What Is the Difference Between Abiotic and Biotic Factors?

The primary difference between biotic and abiotic factors is that biotic factors include the living parts of ecosystems, including plants, microbes and animals, while abiotic factors are environmental components that are nonliving. Biotic and abiotic factors are quite different, but are critical components of all ecosystems and habitats. They are found in many environments, including natural areas and man-made settings such as office buildings and schools.

In natural environments, the primary abiotic factors cover five areas: soil, water, temperature, sunlight and air. These components exist in habitats around the world, and allow for the growth of certain organisms in those areas. Abiotic components may be physical or chemical and allow organisms to breathe, reproduce and grow. The abiotic factors in ecosystems are also referred to as resources and vary in abundance depending on the surrounding conditions. Abiotic factors are consumed at different rates by organisms sharing an environment and may wax and wane in scarcity. Some abiotic resources, such as water, may spark competition among organisms, particularly in arid regions where water supplies are often limited. In contrast to abiotic factors, biotic elements in habitats include microorganisms, plants and animal species that have the ability to move, reproduce and breathe. Examples of these factors are bacteria, seaweed, land plants and mammals, including humans.

There are three main types of biotic factors in an ecosystem: producers, consumers and decomposers. Producers, or autotrophs, are organisms that obtain energy from abiotic factors and use that energy to create food. Plants are a common example of producers. Consumers, or heterotrophs, must consume other biotic components of an ecosystem for food. They may consume producers or other consumers. Decomposers, or detritivores, break down dead biotic factors for food and, as a result, return biological material to the ecosystem. Fungi and some bacteria are detritivores.