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Food Chains

All living things need energy to stay alive. This energy comes from the sun. Plants make their food from the sun. Animals get their energy from the food they eat. Animals depend on other living things for food. Some animals eat plants while others eat other animals. This passing of energy from the sun to plants to animals to other animals is called a food chain. A food chain shows how each living thing gets its food. Some animals eat plants and some animals eat other animals. For example, a simple food chain links the grass, the rabbits (that eat the grass), and the fox (that eat the rabbits). Each link in this chain is food for the next link. A food chain always starts with plant life and ends with an animal.

- A simple food chainIn a food chain, energy is passed from one link to another. When a herbivore(animals that eat only plants) eats, only a fraction of the energy (that it gets from the plant food) becomes new body mass; the rest of the energy is lost as waste or used up by the herbivore to carry out its life processes (e.g., movement, digestion, reproduction). Therefore, when the herbivore is eaten by a carnivore (animals that eat other animals), it passes only a small amount of total energy (that it has received) to the carnivore. Of the energy transferred from the herbivore to the carnivore, some energy will be "wasted" or "used up" by the carnivore. The carnivore then has to eat many herbivores to get enough energy to grow.

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Grass

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Grasshopper Toad

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Snake

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Hawk

Grass is eaten by Grasshopper is eaten by Toad is eaten by Snake is eaten by Hawk.

The organisms in a food chain can be producers, consumers, or decomposers. Producers are green plants capable of making their own food using energy from the sun in a process called photosynthesis. Consumers are animals that cannot make their own food. They get their energy from other plants and animals. A food chain can have as many as three to four consumers. Decomposers Bacteria and fungi which live on dead plants and animals. The dead cells break down into nitrogen compounds and minerals. These collect in the soil and feed more plants.

The food producer is the grass. The primary consumer feed directly on the grass. The secondary consumer feed on the primary consumer. (Snake eats the grasshopper). The tertiary consumer feeds on the secondary level consumer. (Hawk eats the snake). The decomposer (fungi) will breaks down the waste products dead organisms for food. These broken down materials are returned to the soil to be recycled and used by plants again.

Food Webs
There cannot be too many links in a single food chain because the animals at the end of the chain would not get enough food (and hence energy) to stay alive. Most animals are part of more than one food chain and eat more than one kind of food in order to meet their food and energy requirements. These interconnected food chains form a food web. A food web is a model that shows all the possible feeding relationships between organisms living in an ecosystem.

In the woodland food web the energy stored in the grass (producer) passes to the fox and the owl, through the mouse food chain or the rabbit food chain. The energy from the acorn passes to the fox and the owl through a second mouse food chain. Food webs show how different types of organisms living in the same surroundings depend on each other for food.

A simple food chain would be the sun grows the grass, the deer eat the grass, and the wolves eat the deer. If something goes wrong with one animal then it will reflect on all the other animals. If we have a drought then no grass will grow, so the deer will starve and slowly start dying out. Then there is no food for the wolves and they start running down to dangerously low numbers. Food webs show the predator-prey relationship between organisms living in the same surroundings. The predator controls the number of prey by eating them and the prey also controls the number of predators in the surroundings to keep the eco system balanced.

Food webs can show the transfer of energy from food producers to food consumers. Grass converts light energy from the sun to chemical potential energy that is stored in the food. This energy is passed to the animals.