A food chain is a sequence that shows the feeding relationships of organisms in an ecosystem, so it shows what eats what.
In a food chain, one organism consumes another, and the energy from the consumed organism is transferred to the predator. So, a food chain also shows the transfer of energy, from one organism to another.
However, a food chain is just a small part of a larger network of feeding relationships, called a food web. Let’s first look at a basic food chain:
Grass → Grasshopper → Bird → Snake
We have grass which gets eaten by a grasshopper, which is eaten by a bird, which is then eaten by a snake.
The organism at the beginning of the food chain is called the producer. These organisms produce their own food, through photosynthesis. Green plants are the most common producers, but some bacteria and algae can also act as producers. Every other organism in the food chain is called a consumer.
While secondary and tertiary consumers are often carnivores, eating only other animals, they can also be omnivores.
In a food chain, the arrows show the direction of energy transfer from one organism to the next. This is why the arrows point from the producer (green plants) to the snake (tertiary consumer).
In the earlier example, we can see that the energy is transferred from the green plants to the grasshopper, then from the grasshopper to the bird and finally, from the bird to the snake.
At each step of the food chain, energy is lost in different ways.
So, the lost energy cannot be passed along the food chain. There are typically only four to five organisms in a food chain, as the energy at the top of the food chain is limited.
A predator is an animal that naturally hunts and eats other animals. The prey is the animal that is being hunted and eaten by the predator.
Fish → White-tailed eagle
This relationship is important for maintaining balance in the ecosystem, as predators help to regulate the populations of their prey.