Distinguish between litter and detritus.

Litter and detritus are terms often used in ecology to describe organic material, but they refer to different stages or types of organic debris, especially in terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems.


1. Definition: Litter typically refers to the freshly fallen or dead organic material found on the ground, primarily consisting of leaves, twigs, and other plant parts.

2. Location: It usually forms the top layer on the ground in terrestrial ecosystems, especially in forests.

3. Composition: Litter is generally undecomposed or only partially decomposed. It still retains much of its original structure and can be recognized as the parts of plants from which it originated.

4. Role in the Ecosystem: Litter serves as a protective layer, reducing soil erosion, retaining moisture, and regulating soil temperatures. As it breaks down, it releases nutrients back into the soil, enriching it for other plants.


1. Definition: Detritus refers to dead organic material that has undergone some decomposition. It includes not only decomposed plant material but also dead animals, fecal matter, and other organic wastes.

2. Location: Detritus can be found in both terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems. In terrestrial environments, it’s mixed with the soil, while in aquatic settings, it may be suspended in the water column or settled on the bottom.

3. Composition: It is more broken down than litter, often fragmented into smaller pieces by decomposers, and may not be easily recognizable as the organisms from which it originated.

4. Role in the Ecosystem: Detritus is a primary food source for many decomposers, including bacteria, fungi, and detritivores (organisms that feed on detritus). The breakdown of detritus releases nutrients back into the environment, making them available for primary producers (like plants and algae).

In summary, while both litter and detritus are forms of dead organic material, litter represents the earlier, less decomposed stage, while detritus represents a later, more decomposed stage. Both play crucial roles in nutrient cycling within ecosystems.

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