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Transformation Pages

Death and Decomposition
Final Transformation


Sometimes there is beauty when life falls away

The final transformation of every life is death. Death in terms of ecology is recycling. In different biomes (living places), decomposition is done by a different sequence of organisms. On land, fungi play a large role as decomposers, but in aquatic biomes fungi's role is small. Bacteria are relied upon as the major decomposer/recycler in every biome. Other decomposers are detritus-feeders such as earthworms and saprophytic plants. See How Organisms Make a Living.

When organisms die and decompose, their life-materials return to earth, and are recycled, that is, made available to new lives to use as nutrients. Decompose means "to take apart." A living body of any organism is a highly organized arrangement of billions of atoms. Death collapses the organization and allows all these atoms to return to soil and waterand air for other lives to use to build their bodies.

Life on Earth is a seethe of atoms out of which sprout billions of lives every moment. As these lives fall back into the seething nutrient pools and are disassembled, their parts are re-used over and over to build new lives. This has been going on for billions of years. Every organism alive is 100% recycled, post-consumer content.

Three lifestyles contribute to the process of decomposition:

Detritus-feeders such as aquatic worms and earth worms eat organic particles which are partly decomposed.

Scavengers are predators who wait to feed until their prey is dead.

Decomposers such as bacteria and fungi eat dead organisms and break them down into their chemical parts

condor, a scavenger
leaves netted by snail tongues

When larger animals die, parts of their bodies are eaten by scavengers, who get a bad press but do a crucial job. They prepare bodies for other carrion feeders and for the decomposers.

When plants and their parts (such as seasonal leaves) die, their path to decomposition is different. Termites, with their bacterial and protozoan gut symbiotes, are centrally important decomposers of wood.  Small scavengers such as ants, springtails, and snails are important. Beetles tunnel into fallen trees.

Some beetles have outer wing covers with specialized indentations specifically matched to the shape and size of the spores of wood-decomposing fungi. Fungal spores become securely lodged in these cuplike indents. As the beetles burrow into wood they inoculate it with fungi. This amazing kind of cooperation of organisms is called symbiosis or Interliving. Explore Fungi. Explore Interliving.

beetle-writing under the bark
spruce budworm holes
in standing dead spruce

Ocean organisms are decomposed differently from those on the continents. Most life makes the ocean home. Marine food webs include many organisms that feed on dead organisms that are continually "raining" down from surface waters. In the mesopelagic twilight and the bathypelagic eternal darkness live many opportunistic feeders that eat everything they can, dead or alive. The seafloor, or benthos, is mud churning with deep-adapted worms that do the same work as terrestrial earthworms. The ocean food webs, like those on land, always end with bacteria. One difference from land-based decomposition is that much marine decomposition happens without the presence of oxygen (anerobic decomposition). This occurs in freshwater biomes as well.

Explore Further in Transformation

Transformation within the mind
Transformation over many lifetimes
Adaptation Mimicry Transformation Trickery
Transformation of communities
Metamorphosis Transformation over one lifetime
Return to Transformation Index