All ecosystems are affected by and interact with their environment. At the global scale, the Earth's environment is characterized by the global energy balance, the balance of all heating and cooling terms that shape the climatic variations in space and time, especially with respect to surface temperature, precipitation, and light. From an energy balance viewpoint, the interrelationships between ecosystems and their environment are threefold: (1) ecosystems utilize energy sources from their environment, and thereby are a part - though small - of the energy balance; (2) ecosystem processes are affected by environmental conditions that are directly or indirectly connected to the energy balance (e.g., precipitation affects the levels of water limitation of terrestrial productivity); and (3) the form and functioning of ecosystems affect energy balance terms. This article reviews the basics of the global energy balance, how it is reflected in the seasonal and geographic distribution of mean climatic properties, and how it interacts with life through ecosystem functioning.
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