What Is a Biotic Factor?

Benjamin Neavear, Cara Rogers, Amanda Robb
  • Author
    Benjamin Neavear

    Ben Neavear has a vested interest in educating people about the natural world. He has a Bachelor of Arts in Biology from Stockton University, with Magna Cum Laude Honors. He was also an Education Specialist for two years at the Atlantic City Aquarium, where he educated visitors of all ages about marine life.

  • Instructor
    Cara Rogers
  • Expert Contributor
    Amanda Robb

    Amanda has taught high school science for over 10 years. She has a Master's Degree in Cellular and Molecular Physiology from Tufts Medical School and a Master's of Teaching from Simmons College. She is also certified in secondary special education, biology, and physics in Massachusetts.

What is a biotic factor? Learn about biotic factors, biotic components, types of biotic factors, and biotic factor influences in this thorough lesson. Updated: 08/12/2021

Biotic Factors-Introduction

An apple tree produces flowers and apples. Deer eat the apples. Bees gather pollen from the flowers. Some birds come and eat the bees. When the apple tree dies, termites will eat the wood. The thread that ties all of these events together is that these are biotic factors. Biotic factors are all the living processes of an ecosystem, a system made from the organisms that inhabit the area and their interactions with the environment. This differs from the abiotic factors of an ecosystem, which are comprised of all the nonliving processes (e.g., rain, wildfires, temperature).

Biotic Definition

In its simplest form, biotic means living; biotic comes from the Latin word bioticus. Bioticus originated from the Greek term biotikos, which means 'pertaining to life'. Adding a- in front means not or non; thus, abiotic means nonliving.

Biotic Components

In ecology, the term biotic factors is interchangeable with the term biotic components. Biotic components are the organisms that make up an ecosystem. This includes organisms of all sizes, from the largest animal to the smallest microbe. All stages of an organism's life, from when they are living to when they pass away, are also considered biotic components. The products that organisms create, such as pollen or excrement, are also components. Therefore, a component is simply a part, or a factor, that keeps an ecosystem functioning.

What Defines a Biotic Component?

What is the one thing scientists keep looking for on Mars that hasn't been found? A bunch of red rocks? Craters? Little green aliens? Believe it or not, the closest answer actually is little green aliens. Scientists have yet to find any life on Mars (bacteria, little green aliens, or otherwise). As far as we know, the one thing that Earth has that no other planet has is life, otherwise known as biotic components.

Biotic components are all the living things in an ecosystem. They are the animals, the plants and the microorganisms. Biotic components also include the waste from living things and dead organisms. Even the harshest corners of our planet have biotic components. Earth is teaming with biotic beings.

The surface of Mars has no biotic components as far as we know.
The surface of Mars.

However, ecosystems also contain abiotic components which are the non-living parts of an ecosystem. These can include everything from rocks to temperature, sunlight, clouds, and chemicals in the soil.

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What Is a Biotic Factor?-Types

There are three main types of biotic factors in an ecosystem that have an impact on each other. What drives each of these factors is the flow of energy needed for organisms to engage in their daily life and allow their species to succeed. Therefore, each of these types constitutes an integral trophic level in an ecosystem.

Trophic Levels in an Ecosystem (Rows 1-4 are ordered from biggest level to smallest)
Biotic Factor Role Example
Producers Make their own energy/food from an energy source (i.e. the Sun) Plants, Algae, Phytoplankton
Primary Consumers Acquire energy from another source, usually the producers (typically animals) Herbivores, Pollinators, Plankton feeders
Secondary Consumers Acquire energy from another source, usually other consumers (usually animals) Carnivores, Carnivorous plants
Decomposers Break down waste and dead organisms, recycling the nutrients back into the environment Fungi, Scavengers

Producers (Autotrophs)

Producers are the trophic base of an ecosystem. They are also known as autotrophs; the prefix auto- means ''self''. This is indicative that producers make their own energy, which is aided by an energy source. On Earth, the universal power source is the energy/radiation emitted from the Sun, and the process of converting the Sun's energy into food is called photosynthesis (though it is important to note that some places, such as hydrothermal vents, use the heat from the Earth itself as a power source instead). In terrestrial ecosystems, the role of photosynthesis is mainly filled by plants, while plankton (microscopic organisms) fills this role in marine ecosystems. This is an extremely important biotic factor, as many ecosystems are defined by what producers reside in them. For example, tropical rainforests are known for being covered in plant material that thrives in the heat and humidity, whereas producers in a desert are usually hardy enough to withstand long periods of drought.

A Field of Producers

A field of ferns surrounded by conifer trees

Algae-Aquatic Producers

Rope holding up algae collected from a body of water

Consumers (Heterotrophs)

The prefix hetero- means ''different''. Therefore, heterotrophs, the next trophic level, get their energy from a different source; instead of making their energy, they acquire it. This role is usually filled by both land and sea animals. Heterotrophs, or consumers, are divided into two components: primary consumers and secondary consumers.

Primary Consumers

Consumers that acquire their energy from producers are known as primary consumers. Primary consumers will usually eat the product of a producer (fruit, nectar, etc.) or eat the producer itself. In marine ecosystems, primary consumers are usually plankton-feeders; baleen whales are an example of this. On land, primary consumers are usually synonymous with herbivores, or animals that primarily eat plants. However, some herbivores help producers in their reproduction: when herbivores eat plant products (fruit, nectar, etc.), they distribute their seeds and/or pollen to other areas, allowing new plants of that species to sprout. Therefore, both sides have an impact on each other's survival, a relationship known as symbiosis.

Deer-Primary Consumers/Herbivores

A pair of deer eating grass under a tree

Right Whale-Plankton Feeder

Southern right whale emerging

Secondary Consumers

Secondary consumers acquire energy by eating primary consumers. Because of this, secondary consumers are also known as carnivores, or animals that eat meat; they are also known as predators. Secondary consumers are not limited to eating primary consumers; in fact, some will eat other secondary consumers. These consumers may be called other names (such as tertiary consumers), but they are considered secondary here because they are still eating other heterotrophs.

Gray Wolf-Secondary Consumer/Predator

Gray wolf staring at camera

Bull Shark-Predator

Bull shark swimming

Decomposers

To decompose something means to break it down. This is the role of decomposers; these organisms break down waste material to use as energy. This waste material can include something an organism made, such as an animal's feces, to even dead organisms themselves (e.g., a fallen tree, an animal carcass). While decomposers get energy, the nutrients they break down are often brought back into the environment, which can then be used by producers. Decomposers can be thought of as the biotic ''recycling center'' of an ecosystem. Fungi (molds, mushrooms, etc.) usually fill this role. Many decomposers are microscopic such as various bacteria and other single-celled organisms that break waste down on the cellular level. Animals that are decomposers are also known as scavengers.

Mushroom-Decomposer

A single mushroom

Horseshoe Crabs-Scavengers

Cluster of horseshoe crabs

Influences

Biotic factors have as much an impact on each other as abiotic factors do. Without producers, there would be no primary consumers, which would mean no secondary consumers. Without these other components, there would be no decomposers either. Therefore, without at least one of these biotic factors, the ecosystem could be thrown out of balance. Some abiotic factors that can change an ecosystem include periodic floods, massive wildfires, or changes in an area's climate. But what biotic factors can also disrupt ecosystems?

What Are Biotic Factors?

Biotic factors, as well as abiotic factors, have more to do with how those parts of an ecosystem affect one another than the specific living or non-living thing itself. Biotic factors in an ecosystem are the living things that affect other living things in that ecosystem.

Competition, consumption, predation, parasitism, disease, even symbiosis are all ways a biotic factor could have an effect on the other creatures they encounter. For instance, a consumer, such as a deer, eats grass. The deer is a biotic factor that affects the amount of grass in the ecosystem. The deer can also be affected by abiotic factors. For instance, a harsh winter can freeze the water the deer might usually be able to drink.

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Video Transcript

What Defines a Biotic Component?

What is the one thing scientists keep looking for on Mars that hasn't been found? A bunch of red rocks? Craters? Little green aliens? Believe it or not, the closest answer actually is little green aliens. Scientists have yet to find any life on Mars (bacteria, little green aliens, or otherwise). As far as we know, the one thing that Earth has that no other planet has is life, otherwise known as biotic components.

Biotic components are all the living things in an ecosystem. They are the animals, the plants and the microorganisms. Biotic components also include the waste from living things and dead organisms. Even the harshest corners of our planet have biotic components. Earth is teaming with biotic beings.

The surface of Mars has no biotic components as far as we know.
The surface of Mars.

However, ecosystems also contain abiotic components which are the non-living parts of an ecosystem. These can include everything from rocks to temperature, sunlight, clouds, and chemicals in the soil.

What Are Biotic Factors?

Biotic factors, as well as abiotic factors, have more to do with how those parts of an ecosystem affect one another than the specific living or non-living thing itself. Biotic factors in an ecosystem are the living things that affect other living things in that ecosystem.

Competition, consumption, predation, parasitism, disease, even symbiosis are all ways a biotic factor could have an effect on the other creatures they encounter. For instance, a consumer, such as a deer, eats grass. The deer is a biotic factor that affects the amount of grass in the ecosystem. The deer can also be affected by abiotic factors. For instance, a harsh winter can freeze the water the deer might usually be able to drink.

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  • Activities
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Biotic Factors in Your Life

Now that you have learned about biotic factors, it's time to put your new knowledge to use. In this activity you'll be locating biotic and abiotic factors in your everyday environment and assessing their importance.


Instructions

1. To start, go outside and locate five different biotic factors. For each factor, include what it is, a description, and how it might affect the carrying capacity of the ecosystem based on the lesson. You might create a table for yourself like this:

Biotic FactorDescriptionHow Does It Affect Carrying Capacity?
1.
2.
3.
4.
5.


2. Now, find five abiotic factors that are also important to the environment. For each abiotic factor you find, write a short description, including how it might also affect carrying capacity. You can use a similar table to question 1 like this:

Abiotic FactorDescriptionHow Does It Affect Carrying Capacity?
1.
2.
3.
4.
5.


3. Next, answer the discussion questions about the biotic and abiotic factors you found:

a. How did you know which factors were biotic?

b. How did you know which factors were abiotic?

c. How do biotic and abiotic factors influence your environment?

d. Do these factors affect your everyday life? Why or why not?

What are three biotic factors?

Three general types of biotic factors include producers (autotrophs), consumers (heterotrophs), or decomposers. Producers (autotrophs) create their own energy. Consumers (heterotrophs) must obtain energy from another source. Decomposers break down organic matter and recycle nutrients.

What is a biotic and abiotic?

Biotic means alive or living, like an animal. Abiotic means not alive, like water. Biotic and abiotic factors influence ecosystems. Biotic factors can be predation, pollination, or decomposing remains/waste. Abiotic factors can be precipitation, temperature, or the occurrence of natural disasters.

What is an example of a biotic factor?

Biotic factors include anything living or once alive. Examples include plants (trees, shrubs, etc), animals (horses, kangaroos, etc), bacteria (E. coli, etc), eukaryotic microbes (amoebas, etc), and fungi (mushrooms, etc).

What are biotic factors?

Biotic factors are living, or once living, organisms. Biotic factors play various roles in the ecosystem impacting biotic and abiotic components.

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