Autotrophs: Definition, Examples & Types

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  • 0:01 Autotrophs Defined
  • 0:50 Types of Autotrophs
  • 1:54 Examples of Autotrophs
  • 3:26 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Sarah Friedl

Sarah has two Master's, one in Zoology and one in GIS, a Bachelor's in Biology, and has taught college level Physical Science and Biology.

As human beings, we need to eat living things for energy. Other organisms are able to make their own food. Autotrophs can provide energy sources for themselves as well as for those of us who can't produce it on our own.

Autotrophs Defined

Every living thing needs energy in order to survive. We get this energy from the foods that we eat. The things that we eat were once living things and are full of energy themselves. Living things that need to eat other living things to survive are called heterotrophs, or 'other feeders.' Because heterotrophs cannot make their own food, they are called consumers.

But imagine that you could eat without actually eating. This is exactly what autotrophs do. Autotrophs are self-feeders, and they get their energy from non-living sources such as the sun and carbon dioxide. Autotrophs are called producers because they provide energy and food sources for all heterotrophic organisms.

Types of Autotrophs

There are two types of autotrophs: photoautotrophs and chemoautotrophs. Photoautotrophs get their energy from sunlight and convert it into usable energy (sugar). This process is called photosynthesis. During the process of photosynthesis, not only is sunlight turned into energy, but carbon dioxide is taken from the air and oxygen is released in its place. Because animals depend on this oxygen to breathe, we should be very thankful for this exchange!

Chemoautotrophs get their energy from chemicals, mainly inorganic substances such as hydrogen sulfide and ammonia. Inorganic substances are those that are not from biological sources, and they do not contain carbon as a main element. Chemoautotrophs are able to survive in very harsh environmental conditions because the only source of carbon they need is carbon dioxide.

Examples of Autotrophs

Most plants are autotrophs, but all autotrophic plants are photoautotrophs. Plants have structures called chloroplasts that allow them to capture the sunlight used for photosynthesis. Plants also get nutrition from water, various minerals in the soil, such as nitrogen and phosphorous, and carbon dioxide in the air.

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