Food chain meaning

What is Food Chain:

The food chain is the sequence by which living things obtain food from each other in the ecosystem. It is also known as a food chain or food pyramid.

The function of the food chain is to transfer energy from one living being to another through food. For example, grass gets energy from sunlight and nutrients from the soil. Antelopes eat grass and lions eat antelope. Finally, bacteria break down the remains of all living things, providing nutrients to the grass. This completes the cycle of energy transfer that we call the food chain.

The importance of the food chain is that it guarantees the survival of the species and perpetuates the balance in nature. Unfortunately, practices such as indiscriminate hunting of animals, pollution of water, air and soil are factors that put the food chain and the survival of certain species at risk.

The word trophic comes from the Greek trophos (τροφός), which means 'food'.

Elements of the food chain

The elements of the food chain are: producers, consumers and decomposers.

Producers. They are living beings capable of producing their own food.

Consumers. They are those that feed on other living beings. They can be herbivores (who eat plant products), carnivores (who eat meat) or omnivores (who eat meat and vegetables). They tend to feed by predation, parasitism, commensalism and mutualism.

  • Predation: consists of consuming living beings directly. It includes hunting or feeding from vegetables. For example, a fox hunting a rabbit.
  • Parasitism: it consists of benefiting from another living being by causing it harm, but without killing it. For example, mosquitoes that bite people or animals.
  • Commensalism: consists of obtaining food and transportation from another living being without benefiting or harming them. For example, herons prey on insects attracted to hoofed animals.
  • Mutualism: consists of the reciprocity between two organisms. For example, the boqui toad lives in the burrows of certain types of tarantulas, who protect it in exchange for it to eat the parasites that kill its eggs.

Decomposers.They are living beings that are responsible for degrading and decomposing organic matter residues into chemical compounds.

Links in the food chain

Trophic pyramid

There are five levels in the trophic pyramid. Each of the elements of the chain (producers, consumers and decomposers) are located at a different level, according to the order in the feeding sequence. Level one is occupied by producers, intermediate levels are occupied by consumers, and the last level is occupied by decomposers.

Level 1: Producers

Primary producers are the first link in the chain. It is about those living beings that generate their own food, that is, they are autotrophic living beings, such as plants and prokaryotes. These living things do not depend on others for energy.

Plants get their food from solar energy in a process called photosynthesis. Prokaryotic organisms obtain their food from mineral chemical reactions, called chemosynthesis.

Level 2: Primary consumers

Primary consumers represent the second level or link in the chain. They are the living beings that feed on the producers. Therefore, the primary consumers are herbivores, since they feed on plants, vegetables and fruits.

For example, cows, rabbits, goats, elephants, horses, llamas, deer, or koalas. We can also count certain types of insects, such as bees, grasshoppers, and caterpillars.

Level 3: Secondary consumers

Secondary consumers are the third level in the chain. It gathers the living beings that feed on the primary consumers (herbivores) and that are exposed to be consumed by others. Secondary consumers are usually carnivores. For example, snakes, spiders, eagles, mongooses, penguins, and seals.

However, there are omnivorous living beings (that eat plants and animals) that participate at the same time as primary and secondary consumers. For example, pigs, chickens, mice, possums, and humans.

Level 4: Tertiary consumers

Tertiary consumers represent the fourth level of the chain. They are the living beings that feed on secondary consumers.

They are usually the final consumers and are therefore at the top of the food chain. I mean, nobody eats them. Consequently, the control of its population depends on the food available.

For example, sharks, whales, dolphins, lions, tigers, bears, boas, raptors, herons, etc.

Level 5: Decomposers

Decomposers are the fifth and last level or link in the food chain. They are defined as those living beings that decompose dead plant and animal waste and transform it back into organic matter. At this level are bacteria and fungi. Decomposing living beings play a very important role, thanks to the fact that the organic matter produced will then be absorbed by plants through the earth, perpetuating the life cycle.

Types of food chain

Food chains can be of two fundamental types or groups according to their habitat: terrestrial food chain and aquatic food chain.

We must remember that all the remains left by living beings at levels 1, 2, 3 and 4 are degraded, decomposed and converted into organic matter by bacteria.

Terrestrial food chain

They are the feeding sequences of living beings that occur on the continental shelf. This also includes what happens below the earth's surface. The trophic or food chains are different in each type of habitat, such as jungle, forest, desert, mountain peaks, savannah, etc.

For example, Carrots - Rabbits - Foxes - Coyotes.

Let's see the explanation of the example. At level 1 (producing living beings), we have carrots, which feed on sunlight, water and nutrients from the earth. At level 2, we have the rabbit (herbivore, primary consumer), which eats carrot leaves. At level 3 we have the fox (carnivore and secondary consumer), which consumes the animals of the second level. Finally, at level 4 we see the coyote (carnivore and tertiary consumer), predator of the fox.

Aquatic food chain

They are the feeding sequences of living beings that occur in the different environments where water is presented as a habitat, whether we are talking about seas, oceans, lakes or rivers. Different species adapted to these particular living conditions meet there. Depending on the specificity of the aquatic habitat, there may be coastal, river, lake food chains, etc.

For example, seaweed - anchovies - tuna - shark.

Explanation of the example. At the producer level (level 1), we have seaweeds, which feed on inorganic matter present in the sea. You are consumed by the anchovies (primary consumers of level 2). Anchovies are preyed upon by tuna, which belongs to secondary consumers. Finally, the tuna is consumed by the shark, which is the tertiary consumer and the last link in the chain, that is, at the top. This means that no one eats the shark.

Delve into:

  • Terrestrial food chain.
  • Aquatic food chain.

Examples of food chain

  1. Dry vegetation - Earthworms - Hen - Human. The worms feed on dry vegetation. These are part of the hen's diet, in addition to vegetable products. The human being consumes chickens and, like them, consumes vegetables. Let us remember that both the hen and the human being are omnivores. Therefore, they are at the same time as primary and secondary consumers.
  2. Pasture - Zebras - Hyenas - Lions. Grass feeds on photosynthesis. Zebras eat grass. Hyenas hunt zebras and lions hunt both hyenas and zebras. The lions are the final consumers of this chain.
  3. Fresh leaves - Snails - Beetles - Frog - Owl. Snails feed on fresh leaves. Beetles include snails in their diet. Similarly, beetles serve as food for frogs. Finally, the owl can feed on frogs.
  4. Seaweed - Common carp fish - Heron. Seaweeds feed on inorganic matter. They provide food for common small fish. Small fish are the main food of herons.

It may interest you:

  • Nutrition
  • Food pyramid

Tags:  Sayings And Proverbs Expressions-In-English Religion-And-Spirituality