Role in the Ecosystem

"Did you choose a species to focus on? Remember, everything is connected in an ecosystem - especially in the longleaf pine ecosystem! So helping one species will help lots of species!"

The Planeteers are right! Let's explore how your species is connected to the forest, other species that live in the longleaf forest, and what makes it a healthy ecosystem.


Elements of an Ecosystem

Recall in UNCOVER, we discussed what exactly we meant by an ecosystem. It's the community of plants, animals, and other organisms or biotic elements, that exist and interact with the non-living physical and chemical features of the environment, or its abiotic elements. To review, below are a list of biotic and abiotic elements that make up the longleaf pine ecosystem.

Biotic (Living)

Living organisms that are found in a longleaf pine ecosystem can be grouped into three categories:

PRODUCERS: Living things that can produce their own energy, primarily from the sun. In the longleaf pine ecosystem, the many plant species that grow on the forest floor and the trees are producers.

CONSUMERS: Living things that cannot produce their own energy and rely on eating or consuming producers to survive. In the longleaf pine ecosystem, animals (and even some cool plants!) are consumers. Primary consumers eat plants; Secondary consumers eat primary consumers and plants; Tertiary consumers eat secondary consumers; Quaternary consumers are top predators - they eat tertiary consumers and are rarely hunted.

DECOMPOSERS: Living things that get their energy from breaking down or decomposing dead organisms. In the longleaf pine ecosystem, decomposers include fungi or mushrooms, some kinds of worms and insects, and some soil microbes and bacteria.

Abiotic (Non-Living)

Non-living elements of that are important to understanding the longleaf pine ecosystem include:

SUNSHINE: The structure of the longleaf forest lets more sunshine reach the forest floor than in many forests. This sunshine is an important energy source for producer species.

SOIL: The soil material and nutrients in the longleaf forest are important for the growth of plants and trees and to provide essential habitat conditions for animals.

CLIMATE: Like much of the southeastern United States, the longleaf pine ecosystem exists and is adapted to long hot summers, high humidity, and frequent summer storms.

FIRE: With those frequent storms comes lightning which sometimes start fires in the forest. The longleaf pine ecosystem is what we consider a fire dependent ecosystem, meaning it actually NEEDS fire to be healthy!


Think about the species you chose to focus on.

Now that you are thinking about a specific plant or animal species that lives in the longleaf forest, you may be starting to realize that all of the elements in the ecosystem depend on each other! They are part of an ecological system - an ecosystem!

Living things depend on certain non-living characteristics of a habitat to survive. They may also depend on other living things for food and energy. And in many cases, other animals depend on them to survive.


Hero Journal

Think about the species that you have selected. It's alive, so it is a biotic element in the ecosystem. In your journal, describe the category you think your species is in -- a producer, a consumer, or a decomposer. If it's a consumer, what type of consumer do you think it is?

Then, in your journal, make two lists:

  • Elements of the ecosystem my species depends on to survive
  • Elements of the ecosystem that depend on my species to survive