Deutsch: Nahrungskette / Español: Cadena alimentaria / Português: Cadeia alimentar / Français: Chaîne alimentaire / Italiano: Catena alimentare

Food chain is a series of organisms each dependent on the next as a source of food. It represents the flow of energy and nutrients through an ecosystem, starting from primary producers and moving up to apex predators.


In the environment context, the food chain is a fundamental concept describing the linear sequence of organisms through which nutrients and energy pass as one organism eats another. The chain begins with primary producers like plants and algae that synthesize food through photosynthesis. These are followed by primary consumers (herbivores) that eat the plants. Secondary consumers (carnivores) prey on herbivores, and tertiary consumers (apex predators) feed on secondary consumers.

Decomposers, such as bacteria and fungi, break down dead organisms, returning nutrients to the soil and completing the cycle. Each link in the chain is called a trophic level, and energy is transferred from one level to the next. However, only about 10% of the energy at each trophic level is passed on to the next, with the rest being lost as heat through metabolic processes.

The concept of a food chain is vital for understanding ecosystem dynamics, energy flow, and the balance of natural habitats. It also highlights the interconnectedness of organisms and the impact of changes within any level of the chain. For example, a decrease in the population of a primary consumer can affect secondary and tertiary consumers, potentially disrupting the entire ecosystem.

Special Considerations

In reality, most ecosystems have more complex food webs rather than simple chains. These webs illustrate multiple food chains interconnected, demonstrating the diversity of feeding relationships in an ecosystem.

Application Areas

Food chains are studied in various fields within the environmental context, including:

Well-Known Examples

  • Terrestrial Food Chain: Grass (primary producer) → Rabbit (primary consumer) → Fox (secondary consumer)
  • Aquatic Food Chain: Phytoplankton (primary producer) → Zooplankton (primary consumer) → Small Fish (secondary consumer) → Larger Fish (tertiary consumer) → Shark (apex predator)

Treatment and Risks

Food chains can be sensitive to disturbances such as habitat destruction, pollution, and climate change. These disruptions can lead to a loss of biodiversity, collapse of trophic levels, and destabilization of ecosystems. For instance, pesticide use can decrease insect populations, reducing food for birds and other insectivores, thereby affecting higher trophic levels.

Similar Terms

  • Food Web: A complex network of interlinked food chains.
  • Trophic Level: The position an organism occupies in a food chain.
  • Energy Pyramid: A graphical representation of energy flow in an ecosystem.



The food chain is a crucial concept in environmental science, illustrating how energy and nutrients move through an ecosystem. It emphasizes the interconnectedness of organisms and the potential impact of environmental changes on ecological balance. Understanding food chains helps in conservation efforts, sustainable agriculture, and ecosystem management, ensuring the health and stability of natural habitats.

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Herbivore ■■■■■■■■■■
Herbivore in the environment context refers to an organism that primarily eats plants, including leaves, . . . Read More
Primary productivity ■■■■■■■■■
Primary productivity in the environment refers to the rate at which plants and other producers convert . . . Read More
Heterotroph ■■■■■■■■
In ecology, a heterotroph is an organism that relies on consuming other organisms or organic matter to . . . Read More
Plantae ■■■■■■■■
Plantae is the taxonomic kingdom comprising all living or extinct plants. In the context of the environment, . . . Read More
Bioconcentration ■■■■■■■
A Bioconcentration is the accumulation of a chemical in tissues of a fish or other organism to levels . . . Read More
Carcass ■■■■■■■
Carcass in the environmental context refers to the remains of a dead animal. Carcasses play a crucial . . . Read More
Niche ■■■■■■■
Niche in the environment context refers to the role or function of an organism within an ecosystem, encompassing . . . Read More
Bulb ■■■■■■■
Bulb in the environment context refers to a specialized underground storage organ of certain plants that . . . Read More
Progeny ■■■■■■■
Progeny in the environment context refers to the offspring or descendants of organisms, particularly . . . Read More
Excretion ■■■■■■■
Excretion refers to the process by which living organisms eliminate waste products of metabolism and . . . Read More