What is the Food Chain?
A grasshopper eats grass in order to survive. A rat eats the grasshopper in order to survive. A snake eats the rat, and a hawk eats the snake. This is a simple example of a food chain.
It represents the hierarchy that exists in a certain biome in nature, between different animals (in the mentioned example, that would be the grassland biome). Usually, it starts with the species that produces energy through photosynthesis (a process of conversion of the energy absorbed from the Sun’s radiation to chemical energy needed for any living thing) at the bottom, and then, as you go upwards, different species that each hunt the species below and are hunted by the species above.
On top of the food chain will either be an apex predator species, which is the species that isn’t hunted at all, or a decomposer species, like fungi or bacteria, which are also not hunted at all.
Of course, you can’t look at an individual food chain and think that it exists as an isolated set of interactions between animals – that’s where it differs from the food web (discussed below). In short, a food chain would be a linear set of interactions between species, one species at a time.
What is the Food Web?
In the above example, a snake might have eaten the grasshopper, or a hawk might have eaten the mouse, but neither of these interactions weren’t presented in the food chain, even though they were possible and happen pretty often in nature. This is because the food chain is only one part of a bigger whole – the food web.
Briefly explained, a food web represents all possible “what-eats-what” combinations in a certain biome. The main distinction here is between autotrophs and heterotrophs. When I mentioned what types of species could be at the bottom of the food chain, I was really referring to the type of species scientifically named autotrophs.
All the other species in the food chain (and the food web as well) are called heterotrophs. Autotrophs create organic substances and energy from inorganic substances (such as the Sun’s radiation), while heterotrophs consume organic substances in order to create other organic substances or energy. Even in the simplest biomes with the least living things present, all the possible combinations of what eats what can become incredibly complex.
An easier way to represent this is to visualize it as a web – the food web. There, each line connects two species in the same way it would in a food chain – one of those species is the hunter and the other is the prey. The main difference in the case of food webs would be that there are several lines branching from each species, as opposed to one or two in the case of food chains.
Similarities between Food Chain and Food Web
I’ve covered the main fundamental differences between the food chain and the food web, but there are still some significant similarities between the two as well:
Similarities between Food Chain and Food Web In terms of “Interaction”
Both the food chain and the food web are ways to visualize the “what-eats-what” interactions in a certain biome
Similarities between Food Chain and Food Web In terms of “Complexity”
The food web is really just a complex structure that consists of many interconnected food chains
Similarities between Food Chain and Food Web In terms of “Connections”
Both have lines connecting different species, where the species at one end of the line is the hunter, while the species on the other end of the line is the prey.
Summary of Similarities between Food Chain and Food Web
The food web is among the most accurate ways of representing the structure of what eats what in a certain biome. The food chain is a linear segment of a food web, representing only some of the possible interactions. Still, they both represent the same interactions, connecting different species based on who takes the role of the hunter and who takes the role of the prey. These roles can change when taking into account different species, and both the food chain and the food web represent that.
Author: Dr. Howard Fields
Dr. Howard is a Clinical Psychologist and a Professional Writer and he has been partnering with patients to create positive change in their lives for over fifteen years. Dr. Howard integrates complementary methodologies and techniques to offer a highly personalized approach tailored to each patient.