The 10% Energy Rule in a Food Chain

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  • 0:05 The 10% Rule
  • 2:04 Energy Pyramids and…
  • 3:36 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Ebony Potts

Ebony has taught middle and high school physical science, life science & biology. She's also been an assistant principal and has a doctorate in educational administration.

Have you ever heard of the 10% Rule in ecology? Do you know what it means? In this lesson, you will learn all about this rule and how it applies to every natural energy pyramid and food chain.

The 10% Rule

The day Jamal has been dreading has arrived. The annual family fishing trip. Jamal loves his family, but he absolutely hates fishing! There is so much preparation. He has to help his dad secure the boat to the truck. Then Jamal and his siblings have to pack gear, life jackets, waterproof goulashes, fishing rods, and bait. Then he has to get up really early in the morning, help load up the car and ride out to the lake. All that preparation, all that energy just to maybe, possibly, catch a few fish. Then Jamal has to go home and help unload the car, all before helping his dad clean, prepare, and cook the fish. Jamal wants to spend time with his family just as much as the next person, but fishing just seems like an incredible waste of energy to him!

What Jamal doesn't realize is that anytime a source of energy is obtained via natural means, the 10% Rule will apply. The 10% Rule means that when energy is passed in an ecosystem from one trophic level to the next, only ten percent of the energy will be passed on. A trophic level is the position of an organism in a food chain or energy pyramid.

For example, let's think about Jamal and his fishing trip. Let's say that Jamal caught a bass on his trip. The bass did not know he was going to end up on Jamal's plate for dinner that day, so he ate, swam and went about his normal routine. While completing his routine, the bass was expending energy. So, all of the energy that the bass could have given Jamal will not be transferred to him because some of it was used by the fish.

Now, to get the fish, Jamal has to expend energy. He has to catch the fish, clean it, prepare it, and cook it. Then when the fish ends up on his plate, he will cut it, chew it, and then begin to digest it. All of this takes place before Jamal has used any of the energy locked in the molecules of the fish to help his body power itself. In the end, Jamal will only end up with a ten percent energy transfer from his fish meal.

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