Salem Maritime National Historic Site
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  • Decomposers

    Decomposer: an organism that breaks down organic material and recycles nutrients in an ecosystem.

    Audio Transcript

    The final players in the food chain are decomposers. Decomposers break down dead organic matter and recycle nutrients back into the ecosystem.

    Slugs, for example, eat decaying plant material and animal waste. After slugs digest their food, their nutrient-dense droppings fertilize the soil.

    Mushrooms are also decomposers. They may look like plants, but they’re actually fungi and can’t photosynthesize.

    They secrete substances that break down waste, including certain types of plant cells that animals can’t digest.

    Mushrooms absorb nutrients and release some back into the ecosystem, creating nutrient-rich soil for plants, the producers in the food chain. In this way, decomposers link the end of the food chain back to its beginning, recycling nutrients throughout the ecosystem.

    Image Descriptions

    1. Meadow slug (Deroceras laeve) © Linda Gail Price, CC-BY-NC
    2. Horn of plenty (Craterellus cornucopioides) © Tomasz Przechlewski CC-BY
    3. Turkey Tail (Trametes versicolor) NPS Photo
    4. Hat thrower (Pilobolus crystallinus) © Sava Krstic CC-BY-SA 3.0