Decomposers help reclaim carbon from dead organisms and put it back into the carbon cycle so living organisms can use it. Decomposers break down dead plants, animals and waste products. This process releases carbon dioxide through cellular respiration.
Living things on Earth are carbon-based life forms. These living things need carbon to grow and reproduce. The amount of carbon on Earth is not infinite, but it is abundant and takes many forms. Decomposers use the carbon dioxide in the bodies of dead organisms for food or fuel. This feeding process releases carbon dioxide into the atmosphere through cellular respiration. Carbon dioxide can also be released into the atmosphere when dead organisms are burned.
Decomposers are bacteria, fungi and worms. Bacteria can break down most types of organic matter and is a significant decomposer. Fungi are primary decomposers in forests where they break down fallen trees and other woody organisms. Worms are scavengers that hasten bacterial decay by breaking an organism down so the nutrients are more available to bacteria.
The carbon cycle explains how carbon is made available to life forms. The main processes of the carbon cycle are photosynthesis, respiration, decomposition, natural weathering of rocks and burning fossil fuels. Primary producers use photosynthesis to take in carbon. Plants absorb it from the atmosphere in the form of carbon dioxide. Carbon moves up the food chain when animals feed on plants and the carbon is transferred. While alive, animals release carbon dioxide back into the atmosphere through respiration. After an organism has died, the carbon is recycled by decomposers.