Nutrient Cycles


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Carbon Cycle. Introduction to Biogeography and Ecology
Ecology Virtual Library
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Henderson's Dictionary of Biological Terms, by Eleanor Lawrence. 10th Ed.


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Nutrient Cycles

Carbon Cycle

Organic chemicals are made from carbon more than any other atom, so the Carbon Cycle is a very important one. Carbon between the biological to the physical environment as it moves through the carbon cycle.

Earth's atmosphere contains 0.035% carbon dioxide, CO2, and the biological environment depends upon plants to pull carbon into sugars, proteins, and fats. Using photosynthesis, plants use sunlight to bind carbon to glucose, releasing oxygen (O2)in the process. Through other metabolic processes, plants may convert glucose to other sugars, proteins, or fats. Animals obtain their carbon by eating and digesting plants, so carbon moves through the biotic environment through the trophic system. Herbivore eat plants, but are themselves eaten by carnivores.

Carbon returns to the physical environment in a number of ways. Both plants and animals respire, so they release CO2 during respiration. Luckily for animals, plants just happen to consume more CO2 through photosynthesis than they can produce. Another route of CO2 back to the physical environment occurs through the death of plants and animals. When organisms die, decomposers consume their bodies. In the process, some of the carbon returns to the physical environment by way of fossilization. Some of it remains in the biological environment as other organisms eat the decomposers. But by far, most of the carbon returns to the physical environment through the respiration of CO2.