Whether you are a research student or an interested environmentalist, the following article will provide you with all the details you might want to know about the ecosystem food chain. In simple words, an ecosystem food chain consists of all those organisms that consume each other to enable the flow of energy and nutrients from one to the next. The ultimate energy source is the sun, while the producers or the green plants trap this solar energy to convert it into chemical energy. When a primary consumer eats a producer, a part of the energy is passed on to it. Similarly, as a secondary consumer eats a primary, a part of that energy gets transformed to the next trophic level and so on.
Basics Of Ecosystem Food Chain
As for how much energy is passed on from one trophic level to the next, it is usually governed by the 10% law. The 10% law states that when energy is transformed into an ecosystem, only 10% of the energy is passed on through each trophic level. This law maintains the ecosystem’s efficiency by limiting the number of PF trophic levels an ecosystem can support.
The Process Involved In A Food Chain
The integral components of an ecosystem include Autotrophs and Heterotrophs. Every living organism, from one-celled algae to the largest blue whale, needs food to survive. Autotrophs are the foundational elements of any ecosystem on this planet. They are the base of any food chain or food web that captures solar energy to transform it into chemicals that sustain all other organisms on this planet.
Heterotrophs are those organisms that can’t convert direct sunlight into chemical energy. Hence, they are often called the consumers of an ecosystem food chain. They get their organic molecules by consuming other organisms or their byproducts. Furthermore, we’ll explore the different kind of consumers and their respective ecological roles.
Who Constitutes An Ecosystem Food Chain?
Roughly speaking, a food chain is divided into three main components, producers (first trophic level), consumers (second, third, fourth, or maybe fifth trophic levels), and decomposers. Here’s a detailed flow of an ecosystem food chain:
At the very base of every food chain lie the primary producers or autotrophs. Plants are usually the most familiar kind of producers. Other less-known autotrophic organisms also include seaweeds and Phytoplankton (tiny organisms that live in the ocean).
The next trophic level consists of primary consumers or herbivores. Plant-eaters like deer, turtles, many types of birds are usually the primary consumers. Apart from these, primary consumers may also include some algae or bacteria eaters.
Secondary consumers are the organisms that eat the primary consumers. They are generally found to be meat-eaters or carnivores. The tertiary consumers include those organisms who consume these secondary consumers. They may include eagles or big fishes.
Some food chains may have an additional level called quaternary consumers. These apex consumers may include omnivores like humans who eat the secondary or tertiary consumers.
Decomposers are the final part of an ecosystem food chain that completes the cycle. They include organisms like bacteria and fungi. They decompose the dead organisms back into the soil, thereby completing the circle of life.
Ecosystem food chains are extremely important for the survival of most animal species. If anyone of the trophic levels is removed from a cycle, it can result in a species’ extinction. Depending upon the type the consumers, the length of the food chain can vary accordingly.