Sequence of transfer of matter and energy from organism to organism in the form of food. These interconnected feeding relationships intertwine locally into a food web because most organisms consume or are consumed by more than one other type of organism. Plants and other photosynthetic organisms (such as phytoplankton), which convert solar energy to food, are the primary food source. In a predator chain, a plant-eating animal is eaten by a larger animal. In a parasite chain (see parasitism), a smaller organism consumes part of a larger host and may itself be parasitized by even smaller organisms. In a saprophytic chain, microorganisms live on dead organic matter. Because energy, in the form of heat, is lost at each step, or trophic level, chains do not normally encompass more than four or five trophic levels.
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Generally, many interconnections exist within food webs. For example, the fungi that decompose matter in a detrital web may sprout mushrooms that are consumed by squirrels, mice, and deer in a grazing web. Robins are omnivores, that is, consumers of both plants and animals, and thus are in both detrital and grazing webs. Robins typically feed on earthworms, which are detritivores that feed upon decaying leaves.
II Trophic Levels . Green plants, the primary producers of food in most terrestrial food webs, belong to the first trophic level. Herbivores, consumers of green plants, belong to the second trophic level. Carnivores, predators feeding upon the herbivores, belong to the third. Omnivores, consumers of both plants and animals, belong to the second and third. Secondary carnivores, which are predators that feed on predators, belong to the fourth trophic level. As the trophic levels rise, the predators become fewer, larger, fiercer, and more agile. At the second and higher levels, decomposers of the available materials function as herbivores or carnivores depending on whether their food is plant or animal material.
III Energy Flow
Through these series of steps of eating and being eaten, energy flows from one trophic level to another. Green plants or other photosynthesizing organisms use light energy from the sun to manufacture carbohydrates for their own needs. Most of this chemical energy is processed in metabolism and dissipated as heat in respiration. Plants convert the remaining energy to biomass, both above ground as woody and herbaceous tissue and below ground as roots. Ultimately, this material, which is stored energy, is transferred to the second trophic level, which comprises grazing herbivores, decomposers, and detrital feeders. Most of the energy assimilated at the second trophic level is again lost as heat in respiration; a fraction becomes new biomass. Organisms in each trophic level pass on as biomass much less energy than they receive. Thus, the more steps between producer and final consumer, the less energy remains available. Seldom are there more than four links, or five levels, in a food web. Eventually, all energy flowing through the trophic levels is dissipated as heat. The process whereby energy loses its capacity to do work is called entropy.
(Arrows in a food web represent an organism getting eaten by another organism).
The earliest food webs were published by Victor Summerhayes and Charles Elton in 1923 and Hardy in 1924. Summerhayes and Elton's (right) depicted the interactions of plants, animals and bacteria on Bear Island, Norway.
The direct steps as shown in the food chain example above seldom reflect reality. This web makes it possible to show much bigger animals (like a seal) eating very small organisms (like plankton). Food sources of most species in an ecosystem are much more diverse, resulting in a complex web of relationships as shown in the figure on the right. In this figure, the grouping of Algae → Protozoa → Oligochaeta → Northern Eider → Arctic Fox is a chain; the whole complex network is a food web. email@example.com
Improving the Use of Toxicity Reference Values in Wildlife Food Chain Modeling and Ecological Risk Assessment
Dec 01, 2003; ABSTRACT Ecological risk assessments often include mechanistic food chain models based on toxicity reference values (TRVs) and a...