The ecosystem is a complex interrelationship of abiotic components (the climate, geology and soils) and biotic components (the plants and the animals). These components do not exist in an isolated state out react to stimuli which may be produced from within the ecosystem, or from other adjacent ecosystem or from the surrounding environment.
The term ‘environment’ has been used by Clarke (1965) to imply the space which surrounds an individual organism, or groups of organisms. It is the hyper-space in which the total ecosystem plays out its existence. Just as the ecosystem was shown to be a conceptual model, then so too environment is an abstraction which has been devised by ecologists to assist the study of ecosystems.
Usually, a large number of different components combine to form the environment and, as a result, a reaction process occurs between the environmental inputs and the organism.
A series of response signals are sent back from the organism to the environment and these signals can then modify the environment. According to Mason and Langenheim (1957) an environment can only exist when centered upon an organism and is a “reaction system of the organism and the phenomena which directly impinge upon it to affect its mode of life at any time throughout its life cycle.”
From this definition we can assume that phenomena which do not impinge upon an organism may be classified as ‘non- environment’ while others, which may at some future time be involved in the relationship, may be termed ‘potential environment’.
Although the environment may be abstract, its components are real. The individual parts of an environment do not exist in isolation but are inter-related in many different ways. In both these respects the environment and ecosystems are very similar; both are abstract terms but comprise real components, both comprise many different parts all of which are interrelated and inter-dependent for their well-being.
It is convenient to divide the total environment into its main physical, chemical and biological components, Table. Having studied the environmental components as separate parts it is then possible to reassemble the environment and to examine its ‘wholeness’.