Life Requires the Transfer and Transformation of Energy and Matter

Energy flow and chemical cycling. There is a one-way flow of energy in an ecosystem: During photosynthesis, plants convert energy from sunlight to chemical energy (stored in food molecules such as sugars), which is used by plants and other organisms to do work and is eventually lost from the ecosystem as heat. In contrast, chemicals cycle between organisms and the physical environment.
Source: Urry, Lisa A.. Campbell Biology (p. 9). Pearson Education. Kindle Edition.

Life Requires the Transfer and Transformation of Energy and Matter (Campbell Biology)

A fundamental characteristic of living organisms is their use of energy to carry out life’s activities. Moving, growing, reproducing, and the various cellular activities of life are work, and work requires energy. The input of energy, primarily from the sun, and the transformation of energy from one form to another make life possible. When a plant’s leaves absorb sunlight, molecules within the leaves convert the energy of sunlight to the chemical energy of food, such as sugars, in the process of photosynthesis. The chemical energy in the food molecules is then passed along by plants and other photosynthetic organisms (producers) to consumers. Consumers are organisms, such as animals, that feed on other organisms or their remains.

When an organism uses chemical energy to perform work, such as muscle contraction or cell division, some of that energy is lost to the surroundings as heat. As a result, energy flows through an ecosystem in one direction, usually entering as light and exiting as heat. In contrast, chemicals cycle within an ecosystem, where they are used and then recycled. Chemicals that a plant absorbs from the air or soil may be incorporated into the plant’s body and then passed to an animal that eats the plant. Eventually, these chemicals will be returned to the environment by decomposers such as bacteria and fungi that break down waste products, leaf litter, and the bodies of dead organisms. The chemicals are then available to be taken up by plants again, thereby completing the cycle.


Urry, Lisa A.. Campbell Biology. Pearson Education. Kindle Edition.


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