Decomposers are organisms that break down dead or decaying organisms, and in doing so, they carry out the natural process of decomposition.Like herbivores and predators, decomposers are heterotrophic, meaning that they use organic substrates to get their energy, carbon and nutrients for growth and development. While the terms decomposer and detritivore are often interchangeably used, detritivores must digest dead matter via internal processes while decomposers can break down cells of other organisms using biochemical reactions without the need for internal digestion. Thus, invertebrates such as earthworms, woodlice, and sea cucumbers are technically detritivores, not decomposers, since they must ingest nutrients and are unable to absorb them externally.Decomposers are an often overlooked part of the natural world, but their job is an important one. Learn what decomposers are, what role they have in the environment and how people use them.Often, when an animal dies, a scavenger, such as a vulture or hyena, will consume larger chunks of the body, but while scavengers do break down dead animals, they aren't decomposers, because they're not reducing the animal into chemicals that become part of the soil. Decomposers reduce dead animals, plants, and feces into chemicals such as nitrogen and carbon. Those chemicals become part of the soil and those nutrients can then be used by living plants and the animals that consume them.
Soil is teaming with bacteria and fungi spores ready to spring into action when there is something to decompose. For plants, the rate of decomposition is highly dependent on moisture and temperature. Generally, environments that are moister and warmer have much faster decomposition rates. A dead leaf in the tropics may last a matter of weeks while, in the arctic, it could last years.