An ecosystem can be visualised as a functional unit of nature, where living organisms interact among themselves and also with the surrounding physical environment.
Ecosystem varies greatly in size from a small pond to a large forest or a sea. Many ecologists regard the entire biosphere as a global ecosystem, as a composite of all local ecosystems on Earth.
Since this system is too much big and complex to be studied at one time, it is convenient to divide it into two basic categories, namely the terrestrial and the aquatic.
Forest, grassland and desert are some examples of terrestrial ecosystems; pond, lake, wetland, river and estuary are some examples of aquatic ecosystems. Crop fields and an aquarium may also be considered as man-made ecosystems.
We will first look at the structure of the ecosystem, in order to appreciate the input (productivity), transfer of energy (food chain/web, nutrient cycling) and the output (degradation and energy loss). We will also look at the relationships – cycles, chains, webs – that are created as a result of these energy flows within the system and their inter- relationship.