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 In this illustration, the bottom trophic level is green algae, which is the primary producer. The primary consumers are mollusks, or snails. The secondary consumers are small fish called slimy sculpin. The tertiary and apex consumer is Chinook salmon.
These are the trophic levels of a food chain in Lake Ontario at the United States–Canada border. Energy and nutrients flow from photosynthetic green algae at the base to the top of the food chain: the Chinook salmon. (credit: modification of work by National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration/NOAA)

One major factor that limits the number of steps in a food chain is energy. Energy is lost at each trophic level and between trophic levels as heat and in the transfer to decomposers ( [link] ). Thus, after a limited number of trophic energy transfers, the amount of energy remaining in the food chain may not be great enough to support viable populations at yet a higher trophic level.

 Graph shows energy content in different trophic levels. The energy content of producers is over 20,000 kilocalories per meter squared per year. The energy content of primary consumers is much smaller, about 4,000 kcal/m 2/year. The energy content of secondary consumers is 100 kcal/m2/year, and the energy content of tertiary consumers is only 1 kcal/m2/year
The relative energy in trophic levels in a Silver Springs, Florida, ecosystem is shown. Each trophic level has less energy available, and usually, but not always, supports a smaller mass of organisms at the next level.

There is a one problem when using food chains to describe most ecosystems. Even when all organisms are grouped into appropriate trophic levels, some of these organisms can feed on more than one trophic level; likewise, some of these organisms can also be fed on from multiple trophic levels. In addition, species feed on and are eaten by more than one species. In other words, the linear model of ecosystems, the food chain, is a hypothetical, overly simplistic representation of ecosystem structure. A holistic model—which includes all the interactions between different species and their complex interconnected relationships with each other and with the environment—is a more accurate and descriptive model for ecosystems. A food web    is a concept that accounts for the multiple trophic (feeding) interactions between each species and the many species it may feed on, or that feed on it. In a food web, the several trophic connections between each species and the other species that interact with it may cross multiple trophic levels. The matter and energy movements of virtually all ecosystems are more accurately described by food webs ( [link] ).

 The bottom level of the illustration shows decomposers, which include fungi, mold, earthworms, and bacteria in the soil. The next level above decomposers shows the producers: plants. The level above the producers shows the primary consumers that eat the producers. Some examples are squirrels, mice, seed-eating birds, and beetles. Primary consumers are in turn eaten by secondary consumers, such as robins, centipedes, spiders, and toads. The tertiary consumers such as foxes, owls, and snakes eat secondary and primary consumers. All of the consumers and producers eventually become nourishment for the decomposers.
This food web shows the interactions between organisms across trophic levels. Arrows point from an organism that is consumed to the organism that consumes it. All the producers and consumers eventually become nourishment for the decomposers (fungi, mold, earthworms, and bacteria in the soil). (credit "fox": modification of work by Kevin Bacher, NPS; credit "owl": modification of work by John and Karen Hollingsworth, USFWS; credit "snake": modification of work by Steve Jurvetson; credit "robin": modification of work by Alan Vernon; credit "frog": modification of work by Alessandro Catenazzi; credit "spider": modification of work by "Sanba38"/Wikimedia Commons; credit "centipede": modification of work by “Bauerph”/Wikimedia Commons; credit "squirrel": modification of work by Dawn Huczek; credit "mouse": modification of work by NIGMS, NIH; credit "sparrow": modification of work by David Friel; credit "beetle": modification of work by Scott Bauer, USDA Agricultural Research Service; credit "mushrooms": modification of work by Chris Wee; credit "mold": modification of work by Dr. Lucille Georg, CDC; credit "earthworm": modification of work by Rob Hille; credit "bacteria": modification of work by Don Stalons, CDC)

Questions & Answers

what are the properties of lipids?
Isiah Reply
They are: Fatty acids, fats, oils, waxes, phospholipid, glycolipids, steroids and some vitamins
Rachel
explain why a fresh water fish excrete ammonia
Leonard Reply
plz answer my question
Leonard
sorry i meant it has a nucleous unlike plant cells lol
Lailah
Ammonia is the end product of protein catabolism and is stored in the body of the fish in high concentrations relative to basal excretion rates. Ammonia, if allowed to accumulate, is toxic and is converted to less toxic compounds or excreted
Rachel
What are eukaryotic cells?
Nwosueke Reply
cell with no nucleous so not a plant cell
Lailah
eukaryotic cells are membrane bound organelles that have a membrane bound nucleus
ojeen
where does the cell get energy for active transport processes?
A'Kaysion Reply
IDK maybe glucose
Lailah
what is synapsis
Adepoju Reply
how many turns are required to make a molecule of sucrose in Calvin cycle
Amina Reply
why Calvin cycle occurs in stroma
Amina
why do humans enhale oxygen and exhale carbondioxide?
Maryam Reply
why do humans enhale oxygen and exhale carbondioxide? For the purpose of breaking down the food
dil
what is allele
uzoka Reply
process of protein synthesis
SANTOSH Reply
what is cell
Zulf Reply
a cell is a smallest basic, structural and functional unit of life that is capable of self replication
Lucas
why does a fresh water fish excrete ammonia
Leonard
plz answer my question
Leonard
Ammonia is a toxic colorless gas and when its inside the fish biological system is converted to a less toxic compound then excreted in the form of urea. However too much ammonia will kill the fish " Ammonia Poisoning " which is a very common disease among fish.
This
what is cytoplasm
uzoka Reply
cytoplasm is fluid of cell.
Deepak
how many major types of Cloning
Saeed Reply
two
amir
two
Zulf
comparative anatomy of gymnosperms?
Meenakshi Reply
anatomy of gymnosperms
Meenakshi
how genes are regulated
Ainjue Reply
what is storage of glycogen
Student Reply
glycogen is a protein content
Najeem

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Source:  OpenStax, Concepts of biology. OpenStax CNX. Feb 29, 2016 Download for free at http://cnx.org/content/col11487/1.9
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