The key difference between energy flow and matter cycling is that energy flow shows the energy transmission from one trophic level to next trophic level in food chains while matter cycling shows the flow or cycling of elements through the living and nonliving parts of ecosystems.
Energy flows in an ecosystem through food chains. Similarly, elements cycle through different parts of the Earth. Sun is the energy source of most ecosystems. Primary producers fix energy of the sunlight into carbohydrates. Consumers, especially herbivores, consume food produced by the producers. Then carnivores and omnivores depend on herbivores. Likewise, energy flows through different trophic levels. At the same time, matter recycles via different processes. In fact, both energy and matter move from one organism to another in food chains.
1. Overview and Key Difference
2. What is Energy Flow
3. What is Matter Cycling
4. Similarities Between Energy Flow and Matter Cycling
5. Side by Side Comparison – Energy Flow vs Matter Cycling in Tabular Form
What is Energy Flow?
Energy in the ecosystem has two forms. They are radiant energy and fixed energy. Radiant energy is the energy that comes from electromagnetic waves, especially from the sunlight. Fixed energy is the chemical energy stored in different organic substances. Autotrophs are a kind of living organisms that produce food by fixing radiant energy and utilizing inorganic substances. On the other hand, heterotrophs depend on the fixed energy in the organic matter. They break organic substances and utilize the released energy. Energy flow takes place via food chains and food webs. Through food chains, energy transmits among different trophic levels, starting from primary producers. The movement of energy along the food chain is referred to as energy flow. It is also known as calorific flow.
Energy flow obeys two laws of thermodynamics. According to the first law, energy cannot be created or destroyed. It can be transformed into another form. The second law states that each time when energy is transferred, part of the energy is wasted as heat energy. Only 10% of the energy is transferred from one trophic level to the other, and the rest of 90% is released to the atmosphere. Therefore, whenever energy is passed from one level to the next level, 90% is wasted. However, energy flow is very important in order to maintain the ecological balance.
What is Matter Cycling?
Matter cycling is the flow of all types of elements on Earth through the living and nonliving parts of it. Matter cycling is explained by different geochemical cycles. Water cycle explains the cycling of water while carbon, nitrogen, sulfur, phosphorus and oxygen cycles explain their movements on Earth. Each individual cycle shows the cyclic exchange of material between the living organisms and their non-living environment.
Humans are also involved in matter cycling. Composting, crop rotation, use of fertilizers, and other chemicals are several human activities that affect matter cycling. Fertilizer runoff and bioaccumulation are two harmful human impacts on Earth. In addition to that, decomposers play a major role in matter cycling. They keep matter moving between the living and non-living parts of an ecosystem. Decomposers release nutrients. Then plants absorb nutrients from the soil through their roots.
What are the Similarities Between Energy Flow and Matter Cycling?
- Both energy and matter flow through food chains in an ecosystem.
- They are important in order to keep the ecosystem balanced.
- Living organisms need both matter and energy.
What is the Difference Between Energy Flow and Matter Cycling?
Energy and matter flow along the food chains in ecosystems. Energy flow tells us how energy flows from one trophic level to the next level in a food chain. Similarly, matter cycling tells us how matter moves from one place to another place through the living and nonliving parts of the ecosystem. So, this is the key difference between energy flow and matter cycling.
Below infographic summarizes the difference between energy flow and matter cycling.
Summary – Energy Flow vs Matter Cycling
Energy flows through food chains. Similarly, matter cycles within ecosystems. Both energy and matter cycling keep the ecosystems balanced and healthy. When energy flows through different trophic levels, 90% is wasted and released as heat energy to the atmosphere. However, most of the matter stays on Earth moving from one place to other. Matter cycling can be explained using individual geochemical cycles such as carbon cycle, nitrogen cycle, water cycle, oxygen cycle, etc. Therefore, energy flow explains the energy transmission while matter cycling explains how matter moves through the living and nonliving parts of the ecosystem. Thus, this is the fundamental difference between energy flow and matter cycling.