Ecosystem Components

Ecologists separate the environmental factors that influence an organism into two types. The living components of the environment are called biotic (bie-AHT-ik) factors. Biotic factors include all of the living things that affect the organism. The nonliving factors, called abiotic (AY-bie-AHT-ik) factors, are the physical and chemical characteristics of the environment.

Biotic and Abiotic Factors

Abiotic factors include temperature, humidity, pH, salinity, oxygen concentration, amount of sunlight, availability of nitrogen, and precipitation. The importance of each factor varies from environment to environment. Abiotic and biotic factors are not independent; organisms change their environment and are influenced by those changes. For example, the availability of nitrogen in the soil affects how fast plants can grow, and plants affect nitrogen availability by absorbing nitrogen from the soil.

Abiotic factors are not constant. They vary from place to place and over time, as shown in Figure 18-4. Consider temperature, which is a very important abiotic factor. Temperature varies from hour to hour, from day to day, from season to season, and from place to place. Also important are the small differences in temperature within a habitat, such as the difference between an area in the shade of a tree and an area exposed to direct sunlight.

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