Could There Be a Food Chain Without Herbivores and Carnivores?

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  • 0:00 What Is a Food Chain?
  • 0:47 What Are Herbivores &…
  • 1:47 Food Chain Without…
  • 3:21 Example: Deciduous Forest
  • 4:53 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 will review what a food chain is, what herbivores and carnivores are, and why they are important in the food chain. We will also look at what a food chain would be like with only producers and decomposers.

What Is a Food Chain?

Picture the African savanna. Grazing animals, like zebra and antelope, roam in herds. Lions and hyenas hunt them down, stalking their prey from the bushes. Although they might seem like enemies, these beautiful animals are all interconnected through a food chain and each is essential for the survival of the other. A food chain is a type of diagram that shows who eats who in an ecosystem. The food chain shows connections between animals that are predators, doing the hunting, and their prey, the hunted. There are different levels on the food chain, and today, we're going to look at the importance of two, the herbivores and the carnivores.

What Are Herbivores and Carnivores?

To get into herbivores and carnivores, let's start at the bottom of the food chain. Producers are organisms that make their own food and supply energy for the rest of the food chain. These organisms are usually green plants. Herbivores are vegetarians. They eat the producers. Next in our food chain comes the carnivores. Carnivores only eat meat. They control the population of the herbivores and prevent them from eating all the producers.

Carnivores need herbivores to survive, but herbivores also need carnivores to keep their population in check. So, although carnivores might seem like the mortal enemy of herbivores, the whole food chain would collapse without them. But, could the other organisms in the food chain survive without both herbivores and carnivores? Let's look at what could happen if we removed these two types of organisms.

A Food Chain Without Herbivores and Carnivores

There are a few different organisms in the food chain. The producers, usually plants, we have already talked about, and then there are the herbivores and carnivores. There are also decomposers, which break down dead organisms. Decomposers can be fungi or bacteria. They grow on both plants and animals, recycling their bodies back to the soil for new growth.

So what would happen if we removed the herbivores and carnivores? The carnivores' job is to keep the populations of other carnivores and herbivores in check. But, in this scenario there are no herbivores, so the carnivores aren't really needed. Without the herbivores, the producers would be free to grow. Producers don't need the herbivores or carnivores to make their own food and energy. They are self-sustaining, and they can't exhaust their food source. When the producers die, decomposers would break them down and recycle the nutrients to the soil for new growth.

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