Ecology 101 (JHARVNC)


What are the components of an ecosystem? Hands-on studies of small ecosystems will teach participants about the factors of ecosystems, including living (biotic) and nonliving (abiotic) factors.

Grade Level:

K - 12

Recommended Setting:

Seated in a classroom or outdoor environment (For experiment section, need a large outdoor area.)

Outdoor Activity:



Janet Huckabee Arkansas River Valley Nature Center, Fort Smith


Education Program Coordinator, 479-452-3993


30 - 45 minutes

Suggested Number of Participants:

25 - 30

Special Conditions:

Weather Permitting, outdoor activity


  • Define an ecosystem
  • Recognize the components of an ecosystem
  • Recognize the factors that affect an ecosystem
  • Distinguish between biotic and abiotic factors

Key Terms*:










*See glossary for definations


Five to 10 Hula Hoops


Ecology is the study of relationships between organisms (plants and animals) and their environment. Ecology can be studied on small population levels all the way up to the biosphere level. Regardless of size, all ecosystems have biotic and abiotic factors.

Introduction to Ecology

  • Levels
    • Population level – individuals of the same species in the same or similar environment
    • Community level – different populations of different species in the same or similar environment
    • Ecosystem level
    • Biosphere level

Ecosystem Components

  • Biotic factors – living factors
    • Relationships among living organisms
  • Abiotic factors – nonliving factors
    • Water
    • Air
    • Soil
    • Temperature
    • Light
    • Natural disasters
  • Ecosystem productivity
    • Producers
    • Consumers
    • Decomposers


  1. Discuss ecosystems. Begin by defining ecology and identifying the levels of ecosystems. Discuss ecosystem components and productivity levels.
  2. Once participants understand the basic concepts, explain that they will investigate mini-ecosystems themselves. Divide into groups of two or three participants.
  3. Ecosystem assignment – use a small boundary, such as a Hula Hoop, as the boundary for a mini ecosystem. The groups will identify as many ecosystem components and productivity pieces as they can.
  4. Once participants have identified the ecosystem parts, each group should discuss each ecosystem.


For very young audiences, such as third-grade and below, instead of investigating an ecosystem outside, participants should draw on a piece of paper an ecosystem with living and nonliving parts.






  • What is an ecosystem?
  • Describe some biotic factors in ecosystems
  • Describe abiotic factors in ecosystems


Abiotic – absent of life or living organisms; non-living: includes light, temperature and atmospheric gases


Biotic – having to do with living organisms


Community – all the different populations of an area


Consumer – in ecology, an organism, usually an animal, that feeds on other organisms and their remains; classified as primary consumers (herbivores), secondary consumers (carnivores) and microconsumers (decomposers)


Decomposer – an organism that breaks down large chemicals from dead organisms into small chemicals and returns important materials to the soil and water


Ecology – branch of biology dealing with the interactions between organisms and their environment


Ecosystem – plants and animals interacting with each other and their physical environment


Population – all the members of one species in a particular area


Producer – an organism that creates its own food from inorganic substances through photosynthesis (by green plants) or chemosynthesis (by anaerobic bacteria) and serves as a source of food in the food chain