steps in an ecosystem in which organisms transfer energy by eating and being eaten.
Phytoplankton Photosynthetic algae found near the surface of the ocean.
Food Web Network of complex interactions formed by the feeding relationships among the various organisms in an ecosystem.
Zooplankton Small free-floating animals that form part of plankton.
Trophic Level Each step in a food chain or food web.
Ecological Pyramid Illustration of the relative amounts of energy or matter contained within each trophic level in a given food chain or food web.
Biomass Total amount of living tissue within a given trophic level.
Biogeochemical Cycle Process in which elements, chemical compounds, and other forms of matter are passed from one organism to another and from one part of the biosphere to another.
Nutrient Chemical substance that an organism needs to sustain life.
Nitrogen Fixation Process of converting nitrogen gas into nitrogen compounds that plants can absorb and use.
Denitrification Process by which bacteria convert nitrates into nitrogen.
Limiting Nutrient Single essential nutrient that limits productivity in an ecosystem.
Consumer Organism that relies on other organisms for its energy and food supply; also called a heterotroph.
Carnivore Organism that obtains energy by eating animals.
Herbivore Organism that obtains energy by eating only plants.