8.8: Decomposers and Recyclers - Biology

8.8: Decomposers and Recyclers - Biology

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Learning Objectives

  • Describe the importance of fungi to the balance of the environment

The food web would be incomplete without organisms that decompose organic matter (Figure 1). Some elements—such as nitrogen and phosphorus—are required in large quantities by biological systems, and yet are not abundant in the environment. The action of fungi releases these elements from decaying matter, making them available to other living organisms. Trace elements present in low amounts in many habitats are essential for growth, and would remain tied up in rotting organic matter if fungi and bacteria did not return them to the environment via their metabolic activity.

The ability of fungi to degrade many large and insoluble molecules is due to their mode of nutrition. As seen earlier, digestion precedes ingestion. Fungi produce a variety of exoenzymes to digest nutrients. The enzymes are either released into the substrate or remain bound to the outside of the fungal cell wall. Large molecules are broken down into small molecules, which are transported into the cell by a system of protein carriers embedded in the cell membrane. Because the movement of small molecules and enzymes is dependent on the presence of water, active growth depends on a relatively high percentage of moisture in the environment.

As saprobes, fungi help maintain a sustainable ecosystem for the animals and plants that share the same habitat. In addition to replenishing the environment with nutrients, fungi interact directly with other organisms in beneficial, and sometimes damaging, ways (Figure 2).

Importance of Fungi in Human Life

Although we often think of fungi as organisms that cause disease and rot food, fungi are important to human life on many levels. As we have seen, they influence the well-being of human populations on a large scale because they are part of the nutrient cycle in ecosystems. They have other ecosystem roles as well. As animal pathogens, fungi help to control the population of damaging pests. These fungi are very specific to the insects they attack, and do not infect animals or plants. Fungi are currently under investigation as potential microbial insecticides, with several already on the market. For example, the fungus Beauveria bassiana is a pesticide being tested as a possible biological control agent for the recent spread of emerald ash borer. It has been released in Michigan, Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, West Virginia and Maryland (Figure 3).

The mycorrhizal relationship between fungi and plant roots is essential for the productivity of farm land. Without the fungal partner in root systems, 80–90 percent of trees and grasses would not survive. Mycorrhizal fungal inoculants are available as soil amendments from gardening supply stores and are promoted by supporters of organic agriculture.

We also eat some types of fungi. Mushrooms figure prominently in the human diet. Morels, shiitake mushrooms, chanterelles, and truffles are considered delicacies (Figure 4). The humble meadow mushroom, Agaricus campestris, appears in many dishes. Molds of the genus Penicillium ripen many cheeses. They originate in the natural environment such as the caves of Roquefort, France, where wheels of sheep milk cheese are stacked in order to capture the molds responsible for the blue veins and pungent taste of the cheese.

Fermentation—of grains to produce beer, and of fruits to produce wine—is an ancient art that humans in most cultures have practiced for millennia. Wild yeasts are acquired from the environment and used to ferment sugars into CO2 and ethyl alcohol under anaerobic conditions. It is now possible to purchase isolated strains of wild yeasts from different wine-making regions. Louis Pasteur was instrumental in developing a reliable strain of brewer’s yeast, Saccharomyces cerevisiae, for the French brewing industry in the late 1850s. This was one of the first examples of biotechnology patenting.

Many secondary metabolites of fungi are of great commercial importance. Antibiotics are naturally produced by fungi to kill or inhibit the growth of bacteria, limiting their competition in the natural environment. Important antibiotics, such as penicillin and the cephalosporins, are isolated from fungi. Valuable drugs isolated from fungi include the immunosuppressant drug cyclosporine (which reduces the risk of rejection after organ transplant), the precursors of steroid hormones, and ergot alkaloids used to stop bleeding. Psilocybin is a compound found in fungi such as Psilocybe semilanceata and Gymnopilus junonius, which have been used for their hallucinogenic properties by various cultures for thousands of years.

As simple eukaryotic organisms, fungi are important model research organisms. Many advances in modern genetics were achieved by the use of the red bread mold Neurospora crassa. Additionally, many important genes originally discovered in S. cerevisiae served as a starting point in discovering analogous human genes. As a eukaryotic organism, the yeast cell produces and modifies proteins in a manner similar to human cells, as opposed to the bacterium Escherichia coli, which lacks the internal membrane structures and enzymes to tag proteins for export. This makes yeast a much better organism for use in recombinant DNA technology experiments. Like bacteria, yeasts grow easily in culture, have a short generation time, and are amenable to genetic modification.

Importance and Roles of Decomposers

The organisms that occupy the decomposer level of a biome are essential to life on Earth. They break down dead plant and animal matter so the nutrients in them are recycled back into the ecosystem to be used again.

Fungi are the main decomposers in many ecosystems, particularly in forests. One of their main functions is to help release nitrogen and phosphorous from dead decaying matter. They do this through a series of specialized proteins and enzymes in their cell walls and hyphae (root-like filaments). Fungi are particularly suited to penetrating large pieces of decaying matter like wood with their hyphae and breaking it down with lignin-digesting enzymes. Bacteria are also key organisms at the decomposer level.

There are other organisms in nature such as earthworms, some insects, sea cucumbers and woodlice that also break down decaying material, but they need to ingest it first unlike fungi that use chemical and biological processes. These organisms are called detritivores.

What Is the Role of Decomposers in the Carbon Cycle?

Decomposers help reclaim carbon from dead organisms and put it back into the carbon cycle so living organisms can use it. Decomposers break down dead plants, animals and waste products. This process releases carbon dioxide through cellular respiration.

Living things on Earth are carbon-based life forms. These living things need carbon to grow and reproduce. The amount of carbon on Earth is not infinite, but it is abundant and takes many forms. Decomposers use the carbon dioxide in the bodies of dead organisms for food or fuel. This feeding process releases carbon dioxide into the atmosphere through cellular respiration. Carbon dioxide can also be released into the atmosphere when dead organisms are burned.

Decomposers are bacteria, fungi and worms. Bacteria can break down most types of organic matter and is a significant decomposer. Fungi are primary decomposers in forests where they break down fallen trees and other woody organisms. Worms are scavengers that hasten bacterial decay by breaking an organism down so the nutrients are more available to bacteria.

The carbon cycle explains how carbon is made available to life forms. The main processes of the carbon cycle are photosynthesis, respiration, decomposition, natural weathering of rocks and burning fossil fuels. Primary producers use photosynthesis to take in carbon. Plants absorb it from the atmosphere in the form of carbon dioxide. Carbon moves up the food chain when animals feed on plants and the carbon is transferred. While alive, animals release carbon dioxide back into the atmosphere through respiration. After an organism has died, the carbon is recycled by decomposers.

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Forests: Our Lifeline | Exercise

Q3) What are decomposers? Name any two of them. What do they do in the forest?

The micro-organisms which convert the dead plants and animals to humus are known as decomposers.

Examples: Fungi and Bacteria.

Decomposers recycle and convert the dead matter into humus which mixes with forest soil and provides necessary nutrients to plants.

Thus decomposers help in maintaining the necessary nutrient balance in the soil.

hello everyone or welcome to yet another lido homework session in today's class, we are going to be doing a science problem so let's begin with the question the question here is what are decomposers name any two of them what do they do in the forest so this question has three parts so let's begin with the first part of the question the first part of the question is what are decomposers so friends what do you think our decomposers are exactly so decomposers are microorganisms which convert the dead plants and animals to humans perfect so let's begin with our answer the microorganisms microorganisms which convert which convert the dead which convert the dead plants and animals t humans to humans known as are known as decomposers are known as decomposers so let's give examples for decomposers examples are fungi and bacteria and bacteria so funky and bacteria are the examples of decomposers now let's look into the last part of the question last part of the question says what do they do in the forest so what decompose do is that they recycle and convert the dead plants and animals to humans now this hummus mixes with the soil and they provide nutrients for the plants so thereby decomposes help maintaining necessary nutrients in the soil so let's continue with the answer the decomposes the decomposers recycle and convert recycle and convert the dead matter into into humus into humans with the forest soil and provides and provides necessary nutrients to the plant to the plants so when the disc composes pro produces humor these humor mixes with the soil and provides the necessary nutrients for the plants so hence we can say that decomposers help in maintaining the necessary nutrient balance in the soil so thereby we can say that this this decomposes decomposes help in maintaining in maintaining the necessary the necessary nutrients necessary nutrient balance in the soil in the soil so decomposes help in maintaining the necessary nutrient balance in the soil so friends I hope you have understood the solution to this question if you have any doubts or queries please comment below and if you like this video give it a big thumbs up and for further such videos please subscribe to this channel till then thank you all

What is a Scavenger

Scavenger is an animal that feeds on dead plants, animals or carrion. It can be also called a detritivore since a scavenger relies on the waste materials. The major role of scavengers in an ecosystem is to keep the ecosystem free of dead bodies. Most scavengers are carnivores, who feed on dead animals. But, scavengers do not hunt and kill prey. Scavengers and other carnivores belong to the third trophic level of a food web. Some birds such as vultures and crow are also scavengers. Hyenas, coyotes, and polar bears are mammal scavengers. Crabs consume dead fish and shrimps. Insects such as dung beetle, red weaver ants, and flesh fly are the examples of scavengers as well. A flesh fly is shown in figure 1.

Figure 1: Flesh fly

Termites are plant scavengers that consume dead wood of the trees. Earthworms also rely on dead plants.

The Role of Decomposers

Decomposition is to dead organisms as recycling is to used plastics and etc.


Decomposition is the process by which bacteria and fungi break down organic, dead matter into simpler forms. Those simpler forms can then be used by other organisms again, sustaining life on earth.

The process is very similar to recycling in a way. When we recycle a plastic bottle, it is broken down and repurposed in some way. Products that we've previously used are converted into new products for continued use.

In both cases, something old is broken down so that it can become something new.


It is the process by which dead organisms are "destroyed" and their remains are re-integrated to the ecossystem.


When an organism (such as an animal, or plant) dies, it has many substances that it absorved from the ecossystem throughout its life these substances are usually transformed into stable forms inside the organism in order to be used into biological processes.

The decomposition is a process in which various factors (biotic and abiotic) break down the components of the remais of the dead organism, and liberate them back to the ecossystem (this is called nutrient cycling). This process is fundamental to the preservation of life in the ecossytem, otherwise its resources would be quickly depleted.

Many organisms are specialized in decomposing other organisms. Good examples include Fungi, Bacteria, some animals (specially insects) and many more.

The Role of Decomposers in an Ecosystem

A decomposer is an organism that breaks down dead plant or animal matter. This may arouse the yuk response in many readers, but the fact is that ecosystems could not function without decomposers. This is because ecosystems depend on recycling in order to function. Humans are used to throwing away things they don’t want, but in nature, all materials are recycled endlessly.

Dead bodies contain many useful substances that are often in short supply in ecosystems: carbon tied up in large carbohydrate molecules, calcium and other minerals, organic nitrogen bound up in proteins. Without the help of decomposers, these elements would be removed from the food chain and gradually become so rare that the ecosystem would cease to function.

Carbon, hydrogen, oxygen, nitrogen and the other necessary elements of life are all recycled. The oxygen we breathe in today was once breathed in by dinosaurs. The carbon dioxide that we breathe out is used by plants to create sugars in the process of photosynthesis. When animals eat plants, those simple sugars and carbohydrates are broken down and used as the building blocks for animal fats, carbohydrates and proteins.

When plants and animals die, those large complex compounds cannot be directly used again. Instead the decomposers break them down and make them available. So what are these decomposers? Bacteria and fungi do the majority of decomposition work. Worms and maggots also help. Fungi work mainly on plant materials, breaking down even cellulose and lignin, the largest of the complex carbohydrates. Bacteria work on everything from animal proteins to plant carbohydrates. Once these are broken down into smaller molecules, they can be ingested by small animals such as insects or taken up by plant roots and thus made part of the food chain again.

Nitrogen is an interesting element. It is present in the air we breathe as N2 but this is not a form that animals can use directly. Yet we need nitrogen to make proteins, the building blocks of our bodies. So where can we get it from? We can recycle organic nitrogen by eating meat but only nitrogen fixing bacteria can provide new sources of nitrogen from the air. Without bacteria to break down the proteins in dead bodies and fixing the nitrogen in the air, animals could not get enough nitrogen to make the proteins necessary for them to grow and function.

So next time you walk through a forest, think of the tiny but necessary organisms beneath your feet. Without their constant work to recycle the dead, the living ecosystem around you could not function or continue to exist. All life depends on the decomposers just as they depend on us.

What are Biotic Components?

Biotic components or Biotic factors are all the living things in an ecosystem. They are the animals, the plants and the microorganisms. Biotic factors also include waste from living things and dead organisms. Even the harshest corners of our planet have biotic factors. Earth is teeming with biotic beings. This includes both animals that consume other organisms within their ecosystem and the organism that is being consumed. Biotic components also include human influence, pathogens, and disease outbreaks. Each biotic factor needs the proper amount of energy and nutrition to function from day to day.

Biotic components of Ecosystem

The living components of an ecosystem are called biotic factors. Some of these factors include plants, animals, as well as fungi and bacteria. These biotic factors can be further classified, based on the energy requirement source. Producers, consumers, and decomposers are the three broad categories of biotic components.

8.8: Decomposers and Recyclers - Biology

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Watch the video: Recycle Food Waste with Grind2Energy (July 2022).


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