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Tropical Ecology Institute


The Value of Decomposers in an Ecosystem, specifically in North Carolina and Belize Forests

Grade Level: 6-8

Author: Doreen Tylak, Winston-Salem, NC

Background information:

The earth’s matter is limited—no significant amount of new matter comes from space. The atoms in dead tissue need to be recycled back to living tissue. Decomposition is how matter moves from living matter to non-living matter in an ecosystem. There are numerous organisms whose job is to decompose dead animals and plant material, so that plants can use new organic materials.


Compost, decaying logs, leaves, and surrounding soil; class aquarium; magnifying glasses plastic spoons or small hand shovels; garden gloves, reference books/website resources (see below) on decomposers in North Carolina and Belize.


Through discussion and observation, the student will recognize a relationship between organisms and the environment. The student is expected to:

  • Observe and describe the importance of decomposers in a forest
  • Describe how a forest supports varieties of organisms
  • Compare decomposers in N.C. and Belize


In small groups, students will take apart and inspect natural debris, searching for various decomposers. Students write about, draw, and graph their observations. An ecosystem will be created in the aquarium, so that the insects can be observed over a period of time. Reference materials/website resources will be referenced to write reports about decomposers in N.C. and in the rainforest of Belize.


Students will write a report about a specific decomposer (insect, worm, fungi, or bacteria) in N.C. or Belize, including the following: illustration and description of the decomposer; its natural habitat; its role in the ecosystem.


  • A Neotropical Companion by John C. Kricher

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