Essential idea: Ecosystems require a continuous supply of energy to fuel life processes and to replace energy lost as heat.
The image above shows an eruption on the surface of the sun. Without a constant stream of solar radiation much of the life on Earth would not be possible. The sun's energy is the source of energy in the vast majority of the Earth's ecosystems.
Understandings, applications and skills
|4.2.U1||Most ecosystems rely on a supply of energy from sunlight.|
|4.2.U2||Light energy is converted to chemical energy in carbon compounds by photosynthesis.|
|4.2.U3||Chemical energy in carbon compounds flows through food chains by means of feeding. [Pyramids of number and biomass are not required. Students should be clear that biomass in terrestrial ecosystems diminishes with energy along food chains due to loss of carbon dioxide, water and other waste products, such as urea.]|
|4.2.U4||Energy released from carbon compounds by respiration is used in living organisms and converted to heat.|
|4.2.U5||Living organisms cannot convert heat to other forms of energy.|
|4.2.U6||Heat is lost from ecosystems.|
|4.2.U7||Energy losses between trophic levels restrict the length of food chains and the biomass of higher trophic levels. [The distinction between energy flow in ecosystems and cycling of inorganic nutrients should be stressed. Students should understand that there is a continuous but variable supply of energy in the form of sunlight but that the supply of nutrients in an ecosystem is finite and limited.]|
|4.2.S1||Quantitative representations of energy flow using pyramids of energy. [Pyramids of energy should be drawn to scale and should be stepped, not triangular. The terms producer, first consumer and second consumer and so on should be used, rather than first trophic level, second trophic level and so on.]|
[Text in square brackets indicates guidance notes]
Presentation and notes
The presentation is designed to help your understanding. The notes outline is intended to be used as a framework for the development of student notes to aid revision.
Use the Cornell style template to collate your own notes for Topic 4.1 Species, communities and ecosystems.
Nature of science
Use theories to explain natural phenomena—the concept of energy flow explains the limited length of food chains. (2.2)
The energetics of food chains is a factor in the efficiency of food production for the alleviation of world hunger.