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Woodland soil, a small ecosystemWoodland soil, a small ecosystem Animals, plants and other living things, together known as organisms, must survive together in the natural world. They depend on and relate to each other, such as by being plants and plant-eaters, predators and prey, or parasites and hosts. Organisms must also fit in with their non-living surroundings including air, water, soil and rocks, and cope with changing conditions such as weather, climate and seasons. Scientists think of the natural world as being divided up into ecosystems, distinct areas in which living things interact with their living and non-living surroundings: their environments. All ecosystems taken together form the biosphere, the living world. The study of ecosystems is called ecology.

A tiger beetleA tiger beetle

An individual organism

The basic part or unit of ecology is an individual organism, such as an animal or plant. Individual organisms hardly ever live on their own. They exist and interact with others, satisfying their needs such as shelter and nourishment.

For example, the tiger beetle, a fierce hunting insect with large jaws to seize prey such as worms, is part of the soil community. It competes for small prey with others such as centipedes and spiders. It may be hunted itself by larger predators such as shrews or moles.

The part or role that an organism plays in its community, in this case as a small predator, is called its ecological niche. The community, of which the tiger beetle is a member, lives on the floor of a broadleaf woodland: its habitat. This is one small part of the temperate woodland biome.

The word ecology comes from the ancient Greek oikos (ecos) meaning “house”. It can be thought of as the study of “nature’s housekeeping”.

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