Arctic Food Chain

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  • 0:01 What Is a Food Chain?
  • 1:00 The Arctic Climate
  • 1:25 Ocean Food Chain &…
  • 2:47 Dangers to the Arctic…
  • 3:44 What Can We Do?
  • 4:27 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Amanda Robb

Amanda holds a Masters in Science from Tufts Medical School in Cellular and Molecular Physiology. She has taught high school Biology and Physics for 8 years.

In this lesson, we'll cover what a food chain is and what plants and animals are involved in the Arctic food chain. We'll end with the important of preserving the Arctic wildlife in the food chain.

?!!!What Is a Food Chain?

Imagine you're a huge bowhead whale, spanning over 50 feet in length. As you swim through the Arctic Ocean, you filter zooplankton into your mouth, consuming millions of these tiny creatures every day. Your connection to the plankton can be represented in a food chain.

Food chains are diagrams showing the energy transfer between different organisms in an ecosystem. Arrows point from the prey to the predator that will eat them. In our example, the arrow in the food chain points from the zooplankton, to you, the whale!

Whale food chain

Food chains start with producers, or organisms that make their own energy. Primary consumers eat the producers and are herbivores. Secondary consumers are carnivores that eat the primary consumers. Lastly, tertiary consumers, or top predators, eat both primary and secondary consumers and keep the food web in check. Here is a diagram of the structure of a sample food chain.

food chain diagram

The Arctic Climate

To study the food chain of the Arctic, we first need to learn a little about the climate and wildlife there. The Arctic is the most northern region of the globe with extremely cold temperatures that can reach below -50 degrees Fahrenheit. The Arctic Ocean is frozen over with sea ice, like in the Canada Basin. But despite these challenges, large ecosystems exist above and below the ocean.

Ocean Food Chain

The producers in the Arctic Ocean are mostly phytoplankton. These are tiny, microscopic organisms that make their own food, making them producers.

The primary consumers in the Arctic Ocean are phytoplankton and crustaceans that consume the zooplankton. Harp seals are secondary consumers, which mainly eat fish like Arctic cod and Arctic char, and some crustaceans.

The top predators, or tertiary consumers, are polar bears and the Orca whale. Polar bears eat seals and fish, while Orca whales eat fish, but also have been known to attack larger whales and seals. All put together, this is how a food chain in the Arctic Ocean might be drawn up.

Arctic Ocean food chain

Terrestrial Food Chain

Above ground, lichens, small moss-like plants, are the producers, clinging to rocks and other surfaces. There are also small shrubs and moss close to the ground. Caribou, rabbits, and other grazing animals are the primary consumers.

The Arctic fox is an endangered species native to the Arctic, which feeds on caribou, rodents, birds, and fish. The Arctic fox is a secondary consumer. In the winter, the Arctic fox may follow polar bears, picking up scraps when prey is sparse. Tertiary consumers include the polar bear, wolves, and eagles, which prey on the arctic fox as well as primary consumers.

Dangers to the Arctic Food Chain

Many of the animals living in the Arctic are endangered species, meaning that due to intrusions on habitat or hunting, they are in danger of going extinct.

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