ENERGY TRANSFORMATION IN THE ECOSYSTEM, Energy exists in various forms
. These forms of energy are inter-convertible. They can be transformed from one form to another form.

Energy transformation in an ecosystem refers to the process by which energy flows and changes forms as it moves through different organisms and trophic levels within the ecosystem. Ecosystems rely on the constant input of energy, primarily in the form of sunlight, to sustain life and fuel various biological processes. Here’s a general overview of energy transformation in an ecosystem:

  1. Primary Production: The energy transformation process begins with primary producers, such as plants, algae, and some bacteria, which use photosynthesis or chemosynthesis to convert sunlight or inorganic compounds into organic matter. This process captures solar energy and transforms it into chemical energy in the form of carbohydrates, such as glucose.
  2. Consumption: Primary producers are consumed by primary consumers, also known as herbivores, which feed on plants or algae. The energy stored in the organic matter of plants is transferred to the herbivores, allowing them to perform various metabolic activities and maintain their life processes.
  3. Secondary Consumers: Secondary consumers are organisms that consume primary consumers. They can be carnivores or omnivores, and they obtain energy by consuming other organisms. The energy from primary consumers is transferred to secondary consumers.
  4. Tertiary Consumers: Tertiary consumers are organisms that consume secondary consumers. They can be top-level carnivores or omnivores. The energy transfer continues as energy from the secondary consumers is passed on to the tertiary consumers.
  5. Decomposers: Throughout the ecosystem, there are decomposers, such as fungi and bacteria, that break down dead organic matter and waste products, including the remains of plants and animals. Decomposers facilitate the final energy transformation in the ecosystem by breaking down complex organic molecules into simpler forms. During decomposition, energy is released in the form of heat and is made available for recycling back into the ecosystem.
energy transfer and transformation
energy transformation in an ecosystem

TERMS associated with energy transfer in the ecosystem

Biomass— Total weight, volume, or energy equivalent of all living organisms within a given area in energy transformation

Ecological efficiency— Energy changes from one trophic level to the next.

First law of thermodynamics— Energy can be transformed but it cannot be created nor can it be destroyed.

Primary consumer— An organism that eats primary producers during energy transformation

Primary producer— An organism that photosynthesizes.

energy transfer or transformation in the ecosystem

The vast majority of energy that exists in food webs originates from the sun and is converted (transformed) into chemical energy by the process of photosynthesis in plants. … At each stage of a food chain, most of the chemical energy is converted to other forms such as heat, and does not remain within the ecosystem.

Energy transformation is governed by the laws of thermodynamics

In nature, energy transformation is brought about by living organisms. Their activities cause energy to flow through the ecosystem.

The sun is the ultimate and eternal source of energy for ecosystem on Earth.


Energy flow in the ecosystem is unidirectional/non-cyclic: which is, it is either stored or utilized. The light energy of the sun is absorbed by chlorophyll in green plants which is then used to produce carbohydrates. The chemical energy in the carbohydrate in then passed on to the food chain. When the primary consumer feeds on the plants and grasses/producers, the chemical energy is then passed along the food chain to the secondary consumer and then to the tertiary consumer/decomposer

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What is energy loss in the ecosystem?

Energy is lost at each tropic level. For example, when herbivores, which are primary consumers feeds on a plant/producer, not all part of the plant is eaten. As a result not all energy in the plant-producer is consumed.

Plants lose energy during respiration and they do not utilize all the energy in preceding members.

Energy is also lost in respiration, excretion, movement and other metabolic activities.
In ecosystem, energy is lost in the following ways. Through

  1. Vegetation
  2. Soil
  3. Air
  4. Heat
  5. Evaporation
  6. Effects of wind
    Depending on the type of vegetation and climatic factors, only 1-10% of the solar energy may be available to photosynthetic producers in most ecosystems.


Thermodynamics ordinarily means heat changes. Heat is a form of energy and it can be changed or converted from one form to another form is governed by two laws.
These laws are called the first and second laws of thermodynamics


The first law of thermodynamics states that energy can neither be created nor destroyed.
What this laws simply means is that you cannot create or destroy energy but you can convert it to another form of energy


The second law of thermodynamics states that in any conversion of energy from one form to another form, there is always a decrease in the amount of useful energy. It simply means that there is no 100% complete transformation of energy from one form to another as energy transformation

The application of the laws of thermodynamics to ecological phenomena or events

Every ecological event or phenomenon can be explained using the laws of thermodynamics.
Energy conversion or transfer in the food chain can be explained in the following ways


Using the first law of thermodynamics to explain the food chain in energy transformation :

In this portal, energy is generated through the sun and is transferred from the producer to the final consumer. The green plant transfers the energy to the primary consumers, which again transfers the energy to the secondary consumers. In all of the energy transfer, the energy from the sun remains constant


Using the second law of thermodynamics to explain food chain:

While the energy is transferred to the next trophic level, part of it is lost as heat or energy transformation
In other words, as the energy is transferred from the producer to the primary consumers, to secondary consumers, and then to the tertiary consumers, energy is lost as heat in each tropic level
It is then evident that there is no 100% energy transfer from one form or the other that there will not be energy loss

  1. Using the first law of thermodynamics to explain the pyramid of energy:
    In this, it is discovered that energy is transferred from one tropic level to another. The energy of the producer at the base of the pyramid is always higher and is transformed gradually from one stage of the tropic level to another. Even though the energy is transformed from one tropic level to the next successive level, the sum of the energy is still constant


Using the second law of thermodynamics to explain the pyramid of energy:

Here as the energy is transformed from tropic level to another, part of it is converted into heat which is lost, causing a progressive drop in successive tropic levels of energy transformation

  1. Using the first law in energy transformation
    This states that as the producers convert the solar energy to useful energy, this energy is progressively transformed from one tropic level to the next. energy transformation
    It is important to note that the energy flow in a food chain is in one direction only


Using the second law of thermodynamics to explain energy flow in an ecosystem:

Here the transfer of energy from one tropic level to another is not 100%. This means that energy is or cannot be completely transferred. This is to say that energy available for use by the next level or organism in the food chain starting from the producers is always on the reducing end till it gets to the tertiary consumers

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