organism that breaks down dead or decaying organisms

A decomposer is an organism that breaks down long chain polymers from dead organisms into smaller molecules.[1] Decomposers are bacteria and fungi. What they do is use the parts and energy to build up their own materials, which are also organic.

The bracket fungus on this tree is a decomposer

Decomposers are heterotrophs. This means they use organic substrates to get their energy, carbon and nutrients for growth and development.

Decomposers break down cells of other organisms using biochemical reactions without need for internal digestion.[2] This is different from detritivores, which actually digest dead organic matter.

Decomposition also involves abiotic decomposition. This is breakdown by chemical processes, such as hydrolysis, or physical processes, such as heat. This turns organic material into inorganic material, and so returns nutrients to the environment.

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  1. They may do the same job on living organisms, in which case other terms are used to describe them.
  2. C.Michael Hogan. 2011. Trophic level. Eds. M.McGinley & C.J.cleveland. Encyclopedia of Earth. National Council for Science and the Environment. Washington DC