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Ecosystem, Food Chains, Food Webs,

Flow of energy

Kaushik Chanda Ph.D

Assistant Professor
Organic Chemistry Division,
School of Advanced Sciences,
VIT University, Vellore – 14.
What is an Ecosystem?
An ecosystem consists of the biological community that occurs in some
locale, and the physical and chemical factors that make up its non-living
or abiotic environment. Examples of ecosystems -- a pond, a forest, an
estuary, a grassland.
The study of ecosystems mainly consists of the study of certain processes
that link the living, or biotic, components to the non-living, or abiotic,
components. Energy transformations and biogeochemical cycling are
the main processes that comprise the field of ecosystem ecology.
Components of an Ecosystem
Sunlight Primary producers
Temperature Herbivores
Precipitation Carnivores
Water or moisture Omnivores
Soil or water chemistry (e.g., P, NH4+) Detritivores
Processes of Ecosystems

Energy enters the biological system as light energy, or photons, is transformed into
chemical energy in organic molecules by cellular processes including photosynthesis
and respiration, and ultimately is converted to heat energy. This energy is dissipated,
meaning it is lost to the system as heat; once it is lost it cannot be recycled. Without the
continued input of solar energy, biological systems would quickly shut down. Thus the
earth is an open system with respect to energy.
Food Chains, Food Webs
• Trophic Levels: producers, consumers, and decomposers.

• Interactions Among Trophic Levels

• What is Food Chains

• Structure, Part of the Food chain

• Food Webs.
Trophic Levels
• Trophic level refers to the feeding level of an organism.

The trophic level of an organism is the position it holds in a food chain

• Each step in the transfer of energy is known as a trophic level.

 Organisms from each trophic level constitute a food chain.

 Interconnected food chains constitute a food web.

• On average, 10% of the organic matter (energy) transfers from one trophic
level to the next.
• The main trophic levels are producers, consumers, and decomposers.

Trophic Levels

 Primary consumers: Herbivores: Eat at ONLY plants

• Ex. Cows, Elephants, Giraffes.

 Secondary consumers - Organisms that feed on herbivores.

Carnivores: Eat ONLY meat. Ex. Lions, Tigers, Sharks.
Omnivores: Eat BOTH plants and animals. Ex. Bears and Humans.

 Decomposers: Break down complex organic material into simpler

compounds, dead organisms and recycle the material back into the
 Ex. Bacteria and fungi.
Trophic Levels
What is Food Chains,
• A food chain is a way to describe the feeding relationships
between different organisms such as a plant or animal.

• It is the sequence of who eats whom in a biological community (an

ecosystem) to obtain nutrition.

• Food chains and food webs are representations of the predator-prey

relationships between species within an ecosystem or habitat.

• A food chain starts with the primary energy source, usually the sun or boiling-
hot deep sea vents.

• The next link in the chain is an organism that make its own food from the
primary energy.

• Every organism needs to obtain energy in order to live.

For example, Plants get energy from the sun,
Some animals eat plants, and some animals eat other animals.
Food Chains
 The energy flow from one trophic level to the other is known as a
food chain.
• A food chain is simple and direct.
• All food chains are pretty short.
• There are never more than four steps, because a lot of energy is lost at each
step, and after three steps most of the available energy has been expended.

• Energy transfer up the food chain is inefficient. That means that a lot of it is
lost at each step.
• It involves one organism at each trophic level
 Primary Consumers : Eat autotrophs (producers)

 Secondary Consumers: Eat the primary consumers.

 Tertiary Consumers: Eat the secondary consumers.

 Decomposers: Bacteria and fungi that break down dead organisms and
recycle the material back into the environment.
Predator – Prey Relationships
Predators Can Control the Prey Population

• Predators help control the prey population.

• If there are no natural predators the prey become overpopulated.

Prey Populations Can Control the Size of Predator Populations

• If there are few prey in an area, a small number of predators can survive.
• If there are many prey in an area, more predators can survive.

The Predators and Prey May Have No Relationship

• If the predators rely on many sources of food, one disappearing may have little
effect (Ex – If cows go extinct we might have to eat more chicken, but humans
would still survive.)
Structure of the Food chain

Modified from: General Ecology, by David T. Krome

Food Chains: Parts of the Food Chain

1. Producers – (Autotrophs) make their own food from abiotic factors

(Ex – Green plants make glucose by photosynthesis.)

2. Herbivores – Consumers that eat only plants.

(Ex – rabbits eat crops and other plants)

3. Carnivores – Eat only other consumers (Ex – lion).

4. Omnivores – Eat plants and animals (Ex – Humans).

5. Detrivores – (Decomposers) Feed off of and break down dead

organisms. These are usually bacteria and fungi.

Food Chains
Food Chains
Food Chains/ Food Webs
• Food Chains/ Food Webs are what biologists describe as a relation between
animals in their habitat and the foods they eat.
• A simple food chain would be the sun grows the grass, the deer eat the grass,
and the wolves eat the deer.

• If something goes wrong with one animal then it will reflect on all the other

• If we have a drought then no grass will grow, so the deer will starve and slowly
start dying out.

• Then there is no food for the wolves and they start running down to
dangerously low numbers. Then they are classified as endangered animals.

• Once an animal is endangered people start protecting them and laws are
passed to protect the animals.

• Pollution is a major cause of the endangerment of certain animals and a break

in the food chain or food web.
• One example is people using their cars too much and polluting the air.
Food Chain
Energy flow in the Ecosystem
• Energy is needed for every biological activity.
• Solar energy is transformed into chemical energy by a process of

• This energy is stored in plant tissue, and then transformed in to mechanical

and heat form during metabolic activities.

• In the biological world, the energy flows from sun to plants and then to all
heterotrophic organisms like Micro-
organisms, animals and man i.e. from producers to consumers.

• 1% of the total sunlight falling on the green plants is utilized in


• This is sufficient to maintain all life on this earth.

• There is no 100% flow of energy from producers to consumers.

• Some is always lost to environment. Because of this, energy cannot be

recycled in an ecosystem ‘it can only flow one way’.
Flow of energy follows the two laws of
Ist law of thermodynamics:
• The law states that energy can neither be created nor be destroyed
but it can be transformed from one form to another.

• Solar energy utilized by green plants (producers) in photosynthesis

converted into biochemical energy of plants and later into that of

IInd law of thermodynamics:

• The law states that energy transformation involves degradation or
dissipation of energy from a concentrated to a dispersed form.

• We have seen dissipation of energy occurs at every trophic level.

• There is loss of 90% energy, only 10% is transferred from one
trophic level to the other.
Transfer of Energy
• When a zebra eats the grass, it does not obtain all of the energy
the grass has (much of it is not eaten)

• When a lion eats a zebra, it does not get all of the energy from the
zebra (much of it is lost as heat)

• The two (2) previous examples of energy transfer show that no

organism EVER receives all of the energy from the organism they
just ate.

• Only 10% of the energy from one trophic level is transferred to the
next – this is called the 10% law.
Food Web
• Most organisms eat more the JUST one organism.
• In a food web, many food chains are interconnected,

• A network of many food chains is called a food web.

• When more organism are involved it is known as a FOOD WEB.
• Food webs are more complex and involve lots of organisms.

Food Web Definition:

• The interlocking pattern of various food chains in an ecosystem is
known as food web.

•In a food web, many food chains are interconnected,

where different types of organisms are connected at different tropic levels, so
that there are a number of opportunities of eating and being eaten at each tropic
Insects, rats, deer’s, etc. may eat Grass;
These may be eaten by carnivores (Snake, Tiger).
Thus, there is an interlocking of various food chains called food webs .
Food web

Food Webs
Food Webs show all of the overlapping food chains in an ecosystem.

Arrows always point towards the consumer – this shows the flow of energy.
Food Web

Notice that the direction the arrow points  the arrow points in the
direction of the energy transfer, NOT “what ate what”
Food Webs
• All the food chains in an area make up the food web of the area.
A close and permanent association between organisms of different species
 Commensalism – a relationship in which one organism
benefits and the other is not affected.
 Example: Barnacles on a whale.

 Mutualism – a relationship in which both organisms

benefit from each other
Example: Birds eating pest off a rhino’s back.

Parasitism – A relationship in which one organism benefits

and the other is harmed.
Example: Ticks on a dog.
Ecological Succession
• A change in the community in which new populations of organisms gradually
replace existing ones

1. Primary Succession – occurs in an area where there is no existing

communities and for some reason (s) a new community of organisms
move into the area.

2. Secondary Succession – occurs in an area where an existing

community is partially damaged.

3. Climax Community – a community that is stable and has a great

diversity of organisms.

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