Chemical elements and compounds are vital for the processes of life. Living organisms expend energy to extract chemicals from their environment, they hold on to them and use them for a period, then lose them again. Thus, the activities of organisms profoundly influence the patterns of flux of chemical matter in the biosphere. Physiological ecologists focus their attention on how individual organisms obtain and use the chemicals they need (see Chapter 3). However, in this chapter, as in the last, we change the emphasis and consider the ways in which the biota on an area of land, or within a volume of water, accumulates, transforms and moves matter between the various components of the ecosystem. The area that we choose may be that of the whole globe, a continent, a river catchment or simply a square meter.

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