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Food Web – Definition, Diagram, Food Chain and Examples

Last Updated : 14 Feb, 2024
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A food web is a natural interaction between the different food chains that represent the flow of nutrients and energy within the ecosystem. It is also known as a consumer-resource system. Food web provides an overview of the feeding behaviour of different animals, their interactions with each other and their surrounding.

The food Web acts as a valuable tool in understanding the flow of energy and nutrients represents species interactions, provides ecosystem services and contributes to biodiversity. In this article, we will study food webs in detail.

What is Food Web?

A food web consists by a complex network of interconnected food chains that represent the direction of the flow of energy and nutrients among various organisms in an ecosystem. It represents the complex relationships between producers, consumers, and decomposers.

In food web trophic levels, organisms are arranged into different 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 another and the importance of biodiversity.

Food Web Diagram

A food web diagram representing a simple interaction of 3 food chains.

Food Web

Food Web Trophic Levels

Food webs are represented by distinct trophic levels, which can be divided into two main categories as follows:

Autotrophs

Autotrophs in a food web are organisms that produce their own food by utilizing energy from the sun. Also known as producers, they convert sunlight energy through photosynthesis or utilize inorganic compounds via chemosynthesis to produce organic molecules, mainly glucose. These organisms form the base of food chains and food webs, that provides energy and nutrients for other trophic levels. Examples of autotrophs include algae and plants.

Heterotrophs

Heterotrophs in a food web are organisms that cannot produce their own food and depends on autotrophs or other organisms for the food. Also known as consumers, they are divided into various trophic levels based on their food behaviour in the food web as follows:

  • Primary consumers: These are also known as herbivores, directly feed on the autotrophs,
  • Secondary consumers: These are also known as carnivores. They feed on primary consumers. For example snakes, wolves, fox, etc.
  • Tertiary consumers: These are also known as carnivores. They feed on primary consumers. For example snakes, wolves, fox, etc.
  • Quaternary Consumers: In some ecosystems, a higher trophic level is present that preys on tertiary consumers. These are known as the apex predators, often with no natural predators of their own. For example human being.

Also Read: Difference between Heterotrophs and Autotrophs

Decomposers: In a food web decomposers break down dead organic matter and recycle nutrients back into the ecosystem. This process is known as decomposition. For examples fungi, and some bacteria.

Food Web Examples

Some of the examples of food web are as follows:

Terrestrial Food Web: It represents interactions among organisms in terrestrial ecosystems.

  1. Producers: Plants like Grass and Trees
  2. Primary Consumers (Herbivores): Deer, Buffalo, Cow
  3. Secondary Consumers (Carnivores that eat Herbivores): Fox, crocodile
  4. Tertiary Consumers (Carnivores that eat other Carnivores): Tiger, Lion
  5. Decomposers: Bacteria, Fungi

Aquatic Food Web: It represent interaction among organisms in aquatic ecosystem.

  1. Producer: Phytoplankton (algae)
  2. Primary Consumer: Zooplankton (small aquatic animals that eat phytoplankton)
  3. Secondary Consumer: Small Fish (eats zooplankton)
  4. Tertiary Consumer: Large Fish (eats small fish)
  5. Apex Predator: Shark (top predator in this aquatic food chain)

Detrital Food Web: It represents interaction among organisms in detritus ecosystem.

  1. Detritus: Fallen leaves in a forest.
  2. Decomposer: Fungi and bacteria(break down detritus into organic matter)
  3. Detritivore: Earthworm (consumes the decomposed organic matter)
  4. Secondary Detritivore: Millipede, centipede (consumes partially decomposed organic matter)
  5. Tertiary Detritivore: Small animals (consumes millipedes and other detritivores)

What is Food Chain?

A food chain represents the flow of energy and nutrients among different organisms in an ecosystem. It demonstrates how energy is transferred from one organism to another as they interact in an ecosystem. In a food chain, each organism represents a particular trophic level according to is food behaviour.

  • Producers are living organisms that producers their own food by utilizing the 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 lion, tiger, wolves, fox, 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.

Food Chain

Difference between Food web and Food chain

The difference between food chain and food web are as follows:

Features Food Chain Food Web
Definition It represents linear sequence of organisms where each feed on the one below It represents complex interconnection of multiple food chains within an ecosystem
Structure Single direction of energy flow Interconnected food chain representing multiple pathway
Trophic Levels Includes a few trophic levels Includes multiple trophic levels
Interactions Represents one feeding relationship Represents multiple feeding relationships
Energy Flow Energy flows in a single direction through levels Energy flows in multiple directions
Examples Grass → Rabbit → Fox Phytoplankton → Zooplankton → Fish Plants → Herbivores → Carnivores → Decomposers → Multiple species interactions
Importance Helpful for understanding energy flow in a simplified manner Essential for studying ecosystem stability, species relationships, etc

Also Read: Difference Between Food Chain and Food Web

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. It hold several significances, including:

  • Food webs demonstrates 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 web are interdependent. This interdependence helps to maintain the population of any one species in the ecosystem.
  • Ecosystems provide various services to the humans, such as food, water purification, pollination, and carbon sequestration. The interconnected relationship within food webs helps to maintain the ecosystem services.
  • Food webs helps researchers identify keystone species and areas where more conservation efforts should be made to maintain the health of the entire ecosystem.
  • Food web is an indicator of the health of the ecosystem. Disruption in one trophic level can affect the other trophic level or the entire food chain.
  • It is also an educational tool to raise awareness about the importance of ecosystem.

Conclusion – Food Web

In conclusion, food webs serve as a complex webs of various food chains, showing the interactions between various organisms in an ecosystem. Food webs offer a glimpse into the flow of energy and nutrients, showcasing the interdependence among species and the balance of nature. By understanding food webs, we gain insights into species relationships, ecosystem stability, and the importance of biodiversity. Moreover, food webs play a crucial role in ecosystem services, providing essential functions such as food production, water purification, and carbon sequestration.

Also Read:

FAQs on Food Web

What is a Food Web?

A food web is a natural interaction of the interconnected food chains within an ecosystem. It demonstrates the flow of the energy and nutrients among various organisms according to their food behaviour.

Why are Food Webs Formed?

Food webs are made to show how different animals and plants depend on each other for food and how energy moves between them in nature.

Why are Food Webs short?

Food webs are short because of the inefficiency of energy transfer between trophic levels, with only about 10% of energy being passed on to the next level, resulting in a limited amount of energy available to sustain higher trophic levels.

What are the Different Components of a Food Web?

A food web includes producers (plants), consumers (herbivores, carnivores, omnivores), and decomposers (algae, fungi) in a sequence. These are present at a particular trophic level and represents the flow of the energy and nutrients in the ecosystem.

Why are Food Webs Important in Ecosystems?

Food webs are important for understanding flow of energy and nutrients, health and balance of the ecosystem. It represents species interactions and provides ecosystem services and contributes to biodiversity.

How is a Food Web Different from a Food Chain?

A food chain is a linear representation of organisms at the various trophic level, and the flow of energy and nutrients. On the other hand, a food web is a natural interaction of multiple food chains interconnected by the feeding behaviour of different species.

How do Energy and Nutrients Flow Within a Food Web?

Energy flows in one direction only from producers to consumers and to decomposers. Nutrients flows in circle i.e, it is recycled as decomposers break down dead organic matter that releases nutrients back to the ecosystem.

Who Made the First Food Web?

The concept of food web and food chain was introduced by Charles Elton.



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