The Hierarchical Structure of Ecosystems

A hierarchy is known by all, but how it is related to ecosystem is not quite familiar. Yes, you heard it right; there are levels in ecosystem too just like any other hierarchical level. The hierarchical level of an ecosystem is the different levels at which different species or organisms of the ecosystem live. In short, it involves the entire biosphere.

Ecological hierarchy is the way in which every ecological component interacts with each other. Ecological component involves both biotic as well as abiotic components.

There are basically 5 levels in ecological hierarchy:-

  • Individual
  • Population
  • Community
  • Ecosystem
  • Biosphere

If you go deep down you may even find subordinate levels in each of the levels.

The Hierarchical Structure of Ecosystems


Individuals are at the 1st level of the biological hierarchy. The individual doesn’t just mean human beings, but every organism, for example a cat, a dog, a lion, a tiger, a tree, a cow, etc. In short every organism is an individual. To be more specific, you can even say that every living being is an individual. The way an individual interacts with the environment determines the study of this level of ecology.

There are many species of different organisms and each species has got its own scientific name. The study of all these names, their characteristics, their interaction with the environment and with each other determines the level of study of ecology. Study of this 1st ecological level involves all round development of the individual-

  1. Biological
  2. Physiological
  3. Morphological


It is the 2nd level of biological hierarchy. Population, by the word itself you can get it that means a group of something. But, a group of what? Population is a group of individuals belonging to the same species. The ecological study of population teaches you the way the members belonging to the same species live together in a geographical area and interact with each other. For example, the geographical area of human beings can be a town/city/ state/country/ the entire world.

It depends on the people of which area you are talking about. It is the choice of the person studying ecology to decide about which geographical area he wants to study. The population of some species are endangered and taking care of it is very important. As if something happens to them, then there is a possibility of extinction of the entire species.


Community comes at the 3rd level as it is larger than the population. Where population is a group of individuals of a single species in a given area, on the other hand community involves a group of different species in a given area. The word “given area” is been specified every time because it is the choice of the learner as to which area to cover. In our daily life also we live in a community, so studying about this level is easy. Its study involves how everyone together, lives together and interacts with each other. The example of community ecology involves the following activities of the group of species living in a specified area:-

  1. Predacity
  2. Parasitism
  3. Competition
  4. Herbivores
  5. Implantation


Ecosystem coming at the 4th level is a combination of all the above 3 levels- individuals, population & community. It includes both biotic and abiotic components of the biosphere. Biotic components mean all the living things, whereas, the abiotic components are the non-living things like air, water, soil. Ecologists study how the living organisms live making the use of the abiotic components and how do they get energy from them and survive together. Temperature and rainfall are an important component of this level as they determine the action of other components.


The last but the biggest of all levels is the biosphere. You can call it as the entire ecosphere.  In order to study about biosphere ecologists, you got to study about all-

  1. Geology
  2. Population
  3. Climate
  4. Water body

The abiotic factors like temperature, rainfall determine the biotic components of the area. Like, the difference in plant and animal life of a place is determined by these factors only. Whereas, these factors are determined by the latitude and longitude of places.

This is how the hierarchical structure of the ecosystem from the smallest to the largest level is studied by ecologist.