Main Difference – Ecosystem vs Community
Ecosystem and community are two ecological levels which are used in describing the interactions between biotic factors and abiotic factors in the environment. An ecosystem is the biotic factors that interact with the abiotic factors in their environment. A community is a group of organisms, living in a particular environment with several common characteristics. The main difference between ecosystem and community is that an ecosystem describes both interactions between living organisms as well as living organisms with their surroundings whereas a community only describes the interactions between living organisms.
Key Areas Covered
1. What is an Ecosystem
– Definition, Characteristics, Role
2. What is a Community
– Definition, Characteristics, Role
3. What are the Similarities Between Ecosystem and Community
– Outline of Common Features
4. What is the Difference Between Ecosystem and Community
– Comparison of Key Differences
Key Terms: Abiotic Factors, Autotrophs, Biotic Factors, Commensalism, Community, Ecosystem, Food Chain, Mutualism, Parasitism
What is an Ecosystem
The term ecosystem refers to both biotic factors and abiotic factors in a particular geographical area. Biotic factors include plants, animals, and microorganisms in a particular environment. The biotic factors interact with each other. At the same time, they interact with their physical environment. These interactions occur based on fulfilling two requirements in the environment. The first requirement is the flow of energy through different levels of factors in an ecosystem, which can be explained by food chains in an ecosystem. Most ecosystems get their energy from the sun. The radiation energy in the sunlight is trapped by autotrophs in a process called photosynthesis. Autotrophs produce simple sugars by trapping the energy of sunlight. Therefore, autotrophs are considered as the primary producers in an ecosystem. The organic compounds in autotrophs are used by heterotrophs as their food. Heterotrophs are considered as the primary or secondary consumers. A part of the energy is released to the environment as heat by the cellular functions in both autotrophs and heterotrophs. The death of both autotrophs and heterotrophs leaves the organic matter to decomposers to use as their energy sources. The final part of the energy is released to the environment by the cellular functions in the decomposers.
The second requirement is the recycling of nutrients in an ecosystem. Different living organisms require different types of nutrients from their environment. Moreover, different living organisms produce different forms of compounds. Therefore, mechanisms should exist to recycle the compounds in an ecosystem in such a way to continuously use them in an ecosystem. Different cycles are possessed by the environment to recycle the materials in an ecosystem such as carbon cycle, nitrogen cycle, phosphorus cycle, and water cycle. These cycles ensure the continuous supply of different forms of nutrients to organisms in an ecosystem. A hypothetical ecosystem is shown in figure 1.
What is a Community
The term community refers to the biotic factor of an ecosystem. All living organisms in a particular community interact with each other inside a particular ecosystem. Since the interactions within a community only occur between living organisms, a community is also called a biological community. Three types of interactions can exist within the living organisms in the community. They are mutualism, commensalism, and predation. Mutualism refers to the interactions in which both parties in the relationship are benefitted. In commensalism, one party is benefitted, while the other party is neither benefitted nor harmed. In parasitism, one party is benefitted, while the other is harmed. Biodiversity refers to the number of interacting species in a particular biological community. It reflects the complexity of the relationships in an ecosystem.
Since a community represents the biotic factor of an ecosystem, it comprises the organisms in the food chains in an ecosystem. That means the biological community is involved in the flow of energy in an ecosystem. On the other hand, the members of a community are involved in the recycling of materials as well. The predatory relationship between two species is shown in figure 2.
Similarities Between Ecosystem and Community
- Ecosystem and community are two ecological terms, describing the distribution of species in a particular geographical environment.
- Both ecosystem and community describe the interactions between living organisms.
- Both ecosystem and community are important in the energy flow and the recycling of nutrients in the environment.
Difference Between Ecosystem and Community
Ecosystem: Ecosystem refers to all biotic and abiotic factors of a particular environment that interact with each other.
Community: Community is a group of organisms, living in a particular environment with several common characteristics.
Ecosystem: An ecosystem comprises both biotic factors and the abiotic factors in a particular geographical area.
Community: A community comprises only biotic factors in a particular environment.
Size of the Ecological Level
Ecosystem: An ecosystem is a broader level than a community.
Community: A community comprises only the biotic factors in an ecosystem.
Changing with the Environmental Factors
Ecosystem: An ecosystem does not change with the environmental factors though it is transformed into another form.
Community: A community changes with the environmental factors in a particular geographical area.
Ecosystem: A forest, grassland, pond, and estuary are the examples of ecosystems.
Community: The collection of plants, animals, and microorganisms in a particular ecosystem is a community.
Ecosystem and community are two ecological levels. An ecosystem comprises both biotic factors and abiotic factors in a particular geographical area. But, a community only comprises the biotic factors. The interactions between each factor in the environment allow the flow of energy as well as the recycling of nutrients within a particular geographical area. The main difference between ecosystem and community is the composition of each ecological level.
1. “What is an ecosystem?” ESchooltoday, Available here. Accessed 4 Sept. 2017.
2. “COMMUNITY ECOLOGY, CHARACTERISTICS, STRUCTURE AND COMPOSITION.” Biology Notes Help, 14 Sept. 2016, Available here. Accessed 4 Sept. 2017.