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What happens to carbon when living organisms die?
     

When organisms die, decomposers can break down their bodies. The decomposers use the carbon stored in the bodies of dead organisms for their own bodies, and also release carbon as carbon dioxide into the atmosphere through cellular respiration. Animal shells can turn into rock-like limestone after a very long time. Likewise, carbon can be returned to the atmosphere as carbon dioxide if dead organisms are burned in a forest fire or burned by people to create heat and fuel.