• A food web consists of all the food chains in a single ecosystem. Each living thing in an ecosystem is part of multiple food chains. Each food chain is one possible path that energy and nutrients may take as they move through the ecosystem. Not all energy is transferred from one trophic level to another. Energy is used by organisms at each trophic level, meaning that only part of the energy available at one trophic level is passed on to the next level. All of the interconnected and overlapping food chains in an ecosystem make up a food web. Similarly, a single organism can serve more than one role in a food web. For example, a queen conch can be both a consumer and a detritivore, or decomposer.


    Food webs consist of different organism groupings called trophic levels. In this example of a coral reef, there are producers, consumers, and decomposers.

    • Producers make up the first trophic level. A producer, or autotroph, is an organism that can produce its own energy and nutrients, usually through photosynthesis or chemosynthesis.
    • Consumers are organisms that depend on producers or other consumers to get their food, energy, and nutrition. There are many different types of consumers. First-order consumers, or primary consumers, are usually herbivores. They eat producers. Secondary consumers prey on primary-consumers. They are usually carnivores, but can be omnivores as well. Tertiary-consumers are carnivores that mostly eat other carnivores. They prey on secondary consumers. These predator-prey relationships make up the food web. Different predators eat different kinds of prey until a top predator is reached. Top predators are at the top of the food chain and have no predators of their own.
    • Detritivores and decomposers complete the cycling of energy through the food web. Detritivores are organisms that consume dead organic material. Decomposers are organisms that break down dead organic material and return nutrients to the sediment. These nutrients are used by the producers during photosynthesis to create energy, thus completing the cycle.
    1. What are the primary producers in the coral reef food web illustration?

      The primary producers are blue-green algae, phytoplankton, zooxanthelle, seagrass, and brown algae.

    2. What are the primary consumers in the coral reef food web illustration?

      The primary consumers are zooplankton, corals, sponges, Atlantic blue tang, and queen conch.

    3. What are the intermediate consumers in the coral reef food web illustration?

      The intermediate consumers are the sergeant major, flaming tongue snail, bar jack, grouper, Caribbean lobster, bicolor damselfish, polychaete worm, cushion sea star, and southern stingray.

    4. Identify the top predator in the coral reef food web illustration.

      The top predator in the coral reef food web is a blacktip reef shark.

    5. What are the decomposers in the coral reef food web illustration?

      The decomposers are the polychaete worm and the queen conch.

    6. How is energy transfered through a food web?

      Energy is transfered through the consumption of organisms.

  • Term Part of Speech Definition Encyclopedic Entry
    carnivore Noun

    organism that eats meat.

    Encyclopedic Entry: carnivore
    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 organic material.

    ecology Noun

    branch of biology that studies the relationship between living organisms and their environment.

    Encyclopedic Entry: ecology
    ecosystem Noun

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

    Encyclopedic Entry: ecosystem
    energy Noun

    capacity to do work.

    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
    intermediate predator Noun

    in a food chain or food web, an organism that eats (preys on) herbivores or other first-order consumers, but is preyed upon by top predators.

    marine biology Noun

    study of life in the ocean.

    nutrient Noun

    substance an organism needs for energy, growth, and life.

    Encyclopedic Entry: nutrient
    ocean Noun

    large body of salt water that covers most of the Earth.

    Encyclopedic Entry: ocean
    omnivore Noun

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

    Encyclopedic Entry: omnivore
    predator Noun

    animal that hunts other animals for food.

    prey Noun

    animal that is hunted and eaten by other animals.

    primary producer Noun

    organism that can produce its own food and nutrients from chemicals in the atmosphere, usually through photosynthesis or chemosynthesis. Also called an autotroph.

    producer Noun

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

    top predator Noun

    species at the top of the food chain, with no predators of its own. Also called an alpha predator or apex predator.

    trophic level Noun

    one of three positions on the food chain: autotrophs (first), herbivores (second), and carnivores and omnivores (third).