Although the species involved vary greatly, most tropical rainforest food chains follow the same general pattern of producers, primary consumers, secondary consumers and decomposers. These food chains all begin with green plants that manufacture their own food through the process of photosynthesis. Called producers, these green plants serve as food for primary consumers, also known as herbivores. Carnivores, or secondary consumers, eat the primary consumers. Organisms called decomposers consume the secondary consumers after they die, which recycles the nutrients back into the soil, where plants can use them to begin the cycle again.
For example, a mango tree growing in a rainforest in Southeast Asia is a producer. A primary consumer, such as a house rat, may eat the mango. A python or hawk may fill the role of a secondary consumer by eating the rat. Eventually, the snake or hawk dies, and becomes food for decomposers such as earthworms, who release the nutrients inside the dead snake back into the environment.
Sometimes, food chains can be more complex and involve many more steps. For example, if the rat in the above example is replaced by an insect, the food chain becomes much longer. The insect may become prey for a lizard, which may become food for a larger lizard, which may become prey for a snake, which may become a hawk’s prey.