Chapter

Further Travels of Energy in the Biosphere

E. C. Pielou

in The Energy of Nature

Published by University of Chicago Press

Published in print May 2001 | ISBN: 9780226668062
Published online February 2013 | e-ISBN: 9780226668055 | DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.7208/chicago/9780226668055.003.0012
Further Travels of Energy in the Biosphere

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Chapter 11 showed that nearly 2 billion (2 × 1018) kJ of solar energy are captured each year by photosynthesizing plants. What becomes of all the captured energy? Some of it travels from plants to herbivores and on to carnivores, up a number of familiar food chains, and is partly dissipated by respiration at each level. But what happens to the rest — the energy still unused when the animals at any level of a food chain die? The bulk of the captured energy, in any case, never gets beyond the lowest level of a food chain: enormous quantities of vegetation die without being eaten. Where, then, does all the energy in the dead vegetation go? The answer to both questions is the same: the energy trapped in dead organisms is ultimately released by decay or by burning. The quantity of energy liberated when organic matter is destroyed is always exactly equal to the quantity of solar energy used to create it. This is true irrespective of whether combustion or decomposition brings about the disintegration. This chapter discusses the following: detritus food chains; energy without sunlight; and rocks built by sunlight.

Keywords: solar energy; decay; burning; decomposition; detritus food chains; sunlight; rocks

Chapter.  2971 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: Biological Sciences

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