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The living and non-living environment affects the survival of an organism. The non-living environment has a major influence on the lives of all other living and non-living things that form an ecosystem. There are many non-living (or abiotic) factors that influence where an organism can live. This chapter will look at the effects of the non-living environment on organisms.

Non-living environment

The non-living environment comprises the soil, water supply, climate and weather which may include humidity, sunlight, temperature and other weather influences. The survival of any organism will depend on how well it has adapted to these factors and how well it fits into a specific area. All organisms need to be in harmony with their environment in order to maintain stable conditions in their bodies.


Soil is not only the covering of the Earth's surface and the substance that plants need but it also provides a home for many living things, such as micro-organisms, worms, mice, rabbits, snakes, bacteria, fungi and so on. What the soil contains, its physical structure, its mineral salts, trace elements and its fertility, depend on the amount of decayed animal and plant material in it as well as the inorganic content. The inorganic content varies from region to region depending on the type of rocks and other material found in the area. Where a plant lives is determined by the nutrients that are available in the soil.

The acidity of the soil also affects the life of an organism. Plants, in particular have a preferred acidity in which they like to live. Some organisms prefer acid soil and others prefer alkaline. The acidity of soil is measured using the pH scale.

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Sunlight affects the living conditions of all organisms to a great extent. The existence of plants and all other organisms would cease without the sun. Light provides plants with the energy they need to carry out photosynthesis. This production of food inside plant bodies initiates the chain of life and would not take place if there was no light.

In environments with little light, plants have had to adapt to these conditions. The microscopic algae or plankton are only found in the surface waters of the ocean where there is sufficient light for photosynthesis to occur. Seaweed and kelp will grow where some light can penetrate through the water but no plants are found on the deep, dark ocean floor.

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Temperature and humidity

Sunlight also affects temperature, and humidity is dependent on temperature. Temperature and humidity greatly influence the lives of organisms. When living things get too hot or too cold, their bodies do not function properly. Processes such as digestion, respiration, excretion and reproduction take place at an optimum (most favourable or best) temperature range. That is why many desert creatures sleep during the extremely hot days and emerge in the cool of the night to feed and engage in courtship.

Humidity is the amount of water vapour in the air. The humidity of the air will determine the amount of water an organism loses into the air. In areas where there is high humidity such as in tropical biomes, organisms will lose very little water. Desert biomes, however, have very little humidity and so plants and animals living in these areas will have special adaptations that help them to retain as much water as possible.


Slightly less than three-quarters of the world is covered with water. Water is held in oceans, lakes, rivers, glaciers and as subsurface water. It also exists in the bodies of all organisms and in the air. The characteristics of water can profoundly affect the lives of the organisms that depend on it.

The salinity, or saltiness, of the water has an influence on the organisms that live in it or depend on it. Freshwater and marine organisms function very differently depending on the environment that they live in. Some organisms such as salmon live part of their lives in both freshwater and saltwater and have developed special characteristics that allow them to do this.

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Organisms that live in tidal areas such as anemones, barnacles, crabs, green algae, mussels, sea stars and snails have developed ways to survive in conditions that are both wet and dry. At low tide the organisms are exposed to the air, while at high tide they are completely submerged. These organisms also need to develop ways to prevent themselves from being washed away by the incoming or outgoing tide. Organisms living in fast flowing streams and rivers such as fish and water plants also need to develop special characteristics that enable them to survive in the moving water.


Some organisms may also need to adapt to other weather conditions such as wind, air currents and storms. Plants that live in regions that are frequently hit by strong winds need to develop strong root systems that enable them to stay alive. Similarly, organisms that live in areas that experience frequent floods or wild storms need to adapt to the changing conditions.

An organism can usually survive the weather if it has adequate shelter and protection. Different plants and animals require different types of shelter or protection to survive. Rocks, hollow logs, trees and burrows can all provide shelter for different organisms. There are times, however, when natural disasters such as fire, hurricanes, severe floods and volcanic eruptions can devastate an ecosystem. In these cases, the organisms have no time to adapt and will often not survive.

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Living together

The effects of the non-living environment greatly influences where an organism can live. The organism that adapts best to the environment will be able to survive and flourish. Organisms, however, not only have to live in harmony with the non-living environment but also with other living things. The effects of the living environment will be explored in the next chapter.

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1. Why do microscopic algae live in the surface waters of the ocean?

The water is warmer

It is less alkaline

There are less predators

So they can get enough sunlight for photosynthesis to occur


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