full transcript

From the Ted Talk by John C. Moore and Eric Berlow: Dead stuff The secret ingredient in our food chain

Unscramble the Blue Letters

If someone called you scum, you'd probably be offended, but scientifically, they might not be far off. Have you ever thought about where your food comes from? You might say it comes from plants, animals, or even fungi, but you'd probably rather not think about the rotting organisms and poop that feed those plants, amnlias, and fungi. So really, you and most of the matter in your body are just two or three degrees of separation from things like pond scum. All species in an ecosystem, from the creatures in a coral reef to the fish in a lake to the lions on the savannah, are directly or indirectly nourished by dead stuff. Most of the organic mttear in our bodies, if we trcae it back far enough, comes from CO2 and water through photosynthesis. Plants use the energy from sunlight to torsnrfam carbon dioxide and water from the environment into glucose and oxygen. That glucose is then taonrremsfd into more complex organic molecules to form leaves, stems, roots, fruit, and so on. The energy stored in these organic molecules supports the food ciahns with which we're familiar. You've probably seen illustrations like this or this. These green food chains strat with liivng plants at their base. But in real-life terrestrial ecosystems, less than 10% of plant matter is eaten while it's still alive. What about the other 90? Well, just look at the ground on an autumn day. Living plants shed dead body parts: fallen laeevs, broken bachners, and even underground roots. Many plants are lucky enough to go their whole levis without being eaten, eventually dying and leaving remains. All of these uneaten, undigested, and dead plant parts, that 90% of terrestrial plant matter? That becomes detritus, the base of what we call the brown food chain, which looks more like this. What happens to paltns also happens to all other ogirsanms up the food chain: some are eaten alive, but most are eetan only when they're dead and rotting. And all along this food chain, living things shed organic matter and expel digestive waste before dinyg and leaving their remains to decay. All that death sounds grim, right? But it's not. All detritus is ullatimtey consumed by microbes and other scavengers, so it actually forms the base of the brown food chain that supports many other organisms, including us. snitsictes are learning that this dtrtiues is an unexpectedly huge energy sucroe, fueling most natural ecosystems. But the interactions within an ecosystem are even more complex than that. What a food chain really represents is a single pathway of energy flow. And within any ecosystem, many of these flows are lenikd together to form a rich network of interactions, or food web, with dead matter supporting that network at every step. The rntelsiug food web is so coenntecd that almost every species is no more than two degrees from detritus, even us humans. You probably don't eat rinottg things, poop, or pond scum directly, but your food soecurs probably do. Many animals we eat either feed directly on detritus themselves, like pork, poultry, mushrooms, shellfish, or catfish and other btootm feeders, or they are fed animal by-products. So, if you're thinking nature is full of waste, you're right. But one organism's garbage is another's gold, and all that rotting dead stuff ultimately provides the eegrny that nsoiehrus us and most of life on Earth, as it passes through the food web. Now that's some food for thought.

Open Cloze

If someone called you scum, you'd probably be offended, but scientifically, they might not be far off. Have you ever thought about where your food comes from? You might say it comes from plants, animals, or even fungi, but you'd probably rather not think about the rotting organisms and poop that feed those plants, _______, and fungi. So really, you and most of the matter in your body are just two or three degrees of separation from things like pond scum. All species in an ecosystem, from the creatures in a coral reef to the fish in a lake to the lions on the savannah, are directly or indirectly nourished by dead stuff. Most of the organic ______ in our bodies, if we _____ it back far enough, comes from CO2 and water through photosynthesis. Plants use the energy from sunlight to _________ carbon dioxide and water from the environment into glucose and oxygen. That glucose is then ___________ into more complex organic molecules to form leaves, stems, roots, fruit, and so on. The energy stored in these organic molecules supports the food ______ with which we're familiar. You've probably seen illustrations like this or this. These green food chains _____ with ______ plants at their base. But in real-life terrestrial ecosystems, less than 10% of plant matter is eaten while it's still alive. What about the other 90? Well, just look at the ground on an autumn day. Living plants shed dead body parts: fallen ______, broken ________, and even underground roots. Many plants are lucky enough to go their whole _____ without being eaten, eventually dying and leaving remains. All of these uneaten, undigested, and dead plant parts, that 90% of terrestrial plant matter? That becomes detritus, the base of what we call the brown food chain, which looks more like this. What happens to ______ also happens to all other _________ up the food chain: some are eaten alive, but most are _____ only when they're dead and rotting. And all along this food chain, living things shed organic matter and expel digestive waste before _____ and leaving their remains to decay. All that death sounds grim, right? But it's not. All detritus is __________ consumed by microbes and other scavengers, so it actually forms the base of the brown food chain that supports many other organisms, including us. __________ are learning that this ________ is an unexpectedly huge energy ______, fueling most natural ecosystems. But the interactions within an ecosystem are even more complex than that. What a food chain really represents is a single pathway of energy flow. And within any ecosystem, many of these flows are ______ together to form a rich network of interactions, or food web, with dead matter supporting that network at every step. The _________ food web is so _________ that almost every species is no more than two degrees from detritus, even us humans. You probably don't eat _______ things, poop, or pond scum directly, but your food _______ probably do. Many animals we eat either feed directly on detritus themselves, like pork, poultry, mushrooms, shellfish, or catfish and other ______ feeders, or they are fed animal by-products. So, if you're thinking nature is full of waste, you're right. But one organism's garbage is another's gold, and all that rotting dead stuff ultimately provides the ______ that _________ us and most of life on Earth, as it passes through the food web. Now that's some food for thought.

Solution

  1. start
  2. matter
  3. sources
  4. linked
  5. trace
  6. ultimately
  7. dying
  8. chains
  9. leaves
  10. resulting
  11. detritus
  12. scientists
  13. source
  14. energy
  15. nourishes
  16. transformed
  17. eaten
  18. living
  19. connected
  20. organisms
  21. animals
  22. transform
  23. bottom
  24. branches
  25. plants
  26. lives
  27. rotting

Original Text

If someone called you scum, you'd probably be offended, but scientifically, they might not be far off. Have you ever thought about where your food comes from? You might say it comes from plants, animals, or even fungi, but you'd probably rather not think about the rotting organisms and poop that feed those plants, animals, and fungi. So really, you and most of the matter in your body are just two or three degrees of separation from things like pond scum. All species in an ecosystem, from the creatures in a coral reef to the fish in a lake to the lions on the savannah, are directly or indirectly nourished by dead stuff. Most of the organic matter in our bodies, if we trace it back far enough, comes from CO2 and water through photosynthesis. Plants use the energy from sunlight to transform carbon dioxide and water from the environment into glucose and oxygen. That glucose is then transformed into more complex organic molecules to form leaves, stems, roots, fruit, and so on. The energy stored in these organic molecules supports the food chains with which we're familiar. You've probably seen illustrations like this or this. These green food chains start with living plants at their base. But in real-life terrestrial ecosystems, less than 10% of plant matter is eaten while it's still alive. What about the other 90? Well, just look at the ground on an autumn day. Living plants shed dead body parts: fallen leaves, broken branches, and even underground roots. Many plants are lucky enough to go their whole lives without being eaten, eventually dying and leaving remains. All of these uneaten, undigested, and dead plant parts, that 90% of terrestrial plant matter? That becomes detritus, the base of what we call the brown food chain, which looks more like this. What happens to plants also happens to all other organisms up the food chain: some are eaten alive, but most are eaten only when they're dead and rotting. And all along this food chain, living things shed organic matter and expel digestive waste before dying and leaving their remains to decay. All that death sounds grim, right? But it's not. All detritus is ultimately consumed by microbes and other scavengers, so it actually forms the base of the brown food chain that supports many other organisms, including us. Scientists are learning that this detritus is an unexpectedly huge energy source, fueling most natural ecosystems. But the interactions within an ecosystem are even more complex than that. What a food chain really represents is a single pathway of energy flow. And within any ecosystem, many of these flows are linked together to form a rich network of interactions, or food web, with dead matter supporting that network at every step. The resulting food web is so connected that almost every species is no more than two degrees from detritus, even us humans. You probably don't eat rotting things, poop, or pond scum directly, but your food sources probably do. Many animals we eat either feed directly on detritus themselves, like pork, poultry, mushrooms, shellfish, or catfish and other bottom feeders, or they are fed animal by-products. So, if you're thinking nature is full of waste, you're right. But one organism's garbage is another's gold, and all that rotting dead stuff ultimately provides the energy that nourishes us and most of life on Earth, as it passes through the food web. Now that's some food for thought.

Frequently Occurring Word Combinations

ngrams of length 2

collocation frequency
pond scum 2
dead stuff 2
organic matter 2
organic molecules 2
food chains 2
living plants 2
brown food 2
food chain 2
food web 2

Important Words

  1. alive
  2. animal
  3. animals
  4. autumn
  5. base
  6. bodies
  7. body
  8. bottom
  9. branches
  10. broken
  11. brown
  12. call
  13. called
  14. carbon
  15. catfish
  16. chain
  17. chains
  18. complex
  19. connected
  20. consumed
  21. coral
  22. creatures
  23. day
  24. dead
  25. death
  26. decay
  27. degrees
  28. detritus
  29. digestive
  30. dioxide
  31. dying
  32. earth
  33. eat
  34. eaten
  35. ecosystem
  36. ecosystems
  37. energy
  38. environment
  39. eventually
  40. expel
  41. fallen
  42. familiar
  43. fed
  44. feed
  45. feeders
  46. fish
  47. flow
  48. flows
  49. food
  50. form
  51. forms
  52. fruit
  53. fueling
  54. full
  55. fungi
  56. garbage
  57. glucose
  58. gold
  59. green
  60. grim
  61. ground
  62. huge
  63. humans
  64. illustrations
  65. including
  66. indirectly
  67. interactions
  68. lake
  69. learning
  70. leaves
  71. leaving
  72. life
  73. linked
  74. lions
  75. lives
  76. living
  77. lucky
  78. matter
  79. microbes
  80. molecules
  81. mushrooms
  82. natural
  83. nature
  84. network
  85. nourished
  86. nourishes
  87. offended
  88. organic
  89. organisms
  90. oxygen
  91. parts
  92. passes
  93. pathway
  94. photosynthesis
  95. plant
  96. plants
  97. pond
  98. poop
  99. pork
  100. poultry
  101. reef
  102. remains
  103. represents
  104. resulting
  105. rich
  106. roots
  107. rotting
  108. savannah
  109. scavengers
  110. scientifically
  111. scientists
  112. scum
  113. separation
  114. shed
  115. shellfish
  116. single
  117. sounds
  118. source
  119. sources
  120. species
  121. start
  122. stems
  123. step
  124. stored
  125. stuff
  126. sunlight
  127. supporting
  128. supports
  129. terrestrial
  130. thinking
  131. thought
  132. trace
  133. transform
  134. transformed
  135. ultimately
  136. underground
  137. undigested
  138. uneaten
  139. unexpectedly
  140. waste
  141. water
  142. web