Difference between food chain and food web

Difference between food chain and food web

Main difference between the food chains and the food web is that the food chain explains the only pathway for energy flow in an ecosystem, while the food web explains many of the energy flow paths that are interconnected within an ecosystem.

All plants and animals (including humans) require some food to live on earth and energy to work. On this earth, the main source of energy for all living things is the sun. Photosynthetic organisms, of these are green plants, can harness the energy from sunlight and convert it into their food through photosynthesis. Hence, plants are the main producers. Food produced by primary producers serves as the main food source for other living organisms belonging to other levels of the food chain. Consequently, herbivores eat the main producers, and carnivores get their food from herbivores. It is a simple food chain, but many food chains are linked together to form a complex food web. In this complex food web, energy is transferred from one organism to the other.

What is the food chain?

The food chain is the only pathway which shows how organisms interact with one another to get food. Food is the primary requirement of all living organisms. They absorb food and digest it in order to assimilate nutrients for energy production. The sun is the primary source of every food chain. The sun provides food to the plant kingdom as they convert it into food. Some of the stored energy is used by some plants for themselves, accumulating in stems, roots and leaves. And herbivores depend on food stored in plants. Thus, herbivores become the main consumers. Secondary consumers are mainly carnivores, they extract energy from herbivores. Thus only producers in the food chain are plants, which begin with the sun, while other organisms are consumers; herbivores as primary consumers and carnivores as secondary consumers.

In addition, there are also decomposers such as bacteria and fungi. They convert dead inorganic matter into simple organic compounds in soil and water, as well as gases such as carbon dioxide, H2S and nitrogen and leave them back into the air. They play a very important role in this food chain because they recycle nutrients for use by producers. So, basically, the food chain begins with these decomposers. The equation below shows such a food chain.

Destructors-producers-primary consumers-secondary consumers 

However, in one food chain there is no one side, and many consumers in the animal kingdom are interconnected with each other.

What is Food Web?

Multiple food chains linked together to form a complex web called the food web. Typically, living organisms from different populations interact and link with each other in many different ways, not just within the same food chain. A particular animal may be a member of many food chains instead of just one, and thus there are many food chains that are linked with one another to form a food web.

All the energy that the herbivore extracts from the plants is passed away to the predator who itself eats this herbivore. The herbivore utilizes some of its food energy to move and grow, while only a small energy remains in its body to create body mass. Likewise, when a carnivore eats it, it also utilizes small energy, and only a small portion of that energy is stored in its body when the tertiary consumer consumes it. This gives the reason why there are more herbivores as compared to carnivores.

As you go through the food chain or food web, the amount of energy that is transferred from one level to another becomes less and less. Thus, more plants are required to support herbivores, while even large herbivores are required to support fewer carnivores. Food chains often consist of 4-5 links, but no more, because animals at the end of the chain do not get enough food to stay alive, with a lot of connections.

Similarities b/w food chain and food web

  • Both the food chain and food web explain the link between living things and food in an ecosystem.
  • Both are part of the ecosystem.
  • The food web has many connected food webs.
  • The food chain is the main link in the food web.

Read Also: What is the difference between heterotrophs and autotrophs ?

Difference between the food chain and the food web

The food chain has one pathway, which shows that several organisms are dependent on each other for food. The food web includes many food webs, and it is a complex food web. Thus, this is the main difference between the food chain and the food chain. In addition, the food chain consists of a small number of organisms, while the food web includes a large number of organisms. The food chain is something straight and the food web is rather complex. Thus, this is another important difference between the food chain and the food chain.

The illustration below shows a quick rundown of the difference between the food chain and the food chain.

TerminologyFood ChainFood Web
DefinitionFood chain is a single pathway of energy flow in an ecosystemFood web is a complex network of many interconnected food chains
NatureStraight pathComplex path
Number of pathwaysOneMore
No. of organismsFewMany

Summary – food chain versus food web

The food chain shows one path as the animals eat each other for a large carnivore to appear at the top. It consists of a primary producer, a primary consumer, a secondary consumer and a decomposer. On the other side, the food web presents how plants and animals are linked by different ways of obtaining food. Consequently, the food web shows only one path, while the food web shows many different paths that are interconnected. The food web perfectly explains how animals are interconnected and independent on one food chain. Both the food chain and the food web are parts of the ecosystem. Thus, it summarizes the difference between the food chain and the food chain.

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