MadSci Network: Environment/Ecology

Re: Can you name 3 decomposers?

Date: Thu Jun 25 15:03:01 1998
Posted By: Bob Peeples, Chemical Engineer, Environmental Program Management, U S Postal Service
Area of science: Environment/Ecology
ID: 896395675.Ot

Beethoven, Brahms, and Bach. They used to be composers, but by the beginning of the 20TH century, they had all become decomposers. :)

With a billion organisms and ten thousand different species in a gram of soil, your question is like asking me to name three people that live in the United States--I can easily come up with an answer, but never a complete answer. I can, however name three rather large groups of decomposer organisms and direct you to a pretty cool web site.


Bacteria are the smallest living organisms and the most numerous of decomposers; they make up 90% of the billions of microorganisms typically found in a gram of soil.

Bacterial decomposers are grouped by the temperature ranges in which they work the best. Psychrophilic bacteria are a group of bacteria species that work in the lowest temperature range (-20-13C, 0-55F). Mesophilic bacteria (0-40C, 32-104F) predominate in nature, and are responsible for most of the decomposition. Thermophilic bacteria are more active in concentrated waste piles where the heat can get up above 40C (104F).


Fungi is the name for a family of simple organisms which includes molds and yeasts. Next to bacteria, fungi are the most efficient decomposer organisms. Molds can grow both as unseen filaments and as gray or white fuzzy colonies on the surface.

Fungi are important because they break down tough debris, enabling bacteria to continue the decomposition process once most of the cellulose has been exhausted. They spread and grow vigorously by producing many cells and filaments, and they can attack organic residues that are too dry or acidic for bacterial decomposition.


Soils "earthy" smell is caused by actinomycetes. Actinomycetes are a form of fungi-like bacteria that form long filaments resembling spider webs stretching through the humus.

Actinomycetes are the primary decomposers of tough plant tissues like bark, paper and stems. They are especially effective at softening up tough materials, such as cellulose, chitin, and lignin.

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