Food chains

The table describes some common terms used to describe living things in their environment:

EnvironmentAll the conditions that surround a living organism
HabitatThe place where an organism lives
PopulationAll the members of a single species that live in a habitat
CommunityAll the populations of different organisms that live together in a habitat
EcosystemA community and the habitat in which organisms live

A food chain shows the different species of an organism in an ecosystem, and what eats what.

Producers and consumers

A food chain always starts with a producer, an organism that makes food. This is usually a green plant, because plants can make their own food by photosynthesis.

A food chain ends with a consumer, an animal that eats a plant or another animal.

Here is an example of a simple food chain:

grass → cow → human

The arrows in food chains show the way in which energy is moving. They do not show what eats what.

Other words in a food chain

There are several words used to describe the organisms in a food chain. Study this food chain:

Flow diagram showing the food chain from grass (producer) to grasshopper (primary consumer; herbivore) to frog (secondary consumer; carnivore) to hawk (tertiary consumer, carnivore)A food chain from grass to hawk

The plant is the producer and the animals are consumers:

A consumer that only eats plants is called a herbivore, and a consumer that only eats other animals is called a carnivore. An omnivore is an animal that eats both plants and animals.

Beekeeper Graham Royal talks about the importance of bees to the food chain.

Predators and prey

A predator is an animal that hunts and eats other animals, and the prey is the animal that gets eaten by the predator. In the food chain above:

  • the frog is a predator and the grasshopper is its prey
  • the hawk is a predator and the frog is its prey

A simple food chain in a broadleaf forest is described