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5 - Energy and Life

from Part II - Life Here, Implications for Elsewhere

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  24 September 2020

Wallace Arthur
Affiliation:
National University of Ireland, Galway
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Summary

Here, I outline the various sources of energy that different life-forms use. The most fundamental division of life from an energy perspective is that between self-feeders that can utilize non-biological forms of energy such as light (autotrophs) and those that feed on other organisms (heterotrophs). Further subdivision of the autotroph category shows that not all of these organisms conduct what can be called ordinary photosynthesis – the type that yields oxygen. Some autotrophs conduct non-oxygenic photosynthesis, while others do not use light at all, but rather utilize chemical energy of various kinds in processes that are collectively called chemosynthesis. Next, I consider the flow of energy in ecosystems and note the limitations in the efficiency of energy transfer between trophic levels, but also the limitations of the trophic-level concept itself. Finally, I note that the biosphere is a realm of decreasing entropy: processes that contribute to this decrease include evolution, embryological development, and ecological succession. The decreasing entropy of the biosphere is perfectly compatible with the second law of thermodynamics as this law only applies to closed systems.

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Chapter
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The Biological Universe
Life in the Milky Way and Beyond
, pp. 70 - 83
Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Print publication year: 2020

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  • Energy and Life
  • Wallace Arthur, National University of Ireland, Galway
  • Book: The Biological Universe
  • Online publication: 24 September 2020
  • Chapter DOI: https://doi.org/10.1017/9781108873154.008
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  • Energy and Life
  • Wallace Arthur, National University of Ireland, Galway
  • Book: The Biological Universe
  • Online publication: 24 September 2020
  • Chapter DOI: https://doi.org/10.1017/9781108873154.008
Available formats
×

Send book to Google Drive

To send content items to your account, please confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you use this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your account. Find out more about sending content to Google Drive.

  • Energy and Life
  • Wallace Arthur, National University of Ireland, Galway
  • Book: The Biological Universe
  • Online publication: 24 September 2020
  • Chapter DOI: https://doi.org/10.1017/9781108873154.008
Available formats
×