This is the transfer of food from the plants (producers) through a series of organisms with repeated eating and being eaten is called a food chain. It shows the relationships between producers, consumers, and decomposers. All living organisms (plants and animals) must eat some type of food for survival.
Plants make their own food through a process called photosynthesis. Using the energy from the sun, water and carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and nutrients, they chemically make their own food. Since they make or produce their own food they are called producers.
Organisms which do not create their own food must eat either plants or animals. They are called consumers. Some animals get their energy from eating plants while other animals get energy indirectly from plants by eating other animals that already ate the plants.
Animals that eat only plants are called herbivores. Animals that eat both plants and other animals are called omnivores. Animals that eat only other animals are called carnivores. Some animals eat only dead or decaying materials and are called decomposers.
The arrows show the movement of energy through the food chain. For example, in the food chain shown below, the small fish (silverside) gets its energy by eating the plankton and the large fish (bluefish) gets its energy by eating the small fish.
Finally, the bacteria eats the fish after it dies, getting its energy from the large fish. The bacteria also returns nutrients back to the environment for use by the phytoplankton.
Thus the food chain becomes a complete circle. Animals may eat more than one type of food. They may eat many different types of plants or many different animals. This makes everything more complicated and the food chain becomes a food web.
Energy Loss in Food Chain and Food Web
In a food chain, energy is lost in each step of the chain in two forms: first by the organism producing heat and doing work, and second, by the food that is not completely digested or absorbed.
Therefore, the food web depends on a constant supply of energy from producers and nutrients that are recycled by the decomposition of organisms. As food is passed along the food chain, only about 10% of the energy is transferred to the next level.
For example, 10% of the energy phytoplankton received from the sun can be used by zooplankton at the next level. From one level to the next about 90% of the energy used by the previous level is lost.
This means that there has to be a lot more organisms at the lower levels than at the upper levels. The number of organisms at each level makes a pyramid shape and is called a food pyramid. To better understand this energy loss, it is helpful to look at a food pyramid.
Amount of Biomass passed up the Food Pyramid (in pounds) Organisms at the broader base of the pyramid are greater in number than those at the top. There is, for example, a greater number of phytoplankton than zooplankton and more zooplankton than small fish, etc.
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