Secondary Production & Production Efficiency in Ecosystems: Definition & Example

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  • 0:00 Energy in an Ecosystem
  • 0:42 Production Effciency
  • 2:50 Ecological Productivity
  • 4:30 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Christopher Muscato

Chris has a master's degree in history and teaches at the University of Northern Colorado.

Every ecosystem is full of energy, and how this energy is transferred is important. In this lesson, we are going to explore the efficiency of energy production and transfer within an ecosystem and discover how this changes throughout the food chain.

Energy in an Ecosystem

How efficient is this ecosystem? Hmmm. I don't know how to answer that. It's quite pretty, so I'd guess very efficient? Actually, that's not quite what this means. You see, there is a certain amount of energy within all living things, so ecosystems are full of the exchange of energy between various organisms. Now, whenever energy is transferred some is lost, but the less energy lost, the more efficient the ecosystem. Here, how about a little hike through this ecosystem, and you'll see what I mean.

Production Efficiency

All right, so here we are in the jungle. What do we see? Well, just look at all of the signs of life, from plants to insects to birds. When looking at the energy within an ecosystem, we have to start by looking at a few things. First is the biomass, the total potential energy from biological material. All of these plants contain energy, and since this is such a dense jungle, we can guess that the total biomass in this ecosystem is pretty high. From here, we've got to establish the trophic levels. The various levels of a food chain are the trophic levels; these are the steps where energy is actually transferred from one level to another.

Okay, so we've identified biomass and trophic levels, now we've got to figure out how energy transfers throughout this ecosystem. Overall, what we're looking at is the net production efficiency, or how efficiently each trophic level uses the energy within the biomass. Again, we know that some energy will always be lost between trophic levels. Creatures have to spend energy to consume energy and almost never consume all of the available potential energy, so some is lost. Let me ask you, when you eat fish, do you eat the bones? Probably not, but there is energy in there, so that energy is lost.

Between the energy spent to pass energy between trophic levels, the natural energy lost from decay, and the material not consumed, the majority of potential energy in an organism will not be passed into the next trophic level. Still, some ecosystems are more efficient than others. A jungle like this is full of insects, fungi, bacteria, birds, animals, rodents, and all sorts of diverse things that consume energy in different ways, meaning that as little goes to waste as is realistically possible.

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