Decomposition- The Process by Which Detritivores Return Carbon to The Atmosphere

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The process by which detritivores return carbon to the atmosphere is called decomposition. Decomposition starts when organic matter such as dead trees, leaves, or other plants break down by enzymes into smaller molecules.

These smaller molecules constitute what is known as the substrate for microbial activity. The organisms that eat these small molecules are called heterotrophic bacteria and protozoa (collectively known as heterotrophic organisms). 

They convert chemical compounds into a more usable form of energy in order to acquire amino acids and other nutrients from proteins and carbohydrates respectively.

Do you know what name is given to the process by which detritivores return carbon to the atmosphere?

A lot of these microbes start this metabolic process with oxygen but eventually require anaerobic respiration, when they uptake molecular hydrogen instead of molecular oxygen for energy production.

Here are some points discussed about Decomposition-

1. Decomposition of dead organic matter produces new energy. 

It is a vital part of the food chain, because it releases nutrients into the soil so other organisms can use them. Decomposition begins when the organic matter is attacked by microorganisms such as bacteria and fungi, while they are still attached to plants or trees. 

The enzymes in these microbes break down carbohydrates and proteins into smaller molecules that are used to produce energy. 

This process is similar to a human being burning sugar for energy, but at a slower rate. The new organic matter is used by many organisms including microbes, fungi, and plants. This process is known as “The Ecological Cycle”.

2. Decomposition of organic matter produces nutrients 

This process produces energy for the decomposers, but also provides food for other organisms such as bacteria and protozoa. 

Decomposition begins when microorganisms start breaking down dead organic matter into smaller molecules called “food” that are used to produce energy and provide essential nutrients for the rest of the ecosystem. 

The food that these decomposers use are carbohydrates, proteins, fats and oils from plant material. Some of these nutrients include nitrogen, carbon dioxide, phosphates, and inorganic salts. These nutrients allow other organisms to grow, develop, and produce energy.

3. It produces resources.

The decomposers that break down plant material in soil or aquatic systems release huge amounts of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere and provide nitrogen for bacteria to use. 

The products from microbes break down the dead material into smaller molecules or substances that only microbes can use. 

This process is known as a “metabolic pathway”. As decomposition occurs in an ecosystem, it allows for greater growth of the plants which are used in keeping ecosystems alive and healthy. This process is known as an “energy flow”.

4. Decomposition affects nutrient cycling.

Decomposition is one of the most important ecosystem processes, because it recycles nutrients that would otherwise be lost. This process allows nutrients to be returned to the soil and water where they are needed by plant life. 

When dead organic matter is decomposed, nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium are released so that plants can grow. Nutrients such as nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium are a major source of energy for living organisms. 

Most terrestrial ecosystems depend on this process to recycle these nutrients from dead plants and animals back into the soil allowing for healthy new growth of plants. 

5. Decomposition influences soil structure.

A breakdown of dead organic matter releases nutrients into soils, which are needed by plants to grow. This process allows nutrients to be released into the environment, avoiding a decrease in the presence of nitrogen and phosphorus in soils because they would otherwise be lost. 

Decomposition also occurs in aquatic ecosystems but more slowly than on land due to the absence of oxygen present in water. The decomposers cause small particles to break down into smaller particles that are called “slimes”. 

These “slimes” form a layer which functions as a means of trapping sediment and other substances that would otherwise be carried away by water flow.

A healthy soil structure is a function of decomposition, along with the plant life growing in the soil. The breakdown of dead organic material releases nutrients that allow plant growth and the buildup of humus. 

Limestone particles build up on the bottom of water bodies because they are formed by decayed limestone deposits.

6. Decomposition creates habitat for animals and plants.

Decomposition allows nutrients and gases to be released into the environment, allowing organisms to develop. This process allows organisms to utilize nitrogen and phosphorus which are important elements in living things. 

Even bacteria require a source of nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium as they help form proteins in organisms as well as provide energy for them. 


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