Similarities Between Autotrophs and Heterotrophs

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Autotrophs are the producers of ecosystems that prepare their own food for themselves by the process of photosynthesis and chemosynthesis. Heterotrophs are the consumers that cannot prepare their own food and utilize products by autotrophs to gain energy.

What are Autotrophs?

Autotrophs, as the name indicates, are the type of organisms that produce their own food by utilizing inorganic resources and converting them into organic resources.

The word autotroph is derived from two Greek words, 

  • Auto means self
  • Troph means food

Autotrophs do not require any assistance or help to feed themselves, they are self-sufficient.

Autotrophs are the most important component in the ecosystem. Their self-sustaining property makes them the primary food for the other components, hence the cycle of life continues.

Autotrophs make by one of two processes

  • Photosynthesis
  • Chemosynthesis

There are two types of autotrophs based on the process they use to prepare food 


They are the type of autotrophs that make food through the process of photosynthesis. They utilize UV radiation from sunlight and convert solar energy into complex carbohydrates, fats, and proteins. 

The basic equation to define the process of photosynthesis is:


The green color of leaves is because of pigment present in the leaves known as Chlorophyll. Other than chlorophyll, non-chlorophyll pigments are also presently known as Accessory pigments.


Chemoautotrophs prepare food by the process known as chemosynthesis. In chemosynthesis, instead of light, chemoautotrophs use chemical energy to prepare nutrition. The inorganic sources used are sulfur, ammonia, ferrous, and hydrogen sulfide. They are usually bacteria and other monocellular organisms that cannot sustain multicellular life.

Examples of autotrophs are plants with green pigments. Almost all the plants are autotrophs except venous fly trap, which captures the insect and eats it. Other examples are green algae which bear a resemblance with cyanobacteria (the first form of life on earth), and “iron bacteria” also known as Acidithiobacillus Ferrooxidans. 

Autotrophs form the base of the pyramid of the ecosystem, being self-sustaining producers. They are an essential source of oxygen in the environment, produced through transpiration.  

What are Heterotrophs?

Heterotrophs are organisms that are unable to produce their own food by utilizing inorganic components and changing them into organic components like autotrophs. They have to rely on autotrophs either directly or indirectly for their nutrition. 

Heterotrophs are secondary and tertiary consumers in the food chain.

There are two types of heterotrophs:


They consume light energy as a part of their nutrient requirement. The inorganic light energy is not enough to meet their requirements hence they require other organic sources. Examples are heliobacteria, proteobacteria, etc. 


They obtain their energy by consuming organic sources such as carbohydrates, fats, and proteins that other organisms produce.

As heterotrophs consume a reduced form of energy from producers, they are able to sustain life by growth, reproduction, and other biological procedures of life.

Examples of heterotrophs are:


Herbivores are the primary consumers. They obtain their energy by eating plants. They consume the starch produced in the plants. 

The energy is produced by the process of photosynthesis and stored in the form of ATP, converted into monosaccharaides (starch).

They have a special enzyme in their saliva and GIT known as amylase which helps in the breakdown of starch. Cellulose is another component present in the cell wall of plants. Symbiotic gut bacteria in the stomach of herbivores help them consume cellulose.


Carnivores consume energy stored in the herbivores in the form of lipids. Carnivores can be secondary consumers and tertiary consumers. They can be predators (eating other animals for nutrients), insectivores (frogs and rodents eating flies and other insects), or scavengers (vultures, cockroaches, etc. that eat the dead)


They do not traditionally eat their food like other animals but absorb the nutrients. They form a network of root-like substances known as Hyphae that penetrate and spread absorbing nutrients by secretion of digestive enzymes.

Fungi can be parasitic (feed on organisms without killing them) or saprobic (feed on dead organisms, like dead leaves, etc.).

Fungi can be used in food such as yeast or in medicine such as Penicillin.

Similarities between Autotrophs and Heterotrophs

  1. The first and most important difference between autotrophs and heterotrophs is both a living organisms. They both carry out the process of breathing in their own way, utilizing oxygen and giving out carbon dioxide, respiration in heterotrophs, and transpiration in autotrophs.
  2. They both need energy that is produced in the form of ATP to form organic products like carbohydrates, for nutrition.
  3. They both utilize the products of [photosynthesis, for example, oxygen and carbohydrates for energy and nutrition.
  4. Sunlight is the most important factor of survival in both autotrophs and heterotrophs.
  5. In addition to sunlight, they both need air and water as well to survive.
  6. Both autotrophs and heterotrophs convert smaller molecules into larger molecules during their food preparation process.
  7. Energy is stored in the form of ATP in both autotrophs and heterotrophs.


What are the differences between Autotrophs and Heterotrophs?

Autotrophs are producers that make their own food through the process called photosynthesis. Whereas heterotrophs are consumers that obtain food from autotrophs either directly or indirectly.

What do Autotrophs and Heterotrophs have in common?

Both autotrophs and heterotrophs are living organisms that require energy in the form of food to survive.

Which can show both Autotrophs and Heterotrophs?

Euglena is autotroph and heterotroph both.

How do Autotrophs and Heterotrophs interact with each other?

Autotrophs are producers in the pyramid of the ecosystem. Heterotrophs consume the products autotrophs produce either directly or indirectly to sustain life. 

What is the interrelationship between Autotrophs and Heterotrophs?

Heterotrophs are consumers of ecosystems. Autotrophs prepare organic food components by breaking down inorganic components and heterotrophs consume the products to obtain energy. On the other hand, heterotrophs decompose and break down and are utilized by autotrophs.

Which process is done both in autotrophs and heterotrophs?

Both autotrophs and heterotrophs prepare food by taking up smaller molecules and converting them into larger molecules.

Author: Dr. Romisa

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