Why Are Food Chains Relatively Short?

Why Are Food Chains Relatively Short

If you understand a thing about food chains, one of the questions you should be asking is “why are food chains relatively short”. There’s no need for one to be an ecologist or biologist to ask this. That’s because food chains concern us all – in short, it’s essential for maintaining a balance in the ecosystem. Every living thing needs food. Without food, it will be challenging to possess the energy for the day’s work. Just as a vehicle needs fuel to move, humans also need fuel (food converted to energy) to perform their daily activities, grow, move around, and repair. However, the question that is most pressing here is;

Why are food chains relatively short?

The reason food chains tend to be shorter is this. Each biological pyramid level of the food chain transfers approximately 10 percent of their lifetime consumed energy to another level. That’s how living things in the food chain survive. So, as you move up in the trophic levels, there won’t be much energy left. In other words, the available energy for animals occupying higher levels in the chain is little.

So, that’s why food chains tend to be relatively short. You can continue reading for more information.

What Does The Food Chain Imply?

Food chains have always been an essential topic of discussion to biologists, environmentalists, and other professions concerned with the study of living things, together with their interactions in their respective habitat. Plus, it will not make any sense to talk about food chains without a definition of the term. The description will make you and I appreciate this incredible pyramid that talks about how energy is passed on from one organism or living thing to another. So, what’s the meaning of the term “food chain?”

A simple definition of the food chain is a network of links showing just how living organism acquires food, including how energy and nutrients move from one living thing to another, in the food chain.

When you look at food chains, you will find that they all start with plants and end with animals. It goes like this. One animal feeds on plants, another feeds on the said animal, and so on.

Here is how it looks; Plant – grasshopper – frog – snake – hawk

Looking at the short description of the food chain above, you can see that plants are the first on the list. Plants use sunlight to make their food through a process called photosynthesis and are eaten by grasshoppers. Grasshoppers obtain energy by feeding on plants, then frogs hunt and feast on grasshoppers.

Frogs, on the other hand, make excellent meals for snakes. And snakes also make outstanding meals for hawks. That’s how food chains work. You can see that all the living things mentioned are unique, considering the type of food they eat. Plus, there’s no trespassing. You can’t find a hawk eating plants; neither will you find grasshoppers feeding on frogs or snakes, whether dead or alive.

Significant Parts Of A Food Chain

So, we have discussed what a food chain is and provided a clear example for better understanding. Now, allow me to make mention of the significant parts that make up a food chain. An understanding of these parts will help you appreciate the process better. Let’s get down to business, shall we? Alright!


To many people, the sun is scorching and can damage one’s skin, to an extent that most of our creams now have sunscreen or other skin-protective ingredients, which isn’t a bad idea. However, sunlight is vital in the food chain. Without it, plants, which always begin the chains, won’t be able to produce anything. So, besides requiring sunlight for industrial purposes such as for solar energy, among others, we also need it for plants to photosynthesize. That’s a process by which they make their food, which another living thing in the food chain heavily depends on to survive.

The producers 

We can’t talk about sunlight without mentioning the producers. The producers are green plants (autotrophs), which makes food by themselves. Impressively, they don’t need to feed on other organisms to prepare their food. Instead, they depend on the energy from the sun to do so.

Here’s a fact you need to know: Phytoplankton are the producers living in our oceans. And report research has it that approximately 500 billion phytoplankton (in tons, though) are manufactured every single year.

The consumers

Looking at the name alone, I am sure that anyone can tell what they are. The consumers refer to a range of living things, not one, not two; all of them depend on other organisms for food. We have herbivores, carnivores, parasites, and scavengers.

Herbivores refer to living things, particularly animals that feed on plants. Examples include sheep, cow, goat, rabbit, elephant, and giraffe. However, these herbivores are less selective with what they consume. In other words, they tend to consume multiple parts of plants. Other herbivores are highly selective. In this case, they consume selected parts of plants. It could be the fruits, seeds, nectar, root, leaves, or any other part.

But herbivores are herbivores. Whether they are selective or not, herbivores feed on plants.

Carnivores animals refer to animals that feed on other animals (prey). Examples include mountain lions, tigers, hyenas, eagle, hawk, wolverine, coyotes, among others. For knowledge sake, we also have vertebrate and invertebrate carnivores.

Vertebrate carnivores include sharks, tigers, lions, and snakes, while the invertebrate carnivores include spiders, sea stars, and the ladybugs.

Parasites refer to organisms whose association with other animals can be harmful. What that means is that their relationship with other animals might be beneficial to them, but the same thing can never be said of the other animal. Examples include threadworms, amoebiasis, onchocerciasis, and others.

Scavengers are animals that need no introduction. They are also popularly seen in a place where there’s another dead animal. Scavengers feed on dead animals. Examples include vultures, crows, lobsters, cockroaches, and jackals, among others.

Here’s What Happens In Our Ocean Food Chains

In the ocean, phytoplankton is eaten up by zooplankton. But that’s not the end of the food chain, though. The zooplankton also gets eaten by fishes.

Looking at the ocean food chain, the one major problem that exists in it is low efficiency. The predatory transfer is approximate 3 – 6 trophic levels, which is the primary reason for the low efficiency experienced in the ocean.


Decomposers focus on whatever is dead, whether plants or animals. They include fungi and bacteria, which helps with the conversion of dead matter into various gases like nitrogen and carbon dioxide. The gases released return back into the water, air, including soil.

Just like scavengers, decomposers are equally important. These collectors, for instance, help to tidy up our environment by feeding on dead plants and animals. The decomposers also help to breakdown the dead plant or animal and return them into the soil. They help to recycle the nutrients so that those interested in cultivating crops can experience improved yield.

Food Chains: What Significance Do They Have?

I understand you might be wondering what importance the food chain brings. Of course, we have other pressing issues like global warming to discuss, so why are food chains that relevant? Well, the thing is food chains are as essential as anything in our ecosystem. Without a proper understanding, most of the answers we have today concerning foodborne diseases, wouldn’t have been possible.

So, below are some of the significance that food chains hold in our ecosystem. Let’s take a look at them briefly.

  1. The study of the food chain makes it possible for us to understand the interaction and relationship between living things that exist in any ecosystem. You can see from any food chain diagram that some organisms cannot eat another. For instance, snakes don’t eat plants. Mountain lions also do not eat plants. They are flesh-eaters. So without the food chain, we might not clearly understand these feeding behaviors.
  2. Food chains also help us to get a clear picture regarding the movement of substances that are toxic in the ecosystem. It also enables us to appreciate and have a better understanding of the mechanism of energy flow. All living things need energy to survive, move, repair tissues, and grow. And that energy is obtained by consuming another living thing.
  3. Another critical reason why the study of food chains is essential is that it results in a proper understanding of the challenges associated with bio-modifications.


I know the question of why food chains are relatively short is clear to you at this point. However, food chains are crucial for there to be a balance in the ecosystem. If there were no frogs or lizards to feed on grasshoppers, they would have increased in numbers tremendously, which would not be suitable for our ecosystem. So, I hope you understand the significance of food chains and appreciate the concept too? Thanks for reading!

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