Decomposer | Definition, Structure , Types & Functions


Decomposer Definition:

A decomposer is defined as an organism that decomposes or breaks down the organic material including the remains of dead organisms. The decomposers are included bacteria and fungi. These organisms carry the process of decomposition that all living organisms undergo after death. The decomposition is an important process because it permits the organic material to be recycled in an ecosystem.

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The function of Decomposers:

The decomposers perform an important task in every ecosystem. The dead organisms would not be broken down and cannot be again recycled in the living matter in the absence of decomposers. The decomposers are heterotrophic that means they gain energy from ingesting the organic material. A dead organism gives nutrients for decomposers such as bacteria and fungi to grow and reproduce, and propagate their own species.

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Stages of Decomposition:

When an organism dies and the decomposers decompose the dead material, the organisms go through the five stages; fresh, bloat, active decay, advanced decay and dry/remain.

  • Fresh:

This is the first stage that starts as soon as when the heart of the organism stops beating. Autolysis starts to occur with no more oxygen come in the body and a buildup of carbon dioxide occurs. Putrefaction also starts to occur.

  • Bloat:

The buildup of gases occurs due to putrefaction, and remains of organism appear bloated in this stage. Some of gases and fluids purged from the body.

  • Active Decay:

Then the remaining lose mass and liquefaction and disintegration of tissues start to occur. The bacteria generate chemicals like ammonia, hydrogen sulfide and methane that cause strong odors.

  • Advanced Decay:

After active decay, the organism lost a lot of its mass, so there is not much left for decomposition. If organism is on or in the soil, the surrounding soil will present an increase in nitrogen, which is an important nutrient for plants.

  • Dry/Remain:

This is the last stage of decomposition, in which only dry skin, cartilage, and bones are left. The plants’ growth can occur around remains because it increases nutrient levels in the soil. In the end, only the bones of organisms left.

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Examples of Decomposers:

Some examples of decomposers are given below:

  • Bacteria:

The bacteria are microscopic, unicellular organisms which found almost everywhere on the earth, also include the body of the human. After the death of an organism, it gives many nutrients for bacteria in order to grow and reproduce, and they become numerous in the putrefaction process during the decomposition. The bacteria are caused by sickness and death when an organism affected by bacteria.

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The fungi are the main decomposers present in many environments. Some examples of fungi included yeast, molds, and mushrooms. The fungi contain hyphae that branch the filament and these hyphae have the ability to enter the organic matter which makes the fungi effective decomposers. Wood decay fungi have particular enzymes which digest the compounds in wood and are the main decomposers in the forests.

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Decomposers and Detritivores:

Some of the organisms do similar tasks as decomposers, and sometimes known as decomposers, but technically they are Detritivores. The difference between the decomposers and detritivores lays in the way of breakdown the organic material.

Detritivores have to digest the organic material within their bodies to its break down and in order to gain nutrients from it. While the decomposers have no need to digest the organic material internally to break down, instead of this, it can break down by chemical reactions.

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Decomposers and Scavengers:

The scavengers are the first to arrive at the remains of dead organisms, and they eat the dead plants and animal material directly. Once the scavengers did with remains of dead material, the decomposers and detritivores take over and consume the parts which have left by the scavengers. Examples of scavengers are included lions, jackals, wolves, raccoons, and opossums.

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