Matter & Energy Transfer in Ecosystems: Lesson for Kids

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  • 0:04 Food & Energy in Ecosystems
  • 0:56 Decomposers
  • 1:23 Producers
  • 1:58 Consumers
  • 2:53 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Michelle Jones

Michelle has taught at the elementary level and has earned a master's degree.

How does a tiny ant affect a large predator like a mountain lion? In ecosystems, energy and matter are transformed from one form to another up and down the food chain. Come explore the different components of matter and energy transfer in an ecosystem.

Food & Energy in Ecosystems

Have you ever skipped breakfast before school because you woke up too late? Maybe you didn't even have time to drink a glass of water. At school, you probably felt very run down and tired, like you had no energy. Your mood and energy level feel a lot better on days when you have time to eat a big, healthy breakfast because the food you eat gives you the nutrients and energy you need to get through the day. And that's not just true for you. All living things in every ecosystem need food and nutrients.

In an ecosystem, matter refers to all of the living and nonliving things in that environment. Living things mean plants, animals, and organisms, while nonliving things could be air, nutrients, and water. All plants and animals need both living and nonliving things to survive. For example, humans need food (living) and water (nonliving). Let's take a look at how both matter and energy are transferred in an ecosystem.


Decomposers have the job of breaking down dead plant and animal matter. Examples of decomposers include fungi, bacteria, worms, and ants. They feed off this dead matter and release nutrients into the soil. They also release energy in the form of heat. If you were to put your hand into a pile of decomposing leaves or mulch, it would actually feel warm!

Let's pretend we're looking at a worm in a pile of soil, munching away and decomposing leaves and dead bugs.


Producers in an ecosystem are plants. They use their roots to soak up the nutrients that the decomposers provided. They also use sunlight, carbon dioxide, and water to make their own food in a process called photosynthesis. Plants then provide nutrients, food, and energy for the animals that eat them. So, not only do they have to make their own food, but they also provide food for other living things! Like decomposers, plants give off energy in the form of heat.

In our pile of soil, the worm has broken down some dead matter and released nutrients; the grass around it is able to use those nutrients to grow in that soil.

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