• Food Chain and Food Web


Food chain is a linear sequence of organisms which starts from producer organisms and ends with decomposer species . Food web is a connection of multiple food chains. Food chain follows a single path whereas food web follows multiple paths. From the food chain, we get to know how organisms are connected with each other. Food chain and food web form an integral part of this ecosystem. Let us take a look at the food chain and a food web and the difference between them.

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In scientific terms, a food chain is a chronological pathway or an order that shows the flow of energy from one organism to the other. In a community which has producers, consumers , and decomposers, the energy flows in a specific pathway. Energy is not created or destroyed. But it flows from one level to the other, through different organisms.

A food chain shows a single pathway from the producers to the consumers and how the energy flows in this pathway. In the animal kingdom , food travels around different levels. To understand a food chain better, let us take a look at the terrestrial ecosystem.

food chain and food web

Food chain in a Terrestrial Ecosystem

The sun is the source of energy, which is the initial energy source. This is used by the producers or plants to create their own food, through photosynthesis and grow. Next in this chain is another organism, which is the consumer that eats this food, taking up that energy.

The primary consumers are the organisms that consume the primary producers.  In a terrestrial ecosystem, it could be a herbivore like a cow or a goat or it could even be a man.  When a goat is consumed by man, he becomes the secondary consumer.

Learn more about Biogeochemical Cycle here in detail.

As the energy goes one level up, the food chain also moves up. Each level in the food chain is called a trophic level. The different trophic levels are Primary producers, primary consumers, secondary consumers, tertiary consumers and quaternary consumers.

Example of food chain

Grass (Producer) —–Goat (Primary Consumer) —– Man (Secondary consumer)

When dead organic matter becomes the starting of a food chain, then it is called the detritus food chain (DFC). The decomposers, which are the fungi and bacteria , feed on the organic matter to meet the energy requirements. The digestive enzymes secreted by the decomposers help in the breakdown of the organic matter into inorganic materials.

Download Ecosystem Cheat Sheet PDF

Browse more topics under ecosystem.

  • Components of Ecosystem
  • Ecological Pyramid and Ecological Succession
  • Biogeochemical Cycle

Many interconnected food chains make up a food web. When you look at the larger picture, a food web shows a realistic representation of the energy flow through different organisms in an ecosystem.

Learn more about Components of Ecosystem here in detail.

Sometimes, a single organism gets eaten by many predators or it eats many other organisms. This is when a food chain doesn’t represent the energy flow in a proper manner because there are many trophic levels that interconnect. This is where a food web comes into place. It shows the interactions between different organisms in an ecosystem.

The following diagram shows the energy flow between various organisms through a food web.

food chain and food web

Solved Questions For You

Q: Name the common detritivores in an ecosystem. Do they play a significant role? Support your answer.

Ans:   Earthworms, dung beetles, and sea cucumbers are some of the common detritivores in an ecosystem. They play a crucial role in the ecosystem, by decomposing the dead organic matter.


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Food Chains and Food Webs both show the direction of the flow of energy and nutrients in the ecosystem. The food chain is a linear representation of organisms along the trophic level, while the food web is multiple interconnected food chains. It makes us understand the interaction among the species and the way they are interdependent on each other. Overall it gives an impression of the workings of the ecosystem and the balance it maintains within.

Table of Content

What is a food chain, types of food chain, 10 percent energy rule, difference between the food web and food chain, why are humans not apex predators, importance of food chain and food web, faqs on food chain and food web.

A food chain represents the flow of energy and nutrients among different organisms in an ecosystem . It tells us how energy and nutrients are transferred from one trophic level to another and how the organisms interact in an ecosystem. In a food chain, each organism represents a particular trophic level according to its food behavior.

  • Producers are living organisms that produce their own food by utilizing solar energy through the photosynthesis process. For example, plants, green growth, etc.
  • Consumers are living organisms that cannot produce their own food and obtain energy by consuming other organisms. For example, lions, tigers, wolves, foxes, etc.
  • Decomposers are the organisms that breaks down dead organic matter and recycles nutrients back into the ecosystem. They are present at the last stage of the food chain, that breaks down waste and remains from all other trophic levels. For example, bacteria and fungi.

The food chain demonstrates how the energy and nutrients flow in an ecosystem. It can be explained as follow:

Energy Flow : Energy enters an ecosystem mainly from the sun. This energy is used by the producers and converts it into organic compounds like glucose. Herbivores (primary consumers) consume these producers and obtain a portion of this energy. Subsequently, carnivores (secondary and tertiary consumers) consume herbivores or other carnivores, transferring energy to the higher trophic level in the food chain. With each transfer, some energy is lost as heat during metabolism, limiting the energy available to higher trophic levels.

Energy Pyramid

Nutrient Cycling : With the consumption of the food nutrients, within the organic matter are released. When organisms die, decomposers (bacteria, fungi) break down the organic matter, releasing nutrients like carbon back into the ecosystem. These nutrients are then taken up by producers, completing the nutrient cycle. This recycling of nutrients is essential for the growth of new organisms and the continuation of the food chain.

Energy flows unidirectionally through trophic levels in a food chain, with energy decreasing at each transfer. Nutrients cycle through each trophic level ensure a constant supply of essential nutrients for life within an ecosystem.

Food Chain

Food chains are of two types on the basis of the primary energy source: Detritus and Grazing Food chain.

Grazing Food Chain

The primary energy source is the green plants or producers. These plants utilize sunlight and convert it into chemical energy through photosynthesis. Herbivores feed on these plants for energy. The energy then flows through the food chain as carnivores (animals that eat other animals) consume herbivores, and so on. The food chain starts with producers and moves up through various trophic levels.

Sun-> Autotrophs-> Herbivores-> Small Carnivores-> Large Carnivores-> Top Predator

Detritus Food Chain

This food chain starts with dead organic material. The Detritus food chain starts decomposers like bacteria, algae , fungi, etc, which decompose the organic material like the detritus of plant, and dead animals. Decomposers are then consumed by detritivores, which are organisms that feed on decomposed organic matter. As detritivores are eaten by predators or scavengers, the energy derived from the detritus is transferred through the food chain. Detritus food chains play an important role in recycling nutrients and breaking down organic material.

Detritus Food Chain

The food web represents multiple interconnected food chains and the complex relationships between producers, consumers, and decomposers. Organisms are arranged into different trophic levels, with producers at the base, followed by primary, secondary, and tertiary consumers. All the organisms, including predators, prey, and scavengers, interact within this food web, which influences the population dynamics. Decomposers break down dead matter, recycling nutrients back into the ecosystem . Each level in the food web depends on the lower level for energy and nutrients. Change in one trophic level impacts the other tropic levels or the whole food web. It shows the dependency of one trophic level on one another and the importance of biodiversity.


Producers can utilise only 1% of the sunlight through photosynthesis to prepare their food. The energy is lost in the form of heat to the environment and in metabolism when plants are eaten by the next trophic level. This rule highlights the efficiency of energy transfer and the challenges of supporting higher trophic levels in ecosystems.

The 10 percent energy rule states that of the energy available at one trophic level, only about 10 percent of the energy is transferred to the next trophic level. Because of this 10% energy rule, the food chain can be sustained only up to 4-5 trophic level.

The difference between the Food Web and Food Chain are as follows:

Humans are not at the top of the food chain because of their wide variety of diets, including both plant-based foods and animals from various trophic levels. Animals at the apex mainly consume other carnivores, and humans can consume plants, herbivores, or carnivores. Moreover, ecosystem is complex and interconnected, involving numerous species with energy and nutrient flows. While humans have significant impacts on ecosystems, their role is influenced by cultural, ecological, and technological factors, making their position in the food chain complex and multifaceted.

  • The food chain and food webs form the basic structures that determine the interactions between species and the flow of energy and nutrients within ecological communities. It holds several significance, including:
  • Both the food chain and food web demonstrate the flow of energy from one trophic level to another in a complex manner. This energy flow determines the various ecological processes and maintains the circulation of nutrients within the ecosystem.
  • Species in a food chain are interdependent. This interdependence helps to maintain the population of any one species in the ecosystem.
  • The food chain help us understand predator-prey relationships and how the population is regulated.
  • The interconnected relationship within food webs helps to maintain the ecosystem services.
  • Food web is an indicator of the health of the ecosystem.
  • Food web help us in conservation efforts by identifying keystone species and vulnerable points.

1. What is food web?

A food web is a natural interconnected food chains that represents the complex relationships between producers, consumers, and decomposers.

2. What is food chain?

A food chain is a linear representation of organisms along the trophic level

3. What are animals called in a food chain?

Animals in a food chain are called as “consumers” as they consumes plants and other animals.

4. What are the first organisms in a food chain?

First organism in the food chain are known as producers. They are also known as autotrops and produce their own food with the help of sunlight through photosynthesis. For example, Plants, Algae, etc.

5. What is the importance of food web?

Food webs forms the basic structures that determine the interactions between species and the flow of energy and nutrients within ecological communities.

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