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Yellowstone Ecosystem: Type & Biotic Components

Instructor: Amanda Robb
In this lesson, we'll be learning about the Yellowstone ecosystem that surrounds Yellowstone National Park. We'll explore what the biotic components are and how they work together to maintain one of the largest temperate ecosystems in America.

What Is Yellowstone?

Yellowstone National Park is a symbol of wild America. Millions of visitors make the trek to Montana, Idaho, and Wyoming to visit the country's oldest national park every year. Spectators gather around to watch hot spring geysers erupt, gaze at looming mountains, or catch a glimpse of a herd of bison. But, if you delve deeper into the park away from the tourist attractions and roadways, and you'll find one of the largest intact ecosystems in America, the Yellowstone ecosystem.

The beauty of the Yellowstone ecosystem draws millions of visitors every year
Yellowstone

The vast land of Yellowstone National Park is the core of the largest temperate ecosystem in America. It is so large that it consists of several distinct habitats. At the highest point on the mountains is the alpine tundra. A dry, cold environment that is largely inhospitable. Only the hardiest animals and plants live here. Below the cold peaks are mountain meadows, which are often covered in snow for most of the year, creating a moist grassland filled with shrubs and wildflowers when the snow melts. There are also drier grasslands at lower elevations called sage-steppe grasslands, which support dry grasses and shrubs that thrive in the extreme summer temperatures.

Biotic Components

All ecosystems are made of abiotic and biotic components. Abiotic components are the non-living things, like the amount of water, sunshine, or temperature in an ecosystem. Biotic components are living things, like plants and animals, that make each ecosystem unique. Biotic factors can be divided into two main categories, producers and consumers.

Producers

Trek through Yellowstone in the summer and you'll find lush meadows of wildflowers and grasses all around. Purple bluebells, pink paintbrush flowers, and yellow cinquefoils create a rainbow of colors on a green backdrop. These plants aren't just for beauty; however, plants are producers and make all of the energy for the other living things in the ecosystem.

Wildflowers bloom in Yellowstone national park
wildflowers

Yellowstone is rich with producers. The grasses are a keystone species, supporting a variety of grazing animals like the famous elk and bison. Shrubs bear fruits that support birds, small mammals, and even the giant grizzly bears.

Evergreen trees are a staple in the Yellowstone ecosystem, as it remains cold and covered in snow for much of the year. These conifers keep their spiny leaves year round and produce cones, bearing seeds to germinate new trees in the spring. Yellowstone is home to various types of pines, spruce, firs, and juniper.

Consumers

Producers form the basis of all ecosystems. Organisms that feed off of the producers and other animals are called consumers. There are different levels of consumers depending on where they get their energy. Primary consumers are herbivores. These animals only consume producers.

Primary Consumers

The Yellowstone ecosystem is famous for elk and bison herds, which get up to 80% of their diet from grasses. They migrate across the ecosystem, following new growth of grass. Sheep, moose, and deer are also grazing species present in Yellowstone.

Scientists estimate there are between 10,000 to 20,000 elk in Yellowstone in the summer. Elk are an important species in the yellowstone ecosystem, controlling populations of producers and serving as a food source for wolves, mountain lions, hawks, and grizzly bears. Changes in the elk ripple through the ecosystem, affecting both plant and animal life.

A male elk in the grasslands
elk

Secondary and Tertiary Consumers

Moving up the food chain, secondary and tertiary consumers feed on other animals. Secondary consumers eat primary consumers and tertiary consumers may eat both primary or secondary consumers.

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