What is Food Chain?

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What is Food Chain

The Food Chain is one of the most interesting topics of Science and elucidates upon how every living being is connected together in an ecosystem. It is introduced generally in Class 3 Science and students get to explore it in detail further till Class 9th. Apart from the scholastic context, it is an intriguing concept in itself and is also asked in various competitive exams. This blog aims to elaborate on what is a food chain and food web along with their diagrams and examples.

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What is Food Chain and Food Web?

Food Chain and Food Webs plays an important role because they show intricate relationships in ecosystems. Here’s what do you mean by Food Chain and Food Web:

What is Food Chain

Regarded as the chronological pathway, it is a linear arrangement or series of organisms that are capable of eating one another so that the essential nutrients and energy flow from one living organism to the next one. Imagine that you ate a vegetable sandwich for breakfast, then the food chain you are a part of would look like: Tomato/Onion/ Lettuce—> Human. Now let us consider that you ate a hamburger for your breakfast, the food chain in this situation would be: Grass→ Cow→ Human. 

Food Chain

The energy circulating through the chain is neither created nor destroyed rather it flows from one level to another through different organisms in a community comprised of producers, consumers, and decomposers. In the vast animal kingdom, food and energy travel at various levels and to understand them in detail let us take a look at how the terrestrial ecosystem works.

Food Web and Example

Now that you are familiarized with what is food chain is at trophic levels, let us understand Food Web. The complex organization of organisms in the ecosystem results in inter-linked food chains. Whenever there are ample chains that are interconnected, they form a food web. A food web always represents the flow of energy, as well as the energy, consumed at a broader level by any organism of the ecosystem. 

Food Web

Oftentimes, many predators eat a single organism or multiple organisms are eaten by one single animal. In this situation, it is incompetent in showcasing the exact energy flow as there are several energy levels that get interconnected. In this case, a food web would be a better solution to interpret the flow of energy.

For Example, A fly is eaten by a frog and then the frog is eaten by a larger animal.

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Types of Food Chain

There are two types of food chains known as the detritus food chain and grazing food chain. Let’s look at them in detail:

Detritus Food Chain

The detritus food chain includes dead organic matter. It includes species of organisms and plants like algae, bacteria, fungi, protozoa, mites, insects, worms, and so on. In this food chain, the dead organic matter of plants and animals is broken down by decomposers and detritivores that are further eaten by smaller organisms like carnivores. Examples of carnivores are maggots, frogs, snakes, and more, whereas detritivores are fungi, bacteria, or protozoans that feed on detritus. 

For example, dead organic waste is consumed by microscopic organisms like bacteria or fungi.

Grazing Food Chain

It begins with autotrophs that include green plants, passes through herbivores, and then to carnivores. In this, energy in the lowest trophic level is acquired from photosynthesis. There are two types of grazing food chains. The first one is a predator chain where one animal consumes another animal. The animal which is eaten is known as the prey and the animal which eats is called the predator. Secondly, it is parasitic chain plants and animals in a grazing food chain are infected by parasites.

For example, phytoplanktons are eaten by zooplanktons, zooplanktons are eaten by fishes and small fishes by large fishes.

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Food Chain in a Terrestrial Ecosystem

The foremost source of energy is the sun and plants or producers use sunlight to make their food through the process of Photosynthesis. The next element is the animal or consumer whose food is the plant at the previous level. The consumer neither produces the food they eat nor the energy rather they acquire the energy produced by plants in the form of food. 

Further, the organisms which consume the primary producers are known as primary consumers. As per the terrestrial ecosystem, herbivores like cows, goats, men, etc can be primary consumers. But whenever a human being consumes any herbivorous animal, they become a Secondary Consumer. 

As its levels escalate upwards, the level of energy in it rises. The trophic levels can be easily understood as:

Primary Producers 

Primary Consumers

Secondary Consumers 

Tertiary Consumers

Quaternary Consumers

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What is Food Chain and Food Web

The most primary difference between the food chain and the food web are summed up below: 

Food WebFood Chain 
A collection of networks showing the flow of energyA linear route showing the flow of energy
Organisms of higher trophic level have access to more members of a lower
trophic level
Organisms of higher trophic level feed on specific types of organisms of lower trophic level
They are adaptive and competitive They are not adaptive and competitive

What Is A Consumer In A Food Chain?

A consumer in a food chain is a living creature that eats organisms from a different population. A consumer is also called a heterotroph. Consumers are usually predatory animals such as meat-eaters but also the herbivorous consumers that eat plants. For example, a tiger and a deer are both consumers.

What Is A Primary Consumer In A Food Chain?

The organisms that eat producers are called primary consumers. There are many primary consumers and are usually small in size. The primary consumers are herbivores or vegetarians. For example, rabbits, grasshoppers, giraffes, vegetarian humans, etc. 

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What Is A Secondary Consumer In A Food Chain?

The organisms that eat primary consumers are called secondary consumers for energy and protein. The secondary consumers can be both carnivores or omnivores. They can range anywhere from small animals to large predators. For example, fishes, wolves, etc. 

What Is Tertiary Consumer In Food Chain?

The organisms that eat primary and secondary consumers are called tertiary consumers for energy and protein. These are at the top. For example, tigers, lions, humans, etc. 

As per the trophic levels, here is an example:

Grass (Producer) → Goat (Primary Consumer)→ Man (Secondary Consumer) 

Often we encounter animals consuming dead and decaying matter, such chains that begin with the consumer eating dead organic matter are known as Detritus Food Chain (DFC). In order to fulfil their energy requirements, decomposers like fungi and bacteria feed on dead and inorganic matter. 

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Aquatic Systems

  • Food chain: It is a connection between producers and consumers through feeding relationships. For example: 
    Aquatic Insect → Small Fish → Large Fish
    The two fishes and an insect are linked in a food chain.
  • Food Web: They are more complex and are composed of food chains. Organisms consume and are consumed by more than one type of organism. Food web connects:
    Autotrophs → Herbivores → Carnivores → Secondary Carnivores
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Energy and Food

Autotrophs: They are the ones who can make their own food from inorganic sources. The process is usually done by Photosynthesis. 

Photosynthesis in the aquatic system begins from a wide variety of autotrophs or producers which ranges from microscopic single-celled organisms to large aquatic plants. 

Heterotrophs: They obtain energy and food by consuming other organisms. They are classified according to what they eat as follows:

  • Grazer Scrappers – Feed on Periphyton and biofilm
  • Shredders – these are detrivores that feed on organic stuff like a leaf
  • Collectors – eat fine organic particles & can be subdivided according to whether the food particles they collect are suspended in the water. For example, filtering collectors or feeders.
  • Deposit Feeders – eat fine sediments and organic materials.
  • Predators – eat other animals. 

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Thus, we hope that this blog taught you about what is a food chain and has provided you with core insights on the topic. Unsure about which stream to take after 10th? Sign up for an e-meeting with our Leverage Edu experts and we will guide you in selecting the right stream of study which aligns with your interests and career goals.

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