Decomposers are organisms that break down rotting trees and plants. Mushrooms, beetles and wood eaters are some of the decomposers found in a deciduous forest.
Decomposers play an important role in the forest ecosystem. When a decomposer breaks down a piece of dead or decaying material, nitrogen, carbon and other nutrients seep back into the soil. The recycled nutrients serve as a source of nourishment for new trees and plants.
Unlike plants, mushrooms are unable to produce their own food, so they use enzymes to decompose dead plants and absorb needed nutrients. The earthworm is another common decomposer found in the deciduous forest. After an earthworm absorbs the nutrients it needs, it excretes castings that are rich in potash, phosphorus and nitrogen.
Decomposers are a vital component of the nitrogen cycle, which transforms an unusable form of nitrogen into the fixed form organisms need to survive. During this cycle, decomposers convert nitrogen into ammonia, allowing the nitrogen cycle to continue.
Some decomposers break down material very quickly, while others take several months or years to do their jobs. Shelf fungus, for example, decomposes trees very slowly. Eventually, a tree covered with shelf fungus falls apart. The dirt inside helps nourish new plants and trees.