Organic matter

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Any of the carbon-based compounds found in nature


Organic matter pertains to any of the carbon-based compounds that abound in nature. Living things are described as organic since they are composed of organic compounds. Examples of organic compounds are carbohydrates, lipids, proteins and nucleic acids. Since they are comprised of carbon-based compounds they are broken down into smaller, simpler compounds through decomposition when they die. Living organisms also excrete or secrete material that is considered an organic material. The organic matter from living things becomes a part of the environment. Thus, organic matter abounds in the ecosystem, e.g. soil ecosystem. The organic matter moves into the soil or into the mainstream water where it then serves as a source of nutrition to living organisms.

Organic matter may move to soil, sediment, and water. It becomes an important source of coal and kerogen (i.e. a fossilized organic material in sedimentary rocks and shale).

Soil organic matter comes from the organic material from plants (e.g. leaves and woody materials), animals (e.g. decaying components), and microorganisms. The presence of organic matter in the soil is essential as a source of nutrients for crops and other garden plants. It also helps store water in the soil and promotes activity of soil microorganisms and earthworms. The organic matter in the soil also regulates the soil pH, temperature, and aeration.

Also called:

  • organic material

See also: