Composed of living organisms and the remains of living things as well as the nonliving materials in their surroundings, an ecosystem is a complete community. Its components include plants, animals, and microorganisms, both living and dead; soil, rocks, and minerals; water sources above and below ground; and the local atmosphere. An ecosystem can consist of an entire rain forest, geographically larger than many nations, or it can be as small as the body of an animal, which is likely to comprise far more microorganisms than there are people on Earth. Among the most significant areas of interest in the realm of ecosystems is ecology, or the study of the relationships between organisms and their environments. Forests, a broad category of ecosystem, provide a living laboratory in which to investigate the ways in which organisms interact with their environments. They also aptly illustrate the stresses placed on ecosystems by human activities.

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