Abiotic factors are the non-living components of the ecosystem, including its chemical and physical factors. Abiotic factors influence other abiotic factors. In addition, they have profound impacts on the variety and abundance of life in an ecosystem, whether on land or in water. Without abiotic factors, living organisms wouldn’t be able to eat, grow, and reproduce. Below is a list of some of the most significant abiotic factors.
Sunlight: As the world’s biggest source of energy, sunlight plays an essential role in most ecosystems. It provides the energy that plants use to produce food, and it affects temperature. Organisms must adapt depending on how much access they have to sunlight.
Oxygen: Oxygen is essential to the majority of life forms on Earth. The reason? They need oxygen in order to breathe and to release energy from food. In this way, oxygen drives the metabolism of most organisms.2
Temperature: The average temperature, range of temperature, and extremes of temperature in both air and water are all important in how organisms live and survive in an ecosystem. Temperature also affects an organism’s metabolism, and species have evolved to thrive in the typical temperature range in their ecosystem.3
Wind: Wind can exert many effects on an ecosystem. It moves other abiotic factors, like soil and water. It disperses seeds and spreads fire. Wind affects temperature as well as evaporation from soil, air, surface waters, and plants, changing humidity levels.
Water: Water is essential for all life. In terrestrial (land) ecosystems where water is scarce, such as deserts, organisms develop traits and behaviors that help them survive by harvesting and storing water efficiently. This can sometimes create a water source for other species as well.4 In ecosystems like rainforests where the abundance of water depletes soil nutrients, many plants have special traits that let them collect nutrients before water washes them away.5 Water also contains nutrients, gases, and food sources that aquatic and marine species depend on, and it facilitates movement and other life functions.
Ocean currents: Ocean currents involve the movement of water, which in turn facilitates movement of biotic and abiotic factors like organisms and nutrients. Currents also affect water temperature and climate. They play an important role in the survival and behavior of organisms that live in water, since currents can influence things like food availability, reproduction, and species migration.6
Nutrients: Soil and water contain inorganic nutrients that organisms require to eat and grow. For example, minerals like phosphorous, potassium, and nitrogen found in soil are important for plant growth.7 Water contains many dissolved nutrients, and soil runoff can carry nutrients to aquatic and marine environments.
What About Soil?
Composed of both biotic and abiotic components, soil is an interesting case. Soil filters and stores water and anchors the roots of plants. It contains nutrient minerals and gases, as well as millions of microorganisms like bacteria, fungi, and single-celled organisms called archaea. These are important decomposers, the planet’s indispensable recyclers.