- Autotrophs are types of plants and bacteria that can produce their own food.
- Biodiversity is a key component of an ecosystem that wants to be interdependent and stable at the same time.
- Consumers that are not preyed upon by anyone are known as apex predators.
In Earth’s ecosystem, every living being is in some way connected to all the others. Everyone needs to have an environment that they can occupy and share with others. That sharing also includes valuable resources, like food. So how does interdependence work in a food chain?
To understand how a food chain works, we need to realize what creates an ecosystem, and what are some of its key features. An ecosystem, if we take a look at planet Earth as an example, depends on biodiversity. The wider the variety in species that occupy the same environment - the more complex the ecosystem becomes.
Complexity And Biodiversity
There is not something special about complexity itself, and not all systems thrive to reach that state, but in our case - diversity in plant and animal life is the one that ensures stability. Changes that happen in the environment around us are not restricted to stay in one particular area. An ecosystem, and also interdependence in a food chain, depends on stability, and if we (or another type of force that can change) make alterations to it, it is almost certain that disbalance would appear.
A crucial thing to understand is the way the food chain looks. It is not a chain with loose ends, and you should imagine it as a round and closed series of links that create a chain. What are the links in this chain analogy? Well, all the different species that live on this planet, and that includes different types of bacteria and parasites. Viruses are unique because they can not live on their own unless they attach themselves to one of the links, which means one of the species. In a way, they are also dependent on other species, but strictly speaking, they are not alive.
Producers Vs. Consumers
The species that are interdependent in a food chain can be classified into two main categories: producers and consumers.
Producers (autotrophs) can make their own food. This does not mean that you are producing food for yourself, if you go to a store, get a few pounds of potatoes and bake them - you are not a producer. The most important producers on this planet are plants: on land, we talk about green plants, and underwater - we have different species of bacteria that all go under the same name, phytoplankton. Plants are primary producers, and they are a source of food for everything else in our ecosystem. The reason why they are primary is that they have an ability that we do not: using photosynthesis to create glucose.
If you want to start talking about the stability of an ecosystem, that is usually the place you start - the energy that comes from the Sun is absolutely necessary, and without it, there would be no life. Simply put, everything on this planet and everything under the sea, depends on the plant’s ability to convert the energy that comes from the Sun into food.
Consumers (heterotrophs) are on the other side of the spectrum, but only when we look at that specific ability of species to create food for themselves. Consumers can not make their own food, and they have to eat other species, whether they are plants, animals, or ‘’just’’ phytoplankton, to survive. Decomposers also belong to this category, although their role in an ecosystem comes down to more than just eating others.
It is worth repeating again - when we talk about the stability of an ecosystem, we can not view some species as more valuable than others. The competition that naturally exists in a food chain is something that acts as a self-regulative force. This means that nature (if we were not the ones causing so much stress and pollution to the environment) has a way to restore the balance of our ecosystem.