What does food chain mean?

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What is Food Chain

The food chain is the unidirectional sequence of matter and energy exchanged between living beings through food.
In this way, living organisms depend on each other to survive in different ecosystems.

The energy and nutrients used by all beings , through the food chain, will be lost at the time of each transfer, in the form of heat that is not available again.

Elements of the Food Chain

The food chain is made up of three main groups of living things: producers, consumers, and decomposers.

Each one of them represents a trophic level of the flow of energy transmitted through food. The first trophic level is formed by the producers and the second are the decomposers.


This is the first trophic level of the food chain .
Producers are those that produce their own food (autotrophs), either through photosynthesis or chemosynthesis.

Plants and plankton are prime examples of producer organisms , as they use nutrients from the soil and sunlight for energy in a self-sufficient way.

The producing organisms will always be the base of the food chain and of the beings with the greatest amount of energy.

Note: You may be want to learn What does zenith mean?


All of them are living beings that need to feed on another to obtain energy and nutrients (heterotrophs).
Within the group of consumers there are different classifications:

  • Primary consumers: All are organisms that feed directly on the producers. In this case, they are usually herbivorous or omnivorous animals, because they consume plants. Examples: rabbit and cow.
  • Secondary consumers: They are living beings that feed on primary consumers. They are carnivores or omnivores. Example: Human and Cat.
  • Tertiary consumers: It is the organisms that consume the secondary. They can also be carnivorous or omnivorous. Example: Lion and Shark.

Trophic levels can continue successively, but since energy is lost for each new transmission , there are not many stages of consumption in a food chain.


Finally, in the last trophic phase of the food chain , the decomposers.
These are beings that break down dead organic matter , remove the nutrients they need to survive, and return to the environment to resume the cycle.

Even belonging to the last trophic level of the food chain , decomposers are present at all other levels.
For example, when an animal that is a primary consumer dies, Decaying Organisms act on the decomposition of this organic matter.

Bacteria and fungi are some examples of decomposing organisms present in most ecosystems.

Examples of Food Chains

Food chains are represented according to the ecosystem . In this case, the main types are:

Aquatic Food Chain

In aquatic ecosystems , the main producers are the Philoplankton , which are a group of unicellular and microscopic algae that photosynthesize.

As primary consumers are zooplankton (protozoa, worms, crustaceans, etc.), organisms that feed on phyloplankton or some types of bacteria.

Zooplankton, in turn, serve as food for fish , and thus successively.

Terrestrial Food Chain

In the terrestrial food chain we have plants as producers that, in turn, serve as food for primary consumers (herbivores or omnivores), represented by the grasshopper.

Decomposers (fungi and bacteria) appear at the end of the cycle, but can act at any trophic level , starting from the decomposition of dead organic matter .
It is a fundamental activity to guarantee the balance of the ecosystem and the life cycle.

Human Food Chain

Human beings are omnivorous, that is, they feed on both plants and meat .
In this case, you can be classified as a primary, secondary or tertiary consumer, depending on the food you eat.

For example, man is a secondary consumer when he eats beef, since this animal, when alive, grass-fed, that is, acted as a primary consumer.

Food Chain and Trophic Chain

The difference between the two lies in the fact that the food chain is a linear and unidirectional sequence that indicates which living being serves as food for another.

The food chain is the set of several food chains  presenting in a more complex way the reality of the existing food relationships in ecosystems.

Thus, in the food web we see that the same organism can be present at different trophic levels , either as a primary consumer, but also as a secondary or tertiary consumer.
In this way, it is possible to follow all the different paths that energy can pass through the ecosystem .


The imbalance of the ecosystem is one of the main environmental problems of today .
With the extinction of some animal and plant species, there are more and more problems in food chains and, consequently, damage to the ecosystem and biodiversity .

Predatory hunting of animals, water pollution, air and river pollution are the factors that directly influence the food chain.


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