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Decomposer: Wikis


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The fungi on this tree are decomposers

Decomposers (or saprotrophs) are organisms that break down the dead or decaying organisms, and in doing so carry out the natural process of decomposition. Like herbivores and predators, decomposers are heterotrophic, meaning that they use organic substrates to get their energy, carbon and nutrients for growth and development. Decomposers use deceased organisms and non-living organic compounds as their food source. The primary examples are bacteria and fungi. Another example of a decomposer is land.


Fungi are the primary and common of decomposers of litter in many ecosystems. Unlike bacteria, which are unicellular, most saprotrophic fungi grow as a branching network of hyphae. While bacteria are restricted to growing and feeding on the exposed surfaces of organic matter, fungi can use their hyphae to penetrate larger pieces of organic matter. Additionally, only fungi have evolved the enzymes necessary to decompose lignin, a chemically complex substance found in wood. These two factors make fungi the primary decomposers in forests, where litter has high concentrations of lignin and often occurs in large pieces.


  • Beare MH, Hendrix PF, Cheng W (1992) Microbial and faunal interactions and effects on litter nitrogen and decomposition in agroecosystems. Ecological Monographs 62: 569-591
  • Hunt HW, Colema9n DC, Ingham ER, Ingham RE, Elliot ET, Moore JC, Rose SL, Reid CPP, Morley CR (1987) "The detrital food web in a shortgrass prairie". Biology and Fertility of Soils 3: 57-68
  • Smith TM, Smith RL (2006) Elements of Ecology. Sixth edition. Benjamin Cummings, San Francisco, CA.
  • Swift MJ, Heal OW, Anderson JM (1979) Decomposition in Terrestrial Ecosystems. University of California Press, Berkeley, CA.

Simple English

A decomposer means an organism that breaks down large molecules from dead organisms into small molecules and returns important materials to the environment. Sooner or later, all living things die. When a plant or an animal dies, its body begins to break down into small pieces. Special living things called decomposers break down the body. A decomposer makes dead things into chemicals and then the chemicals go into the air, ground or water and is used again.


Examples of decomposers

[[File:|thumb|alt=mushroom|A mushroom, an example of a decomposer]] Some types of decomposers are Bacteria and Fungi. Others are worms, and mushrooms. [1]The worms live in the ground. They eat their way through bits of dead plants and animals. Some mushrooms and fungi grow out of dead plants and animals to help break them down. [1]But most decomposers are too small for us to see. They are all around us in the air and in the ground.[1]

Helpful creatures

Decomposers are very helpful to the ecosystem and human race. If there were no decomposers, and if dead plants and animals did not break down, Earth would be covered with their bodies. Decomposers are needed by living creatures. [1]They keep the Earth clean and help plants grow, and recycle corpses. [1]

Other pages


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 1.4 Focus on Science. Austin, Texas: Harcourt Achieve. 2004. pp. 62. 


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