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Complete For the


for Cambridge IGCSE ®

Third edition

Ron Pickering

Oxford excellence for Cambridge IGCSE®


4.1 Ecology and ecosystems

living organisms – and some are abiotic – the
■ To understand that living organisms require
non-living components of the habitat. Ecology
certain conditions for their survival
is the study of living organisms in relation to
■ To understand that living organisms interact with one
their environment. The interactions between the
another, and with their non-living environment
organism and its environment are summarised
■ To define population, community and ecosystem
■ To realise that available resources change through
the year Changing with the seasons
The ability of the habitat to supply living
organisms with their requirements may vary
Environmental survival kit at different times of year. The ecosystem in the
All living organisms depend upon their
photograph opposite will only exist for a certain
environment for three ‘survival essentials’.
period of time – as food or water becomes
These are a supply of food, shelter from
exhausted some animals may leave. These will
undesirable physical conditions and a breeding
then be followed by the predators which feed on
site. The living organism interacts with its
them. The great animal migrations seen in East
environment – for example, a living plant:
Africa result from the changing conditions in the
■ removes carbon dioxide, water and light
animals’ environment, for example:
energy from its habitat
■ poor rain means little growth of grass
■ may be eaten by an animal or a parasite
■ herbivores leave for areas of fresh growth
■ depends upon soil for support.
■ carnivores follow herbivores
Factors in the environment affect the growth of ■ (then scavengers follow carnivores!).
the plant. Some of these factors are biotic – other
Living together
Carbon dioxide Living organisms normally exist in groups.
The names given to these groups, and the way
they interact with the abiotic environment, are
explained opposite.

A living organism
interacts with its

Food Abiotic Biotic (‘living’)

(‘non-living’) factors e.g.
in faeces
factors predators
Water and mineral mates
ions from soil

A giraffe feeds on a thorn tree. The tree requires water,

mineral ions, carbon dioxide and light to grow. The giraffe Physical e.g. Climatic e.g.
may provide carbon dioxide from respiration, and ions oxygen and carbon temperature
from decomposition of its faeces. dioxide concentration humidity
light intensity
water availability

A population is all of the

members of the same species
(e.g. wildebeest) in a
particular area.

Air, water and soil

A community is all of the
make up the abiotic
populations of living organisms
in one area (e.g. acacia trees,
zebra, wildebeest and grass).
The community is the biotic

An ecosystem is all the living organisms and A habitat is a part of the environment that
the non-living factors interacting together can provide food, shelter and a breeding site
in a particular part of the environment. for a living organism (e.g. a patch of grassland).

S Organisms exist in groups within an ecosystem

1 Define the terms population, community and The students measured the amount of sunlight
ecosystem. reaching each layer at different times in the year.
2 Name two abiotic factors that might determine Their results are shown on the graph.
whether or not a habitat is suitable for a living
3 Suggest two ways in which a plant and an animal in
the same habitat may interact.
Light intensity

4 What must a habitat provide? Light reaching

5 How are the following observations related? tree layer

■ Very few flying insects are found in Britain during

Light reaching
the winter.
ground layer
■ Swallows migrate to Africa when it is winter in the UK.
■ Hobbies (small bird-eating falcons) leave Britain in Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec
late autumn. Month
6 What is meant by the term ecology?
7 a A group of students were studying a forest.They i During which month did most light reach the
noticed that the plants grew in two main layers. They tree layer?
called these the tree layer and the ground layer. ii During which month did most light reach the
ground layer?
iii Suggest why the amount of sunlight reaching
tree layer the ground layer is lower in mid-summer than in
the spring.
b The pupils found bluebells growing in the ground
layer. Bluebells grow rapidly from bulbs. They flower
in April and by June their leaves have died.
i Suggest why bluebells grow rapidly in April.
ii Suggest why the bluebell leaves have died
by June.
ground layer


4.2 Flow of energy: food chains and

food webs
lost but is converted into some other form.
■ To know that the feeding relationships in an ecosystem
During respiration, some energy is transferred
can be expressed as food chains
to the environment as heat. The flow of energy
■ To understand why energy transfer through an
through a food chain, and the heat losses to
ecosystem is inefficient
the environment, are illustrated in the diagram
■ To understand why complex food webs are
the most stable opposite.

Food webs
Food chains Since so little energy is transferred from the base
The most obvious interaction between different to the top of a food chain, a top carnivore must eat
organisms in an ecosystem is feeding. During many herbivores. These herbivores are probably
feeding, one organism is obtaining food – energy not all of the same species. In turn, each herbivore
and raw materials – from another one. Usually one is likely to feed on many different plant species. All
organism eats another, but then may itself be food these interconnected food chains in one part of an
for a third species. The flow of energy between ecosystem can be shown in a food web.
different organisms in the ecosystem can be The more complicated a food web, the more stable
shown in a food chain, as in the diagram below. the community is. For example, in the forest food
web shown opposite, if the number of squirrels
Energy transfer is inefficient fell, the owls could eat more worms, mice and rats.
The amount of energy that is passed on in a The mice and rats would have less competition for
food chain is reduced at every step. Since energy food from squirrels, and so might reproduce more
can be neither created nor destroyed, it is not successfully.

Sunlight provides the Producers, usually green plants, Consumers are organisms that obtain Secondary consumers
energy to drive the make their own organic nutrients, food energy by feeding on other organisms. are carnivores. They obtain
food chain. usually using energy from sunlight their energy by eating
Primary consumers are herbivores.
through photosynthesis. other animals.
They obtain their energy in food
compounds obtained from producers
(i.e. plants).

Arrows point in
the direction of Secondary consumers may be
energy flow along eaten by tertiary consumers.
the food chain. These longer food chains are
Decomposers, fungi and many bacteria,
more common in aquatic
obtain their energy and raw materials
habitats. The final consumer
from the wastes (e.g. faeces) and remains
in the food chain is called the
(e.g. dead bodies) of other organisms.
top carnivore.

S Food chains show energy flow through an ecosystem. The position of each
organism in the food chain represents a different trophic (feeding) level.

Energy transfer

Less than 1% of the Respiration losses occur from each trophic

energy released from level. Respiration is not 100% efficient and
the Sun falls onto leaves. eventually all of this energy is lost as heat.
Because of this, food chains rarely have
more than 4 or 5 trophic levels.

R Energy transfer to Energy transfer to

primary consumer secondary consumer R R
is only 5–10%: is between 10% and 20%:
much of plant body animal material has a higher
Energy ‘fixed’ by producers is indigestible energy value
is only 5–8% of the energy consumer rarely eats animal material is more
that falls onto their leaves, whole plant – roots digestible.
because: or stems may be
some is transmitted left behind.
(passes right through)
some is reflected
some is not the correct
wavelength (only red or
blue light is absorbed –
see page 44).


R respiration

Note that energy flow is not cyclic!

sunlight bond heat
energy Energy transfer to decomposers is very
As a result there must be a variable, but eventually the entire energy content
continuous input of light energy to of the animal and plant remains will be released
‘drive’ life in an ecosystem. as heat from inefficient respiration.

It is more efficient for humans to eat plants

than to feed plants to animals, and then to
eat the animals. Every step in the chain loses
80–90% of the available energy as heat, so THE

A simple forest food web

Trophic level Q
Tertiary 1 Define the terms producer,
consumer consumer and decomposer.
Which of these could be
omitted from an ecosystem?
Secondary Explain your answer.
Starling Owl
consumers 2 Write out a food chain from a
named ecosystem which you
have studied.
Primary 3 Why are food chains usually
Snails Woodlice Worms Rats Mice Squirrels
consumers restricted to three or four
trophic levels?

Producers Fallen leaves Living leaves Grasses Seeds

4.2 Flow of energy: food chains and food webs

More examples of feeding relationships

Food chains and food webs in aquatic (watery) environments
can be longer than those on the land. This is because this type
of environment has space and ideal growth conditions for many
producers. Even with energy losses at every stage there is enough
‘trapped’ energy for more steps in the chain. Many of these food
chains begin with phytoplankton (tiny green plants) or algae.

A freshwater food chain

Algae Water Guppy Bass

(small green fleas (small fish) (large fish)

Green heron

A seashore food chain

Algae on rocks Crabs Gull
(seaweed) Limpets

The seashore is an excellent environment for animals, at least as

far as food is concerned, because fresh supplies are delivered with
every tide!
Some of the top predators on seashores need so much food that
they need to travel between different parts of the habitat. A gull,
for example, might have to fly to several different parts of the same

1 Look at the three aquatic feeding relationships shown on this page and the next. Make a table like this one:

Producers Herbivores Carnivores Top carnivores

2 Shark fishing is a popular sport. Explain what might happen if all of the sharks living around a section of reef were
captured by fishermen.


Coral reef food web

The most complex food webs are found in the ocean. Catching crabs for human food could:
■ increase number of anemones,
which could…
■ reduce amount of zooplankton,
which could…
■ increase the amount of
phytoplankton, which could…
■ increase the number of jelly fish...
... OUCH!


Sea Turtle









3 Use words from the following list to complete the paragraph about ecosystems. You may use each word once, more
than once or not at all.
decomposition, producer, chemical, carnivore, consumer, photosynthesis, energy, light, elements,
decomposers, herbivore.
In each ecosystem there are many feeding relationships. A food chain represents a flow of through an
ecosystem, and always begins with an organism called a which is able to trap energy and convert it to
energy. An organism of this type is eaten by a , which is a kind of that feeds only on plant material.
This type of organism is, in turn, eaten by a (an organism that consumes other animals).

4.3 Feeding relationships: pyramids of

numbers, biomass and energy
Food chains and food webs provide qualitative
■ To be able to describe pyramids of numbers,
information about an ecosystem – they show which
biomass and energy
organism feeds on which other organism. How do
■ To understand how data can be gathered to make
we show quantitative information, for example
ecological pyramids
how many predators can be supported by a certain
number of plants at the start of the chain? We
can use a pyramid of numbers or a pyramid of
Pyramids of numbers biomass, as shown in the diagram below.
Look at the food chain on page 224. Two things
should be clear: Pyramids of energy
■ The organisms tend to get bigger moving along A pyramid of biomass describes how much
the food chain. Predators, such as the owl, biomass is present in a habitat at the time the
need to be large enough to overcome their sample is taken. This can be misleading, because
prey, such as the mouse. different feeding levels may contain organisms that
■ Energy is ‘lost’ as heat on moving from one reproduce, and so replace themselves, at different
trophic level to the next, so an animal to the right rates. For example, grass in a field would replace
of a food chain needs to eat several organisms itself more quickly than cattle feeding on the grass,
‘below’ it in order to obtain enough energy. For so when the pyramid of biomass is constructed
example, a rabbit eats many blades of grass. there would be more ‘cattle biomass’ than ‘grass

Pyramid of numbers – a diagrammatic representation Top carnivore

of the number of different organisms at each trophic level
Small carnivore
in an ecosystem at any one time
1 The number of organisms at any trophic level is Producers
represented by the length (or the area) of a rectangle.
2 Moving up the pyramid, the number of organisms But
generally decreases, but the size of each individual wait!

Problems Bird lice

a The range of numbers may be enormous – 500 000 Tawny owl
grass plants may only support a single top carnivore –
so that drawing the pyramid to scale may be very Blue tits
difficult. Insect larvae
b Pyramids may be inverted, particularly if the Oak tree
producer is very large (e.g. an oak tree) or parasites
feed on the consumers (e.g. bird lice on an owl).
So …

Biomass expressed as
Pyramid of biomass – which represents the biomass Bird lice
units of mass per unit
(number of individuals × mass of each individual) at Tawny owl area (e.g. kg per m2)
each trophic level at any one time. This should solve
the scale and inversion problems of the pyramid of Blue tits
numbers. Insect larvae
Oak tree

S Ecological pyramids represent numerical relationships between successive trophic levels.

The pyramid of biomass is useful because the biomass gives a good idea of how much
energy is passed on to the next trophic level.

biomass’ and the pyramid would be inverted. To

overcome this difficulty a pyramid of energy
can be constructed. This measures the amount
of energy flowing through an ecosystem over a
period of time. The time period is usually a year,
since this takes into account the changing rates of
growth and reproduction in different seasons. It
is even possible to add an extra base layer to the S Pyramid of energy: energy values are expressed as units
of energy per unit area per unit time (e.g. kJ per m2 per year)
pyramid of energy representing the solar energy
entering that particular ecosystem.


To construct a pyramid of numbers or of biomass, Wing nut

organisms must be captured, counted and (perhaps)
weighed. This is done on a sample (a small number) of
the organisms in an ecosystem. Counting every
individual organism in a habitat would be extremely
time-consuming and could considerably damage the

environment. Wire

The sample should give an accurate estimate of the total

population size. To do this:
■ The sampling must be random to avoid any bias. For 20 cm 20 cm Metal or
example, it is tempting to collect a large number of wooden
organisms, by looking for the areas where they are
most common. To avoid this, the possible sampling 1m
sites can each be given a number and then chosen
using random number generators on a computer.  A quadrat is a square frame made of wood or metal. It is simply
laid on the ground and the number of organisms inside it is counted.
■ The sample must be the right size so that any
‘rogue’ results can be eliminated. For example, a A quadrat is used most commonly for estimating the size of plant
single sample might be taken from a bare patch of populations, but may also be valuable for the study of populations
of sessile or slow-moving animals (e.g. limpets).
earth, whereas all other sites are covered with
vegetation. The single sample from the bare patch
should not be ignored, but its effects on the results
will be lessened if another nine samples are taken.
A mean value can then be used.

Sampling plants and sessile animals

Once the organisms in a sample have been identified
and counted, the population size can be estimated. For
example, if 10 quadrats gave a mean of 8 plants per
quadrat, and each quadrat is one-hundredth of the area
of the total site, then the total plant population in that
area is 8 3 100 5 800.


4.4 Decay is a natural process

■ To understand that nutrients in dead organisms Decomposition by microorganisms
are recycled The remains that are left are decomposed by the
■ To know that the process of decay often begins with the
feeding activities of microorganisms. These fungi
activities of scavengers and bacteria feed by secreting enzymes onto the
■ To know how saprotrophic nutrition is responsible for remains and absorbing the digested products.
decomposition This form of nutrition is called saprotrophic
The diagram on the opposite page illustrates some
Recycling nutrients
of the features of the decomposition process. The
Humans have an unusual skill – they can
decay process provides energy and raw materials
modify their environment to suit themselves.
for the decomposers. It also releases nutrients from
For example, we cut down forests and plant
the bodies of dead animals and plants, which can
crops, and we build houses. Many building
then be reused by other organisms, for example:
materials are natural, such as wood and straw,
and the environment treats these materials as
the dead remains of once-living organisms – the sugar in dead rabbit
environment reclaims the nutrients and returns respiration by microorganisms
them to the ecosystem. carbon dioxide
photosynthesis in plant
Starting with scavengers
sugar in plant
When an organism dies, the nutrients in its body
are returned to the environment to be reused.
The nutrients are recycled by a series of processes In this way substances pass through nutrient
carried out by other living organisms. The first cycles as microbes convert them from large,
ones to appear are usually the scavengers which complex molecules in animal and plant remains
break up the dead bodies into more manageable to simpler compounds in the soil and the
pieces. Scavengers eat some of the dead body, but atmosphere. The next sections describe the
leave behind blood or small pieces of tissue. recycling of the elements carbon and nitrogen.

Importance of decomposition
processes to humans
■ Organic waste in sewage is decomposed and made
‘safe’ in water treatment plants (see page 275).
■ Organic pollutants such as spilled oil may be removed
from the environment by decomposing bacteria (see
page 233).
■ Food is spoiled due to decomposition by fungi and
bacteria. Many food treatments alter physical
conditions to inhibit enzyme activity.
■ Wounds may become infected by saprotrophs,
leading to tissue loss or even to death. Many medical
treatments inhibit the multiplication or metabolism
S Scavengers such as the vulture feed on of saprotrophs.
dead bodies


Saprotrophs cause decay.

Cells of saprotrophs (bacteria
and fungi) nourish themselves
by secreting enzymes onto ‘food’ Complex organic compounds
and absorbing the products. include fats, proteins and starches.
Cell wall

fats fatty acids
+ glycerol

Metabolism inside the bacterial Amylase
factors may
or fungal cells uses the absorbed starch maltose
products for respiration or for cell
growth and division. glucose

Absorbed Proteases
simple compounds protein amino acids

Absorption by
diffusion and/or
by active transport.
Antiseptics and disinfectants
kill the living organisms that
carry out the decay process. Simple compounds
Good news! in hospitals and include fatty acids,
for food preservation glucose, amino acids
but and mineral salts.
Bad news! in compost heaps
and in sewage works.

*Oxygen is required for aerobic *Water – many decomposition

*Heat – for rapid decomposition, respiration, which releases energy reactions are hydrolysis reactions,
need to maintain an optimum in bacteria and fungi to drive their i.e. they use water to split chemical
temperature for the activity of metabolism. In the absence of bonds. Water is also necessary to
enzymes. Heat is generated by oxygen decomposition is slow and dissolve the breakdown products
the respiration that occurs during very smelly, as methane and before they can be absorbed by the
the decomposition process. hydrogen sulfide may be produced. saprotrophs or other organisms.

1 Copy and complete the following paragraph. 2 Gardeners often place vegetable waste on a compost
During the process of decay, and convert heap. Over the course of time the waste will be
complex chemicals into ones. For example, decomposed.
proteins are converted to , and to fatty a What do gardeners gain from the decomposed
acids and glycerol. These decay processes involve the waste?
biological catalysts called , and so the processes b Why do gardeners sometimes spray water over the
are affected by changes in and  . Humans heap in warm summer weather?
exploit decay, for example in the treatment of to c Why do gardeners often build compost heaps on a
provide drinking water, and may deliberately limit pile of loose-fitting sticks or bricks?
decay, for example in the preservation of .


4.5 The carbon cycle

■ Sometimes conditions are not suitable for
■ To recall why living organisms need carbon-containing
respiration by decomposers, and carbon
dioxide remains ‘locked up’ in complex carbon
■ To appreciate that carbon is cycled between complex
compounds in the bodies of organisms.
and simple forms by the biochemical processes of
photosynthesis and respiration For example, anaerobic, low pH or extreme
■ To understand that formation and combustion
temperature conditions will inhibit
of fossil fuels may distort the pattern of the carbon cycle decomposition – this is how fossil fuels
have been laid down in environments where
decomposition is not favoured.
Carbon-containing nutrients –  ■ Over millions of years the formation of fossil
a reminder fuels has removed carbon dioxide from the
The Sun keeps supplying energy to food chains. environment. Humans have exploited fossil
However, the supply of chemical elements to living fuels as a source of energy over a relatively
organisms is limited, and these elements must short time, and the combustion of oil, gas,
be recycled. The nutrient elements are cycled coal and peat has returned enormous volumes
between simple forms in the non-living (abiotic) of carbon dioxide to the atmosphere. As a
environment and more complex forms in the result carbon dioxide concentrations are
bodies of living organisms (the biotic component increasing (see page 265).
of an ecosystem). Living organisms require ■ The burning of biomass fuels such as wood
carbon-containing compounds as: and alcohol uses up oxygen also returns carbon
■ a source of energy, released when carbon- dioxide to the atmosphere, and can have a very
containing compounds are oxidised during severe local effect although worldwide it is less
respiration (particularly carbohydrates and significant than the combustion of fossil fuels.
The way in which these different processes
■ raw materials for the growth of cells
contribute to the cycling of carbon is illustrated
(particularly fats and proteins).
Recycling carbon compounds
Plants, and some bacteria, manufacture these
compounds from carbon dioxide during the Q
process of photosynthesis (see page 38). Animals 1 Refer to the carbon cycle opposite.
obtain them in a ready-made form by feeding a Name the simple carbon compound present in the
on other living organisms (see page 52), and abiotic part of the ecosystem.
decomposers obtain them as they break down the b Name two compounds present in the biotic part
dead bodies or wastes of other living organisms. of the ecosystem.
c Which processes raise the concentration of carbon
These processes of feeding, respiration,
dioxide in the atmosphere?
photosynthesis and decomposition recycle the
d Which process reduces carbon dioxide
carbon over and over again. Theoretically, the
concentration in the atmosphere?
amount of carbon dioxide fixed by photosynthesis e Name the process that distributes carbon dioxide
should equal the amount released by respiration. throughout the atmosphere from places where it
As a result the most accessible form of carbon is released.
in the non-living environment, that is carbon f Suggest a reason why some fossil fuels were
dioxide, remains at about the same concentration n formed as sediments at the bottom of ancient seas.
year after year after year (about 0.03% of the
atmosphere). Other processes may affect this
regular cycling of carbon.


The processes of photosynthesis, feeding, death, excretion and

respiration lead to the cycling of carbon between living organisms
and their environment. Fossil fuel formation and combustion affect
the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.

Photosynthesis – uses light energy Organic compounds in plants

to convert carbon dioxide into
organic compounds in plants. Carbohydrates and fats


The amount of respiration in Carbon dioxide

the different groups of living (CO2) in air
organisms varies: and water
overall, plants respire less Feeding
than they photosynthesise
(otherwise they would
not grow) Respiration – converts carbohydrates
decomposer respiration can to carbon dioxide with the release of
be very high in some energy
environments, e.g. the warm,
moist conditions on the
floor of a rainforest, and Organic compounds in animals
decomposers can contribute Carbohydrates and fats
80% of the CO2 in that

Combustion – releases
carbon dioxide by the
burning of fossil fuels.
This increases the Proteins
concentration of CO2
available in the

Organic compounds Death and

in fossil fuels e.g. excretion
peat, coal, oil provide plant
and animal
material for

Organic compounds in
POLLUTO decomposers – bacteria
– lead and fungi

Some conditions e.g. low temperature,

low oxygen concentration and low pH
prevent action of decomposers. This
leads to carbon compounds being ‘locked
up’ in fossil fuels. Fossil fuel formation
lowers the concentration of CO2 which
is available in the environment, as it
continues to be removed by photosynthesis.

S The carbon cycle 233


4.6 The nitrogen cycle

scheme to avoid having to use so much nitrogen-
■ To recall why nitrate is an essential mineral for plant
containing fertiliser. This saves money, and also
limits pollution of water (see page 268).
■ To know how nitrate is made available in the soil
■ To understand that a series of biochemical processes Nitrification
results in the cycling of nitrogen between living In nitrification, ammonium ions produced by
organisms and the environment the decomposition of amino acids and proteins
■ To appreciate the part played by microorganisms are oxidised, first to nitrite and then to nitrate.
in the cycling of nitrogen The process is carried out by nitrifying bacteria
which live in the soil. Nitrification only happens
Plants need nitrate if oxygen is present. In the absence of oxygen the
Plants need nitrogen for the synthesis of proteins process is reversed, and denitrifying bacteria
and other compounds, including DNA and vitamins. obtain their energy by converting nitrate to
Nitrogen gas makes up about 80% of the Earth’s nitrogen gas. This is why waterlogged soils, for
atmosphere, but plants do not have the enzymes example, tend to lose nitrate as nitrogen gas.
necessary to use the nitrogen directly – instead they
Recycling nitrogen
must absorb it as nitrate. Nitrate is formed by two
Once nitrate has been formed by either nitrogen
sets of processes carried out by microorganisms –
fixation or nitrification, it can be absorbed by plants
nitrogen fixation and nitrification.
through their roots. Eventually the plant dies, and
Nitrogen fixation its body is added to the animal wastes and remains
In nitrogen fixation, nitrogen and hydrogen in the soil. Decomposers break down the nitrogen
are combined to form ammonium ions and then compounds in these wastes and remains and the
nitrate. The process depends upon enzymes that formation of nitrate can begin again.
are only possessed by certain bacteria called In a typical ecosystem the processes shown
nitrogen-fixing bacteria. Some of these bacteria opposite recycle nitrogen between living
live free in the soil, but a very important species organisms and the environment. However, some
called Rhizobium leguminosarum lives in swellings processes cause the loss of nitrate from the
called nodules on the roots of leguminous plants environment. This happens naturally as a result
such as peas, beans and clover. Nitrogen fixation of denitrification (see above), and less naturally
only happens if oxygen is present. It also occurs when crops are harvested and removed from
naturally in the atmosphere when the energy from the site where they have grown. These losses of
lightning combines nitrogen directly with oxygen. nitrate can be made up either by nitrogen fixation
Farmers can plant legumes in a crop rotation or by adding nitrate in the form of fertilisers.

1 Use your knowledge of the nitrogen cycle to explain c planting peas or beans every third year
how the following farming practices might improve soil d adding NPK fertiliser
fertility. e adding well-rotted compost
a ploughing in stubble rather than burning it 2 Explain why farmers drain waterlogged fields.
b draining waterlogged fields


The nitrogen cycle

The processes of nitrification, absorption, feeding, death, excretion and decay lead Some plants, called legumes (beans and
to the cycling of nitrogen between living organisms and their environment. In a natural peanuts are examples), have swellings
ecosystem nitrogen fixation can ‘top up’ the cycle and make up for losses by denitrification. on their roots. These root nodules
contain bacteria, which can convert
nitrogen gas to nitrate ions. These
plants reduce the need for artificial

Organic compounds in plants Nitrogen gas (N2)

Proteins in the atmosphere

Nitrogen fixation


Absorption by diffusion
and active transport Farmers drain and
plough fields to
improve oxygenation
of soil and so reduce
Feeding They also add
fertilisers to directly
increase the nitrate
content of the soil.

Organic compounds in animals

amino acids
and urea
Nitrate ions (NO3–)
in soil solution

Death and

Organic compounds in
decomposers – bacteria
Farmers are encouraged and fungi Amino acids Ammonium
to plough roots and and urea ions (NH4+)
stalks of harvested crops
back into the soil. This
provides raw material
for the action of Decay – enzymes digest
decomposers. organic molecules to
simpler forms


4.7 Water is recycled too!

■ the most important factor in water recycling
■ To know that all living organisms are largely
is heat energy from the Sun. This evaporates
water, and that biological reactions always take place in
an aqueous (watery) environment water, and also creates the temperature
gradients which lead to winds.
■ To understand that the biological properties
of water result from the structure of the The steps involved in the water cycle are shown in
water molecule the diagram opposite.
■ To list some of the biological functions of water
The special properties of water
The picture of the kangaroo shows the importance
Water and life of the properties of water to living things.
Life first evolved in water for a number of reasons:
■ The molecules that were used by living
The high specific Evaporation of Because water is
organisms, and that made up their structure, incompressible,
heat capacity water from
were dissolved in the first seas. of water means a surface allows it provides
■ In the muddy estuaries and shallow seas of the that cells or bodies loss of heat. excellent support.
with a high water Water has a high Water helps
primitive Earth, the molecules could become content tend to latent heat of support a whole
concentrated enough to react together. resist heating up vaporisation. organism (e.g. a
or cooling down, fish), or part of
■ Water acted as a protective shield for the
even when the an organism
first living organisms against the damaging temperature of (e.g. the eyeball,
ultraviolet rays from the Sun. their environment or the erect penis
changes. of a mammal).
Recycling water
Life continues on this planet because water has
special properties. In particular, all three states of
water – solid ice, liquid water and gaseous water
vapour – exist at the temperatures found on the
Earth’s surface. The temperature varies at different
times and at different places on the planet, but
the average temperature over the Earth’s surface
is about 16.5 °C. This means that ice, liquid
water and water vapour are all present and are
continually interchanging. Water is recycled
between different parts of the environment, as
shown in the water cycle opposite.

The water cycle

All of the elements that make up living organisms, Water is an Water can be a Water is an excellent
not just carbon and nitrogen, are recycled. The excellent biological reagent, transport medium
lubricant, for example in the for many biological
water cycle is different to the cycles of carbon and
for example in processes of molecules, such as
nitrogen because: saliva or in the photosynthesis oxygen, glucose,
■ only a tiny proportion of the water which is synovial fluid of and digestion. amino acids, sodium
movable joints. ions and urea.
recycled passes through living organisms


Precipitation Condensation
Droplets collect vapour water droplets,
and fall as snow, which collect to form clouds
rain and hail.

liquid vapour

Evaporation Melting/refreezing
liquid vapour solid liquid

S The water cycle is maintained by heat energy from the Sun

1 a Explain how nitrogen in the muscle protein of a prey. They will also eat larger herbivores such as kudu
herbivore may be recycled to form protein in that have been killed by larger predators such as lions.
another herbivore some years later. A farmer in South Africa found that a number of his
b Explain how the activities of some bacteria form a sheep, while feeding on grassland, were being killed by
part of both the carbon and nitrogen cycles. jackals. He noted that jackals always kill sheep by
Cambridge IGCSE Biology 0610 Paper 2 Q8 June 2004 attacking their necks. He designed a plastic collar for
2 Use words from the following list to complete the the sheep that covered their necks. None of his sheep
paragraphs about ecosystems. You may use each word have been killed since fitting these collars. Other
once, more than once or not at all. farmers are now buying the collars to protect their
respiration, decomposition, producer, chemical, sheep from jackal attack.
carnivore, consumer, photosynthesis, energy, light, a The prey species of the jackal are usually primary
elements, decomposers, herbivore consumers. State the type of food that all primary
consumers eat.
In each ecosystem there are many feeding relationships.
b Name the two carnivores identified in the text.
A food chain represents a flow of through an
c Construct a food chain for the jackal to show its
ecosystem, and always begins with an organism called
relationship with sheep.
a which is able to trap energy and convert it
d Suggest a reason why jackals survive better when
to energy. An organism of this type is eaten by a
they hunt in packs.
, which is a kind of that feeds only on plant
e When the farmer started to use collars on his sheep,
material. This type of organism is, in turn, eaten by a
although none of his sheep were being killed, the
(an organism that consumes other animals).
population of jackals did not decrease. Suggest why
The process in which light energy is transferred into a the number of jackals did not decrease.
chemical form is called – eventually the energy is f Name two structures, found in the neck of a sheep,
released from its chemical form during the process of that could be damaged when jackals attack it.
This process provides energy for all living g Some of the protected sheep die of old age and
organisms, including which are microbes that their remains are eaten by other animals. Suggest
feed on the remains of animals and plants. and explain why the collars of the dead sheep could
3 In Africa, mammals called jackals are quite common. create an environmental problem.
They feed on small herbivores such as young Cambridge IGCSE Biology 0610
springboks and dik-diks, hunting in packs to catch their Paper 3 Q1 June 2004


Questions on ecosystems, decay and cycles

1 Over a period of several months, a student each buffalo. These birds eat ticks that are
recorded some activities of the wildlife in a parasites on the buffalo’s skin.
particular habitat. The following observations i Draw a pyramid of numbers to represent
appeared in her notebook. these feeding relationships. Label
the pyramid with the names of the
1. Young shoots of a crop of bean plants covered with greenflies ii Draw a pyramid of biomass to represent
(aphids) sucking food from the stems. the same feeding relationships. Lable the
2. Saw a large bird (hawk), which usually catches mice, swoop
to take a small bird visiting the bean field to eat some of trophic levels on this pyramid.
the aphids or butterflies. b Explain how the nutrition of consumers
3. Flowers of beans being visited by many different species
of butterfly. differs from that of producers.
4. Mice seen nibbling at some dispersed bean seeds. Cambridge IGCSE Biology 0610
5. Spider’s web constructed between two bean plants Paper 2 Q6 November 2008
with 5 large black flies caught in it. Rotting body of a mouse
nearby attracting similar flies. 3 The figure shows parts of some natural cycles
in the environment.

a Copy and complete the figure by filling in

the names of the organisms to show the
feeding relationships in this community. R

a With reference to the carbon and

Bean plants nitrogen cycles, explain what is happening
at Q and R.
b i What name is given to a chart of feeding b Identify two gases that may be released at
relationships as shown in the figure? S and describe the possible harmful effects
ii Name two top carnivores observed by they may have on the environment.
the student. Cambridge O Level Biology 5090
c i Draw and label a pyramid of biomass for Paper 2 Q6 May 2007
the hawks, mice and bean plants in this 4 Caribbean farmers sometimes:
habitat. a Plant peas and corn together to ensure that
ii Draw and label a pyramid of numbers for the corn plants could grow well. Use your
a bean plant, small birds and aphids. knowledge of the nitrogen cycle to explain
Cambridge O Level Biology 5090 this practice.
Paper 2 Q3 May 2008 b Use manure from farm animals as fertiliser
2 a Cape buffalo graze on grass. While the for their crops, which are sold in the organic
buffalo are grazing, two or three oxpecker produce section at the greengrocer’s store.
birds are often seen standing on the backs of Comment on this practice.

5 a The figure below shows the carbon cycle. b Over the last few decades, the carbon
i Name the processes that cause the dioxide concentration in the atmosphere has
changes shown by the arrows labelled been rising.
A–D. Suggest how this has happened.
ii Name one type of organism that brings Cambridge IGCSE Biology 0610
about decomposition. Paper 2 Q7 November 2008

Carbon dioxide
in air

Decomposition C
by B B

Fossil fuels Carbon compounds D Carbon compounds

in animals in plants

Death Death
over millions
of years
Carbon compounds
in dead plants and

6 The figure below shows the water cycle. c A logging company wants to cut down the
a i The arrows labelled P represent forest area.
evaporation. Which type of energy is i Suggest what effects this deforestation
needed for this process? might have on the climate further inland.
ii State what causes the formation of Explain your answer.
clouds at Q. ii State two other effects deforestation
b i What process is represented by the could have on the environment.
arrows labelled R? Cambridge IGCSE Biology 0610
iii Name three factors that could alter the Paper 2 Q4 May 2009
rate at which process R happens.

forest area