Background Info

The African savanna ecosystem is a tropical grassland with warm temperatures year-round and with its highest seasonal rainfall in the summer. The savanna is characterized by grasses and small or dispersed trees that do not form a closed canopy, allowing sunlight to reach the ground. The African savanna contains a diverse community of organisms that interact to form a complex food web.

A community is a group of organisms interacting in a specific region under similar environmental conditions. A food chain is a group of organisms linked in order of the food they eat, from producers to consumers, prey to predators, and scavengers to decomposers. The arrows in a food chain represent the flow of energy and matter between feeding (trophic) levels. Food chains show only one path of food and energy through an ecosystem. In most ecosystems, organisms can get food and energy from more than one source, and may have more than one predator.

Healthy, well-balanced ecosystems are made up of multiple, interacting food chains, called food webs. Carnivores (lions, hyenas, leopards) feed on herbivores (impalas, warthogs, cattle) that consume producers (grasses, plant matter). Scavengers (hyenas, vultures) and decomposers/detritivores (bacteria, fungi, termites) break down organic matter, making it available to producers and completing the food cycle (web). Humans are part of the savanna community and often compete with other organisms for food and space.

The following list defines and provides examples of the feeding (trophic) levels that comprise food webs:

  • Producer: organism on the food chain that can produce its own energy and nutrients. Examples: grasses, Jackalberry tree, Acacia tree
  • Primary consumer/herbivore: organism that eats mainly plants. Examples: cows, impalas, warthogs, zebras
  • Secondary consumer/carnivore: organism that eats meat. Examples: leopard, lion
  • Omnivore: organism that eats a variety of organisms, including plants, animals, and fungi. Examples: humans, aardvarks
  • Decomposer/detritivores: organisms that break down dead plant and animal material and waste and release it as energy and nutrients in the ecosystem. Examples: bacteria, fungi, termites
  • Scavenger: animal that eats dead or rotting animal flesh. Examples: vultures, hyenas
  • Insectivore: organism that mostly eats insects. Example: Red-billed oxpecker

For Further Exploration

Vocabulary

Term Part of Speech Definition Encyclopedic Entry

Big Cats Initiative

Noun

National Geographic Society program that supports on-the-ground conservation projects, education, economic incentive efforts, and a global public-awareness campaign to protect big cats and their habitats.

carnivore

Noun

organism that eats meat.

Encyclopedic Entry: carnivore

community

Noun

group of organisms or a social group interacting in a specific region under similar environmental conditions.

consumer

Noun

organism on the food chain that depends on autotrophs (producers) or other consumers for food, nutrition, and energy.

decomposer

Noun

organism that breaks down dead plant material.

detritivore

Noun

organism that consumes dead plant material.

ecosystem

Noun

community and interactions of living and nonliving things in an area.

Encyclopedic Entry: ecosystem

environment

Noun

conditions that surround and influence an organism or community.

food chain

Noun

group of organisms linked in order of the food they eat, from producers to consumers, and from prey, predators, scavengers, and decomposers.

Encyclopedic Entry: food chain

food web

Noun

all related food chains in an ecosystem. Also called a food cycle.

Encyclopedic Entry: food web

herbivore

Noun

organism that eats mainly plants.

Encyclopedic Entry: herbivore

insectivore

Noun

organism that mostly eats insects.

omnivore

Noun

organism that eats a variety of organisms, including plants, animals, and fungi.

Encyclopedic Entry: omnivore

organism

Noun

living or once-living thing.

predator

Noun

animal that hunts other animals for food.

producer

Noun

organism on the food chain that can produce its own energy and nutrients. Also called an autotroph.

Credits

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Writer

Angela M. Cowan, Education Specialist and Curriculum Designer

Editor

Elizabeth Wolzak, National Geographic Society

Expert Reviewer

Dr. Luke Dollar, Conservation Scientist

National Geographic Program

Big Cats Initiative

Page Producer

Tara Messing

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