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The Organisms in Your Compost Pile illustration: worms

A compost pile functions as an ecosystem with its own complex food web. A food web is a method of classifying organisms according to what they eat or consume.

First-order consumers feed directly on dead plant or animal materials. Second-order consumers feed primarily on first-order consumers, and third-order consumers feed on second-order consumers. This system keeps the different populations in check and maintains a healthy and balanced system.

The vast array of organisms commonly found in a compost pile can also be categorized into chemical and physical decomposers. The microscopic organisms are generally the chemical decomposers; these include bacteria, protozoa, and fungi. The physical decomposers are generally the larger organisms of the compost pile-including worms, mites, snails, beetles, centipedes, and millipedes.

First-order consumers primarily consist of the chemical decomposers, but also include snails, slugs, beetle mites, millipedes, worms, and flies. Second-order consumers, those that feed on first-order consumers and keep their populations in check, include mold mites, feather-winged beetles, springtails, soil flatworms, and protozoa. Third-level consumers include predatory mites, ground beetles, centipedes, pseudoscorpions, and ants.

Of the two groups of decomposers, bacteria represent the powerhouse of the chemical decomposers, and worms the powerhouse of the physical decomposers.

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