The Role of Photosynthesis in the Life of Animals

Instructor: David Wood

David has taught Honors Physics, AP Physics, IB Physics and general science courses. He has a Masters in Education, and a Bachelors in Physics.

Why is photosynthesis important to animals? Learn about how the process of photosynthesis works, and why it is just as vital to animals as it is to plants.

What Is Photosynthesis?

Plants have leaves and humans have legs. It's easy to imagine that the processes that happen inside plants have nothing to do with us. But the truth is that we wouldn't be alive today without them.

Photosynthesis is a process where plants use light from the sun, water from the roots, and carbon dioxide from the air and turn it into energy to allow them to live. It's probably the most important process that happens inside plants, because without it, plants would die rapidly.

Photosynthesis happens in the leaves of plants
Photosynthesis happens in the leaves of plants

When you look at photosynthesis in more detail, it's an example of something called a chemical reaction. A chemical reaction is a process where the arrangement of the atoms in a substance is changed - atoms are rearranged to create a new substance. Chemical reactions can be described using chemical equations. Here is the chemical equation for photosynthesis:

Chemical equation for photosynthesis
Chemical equation for photosynthesis

The equation says that carbon dioxide is combined with water, which with the addition of light energy, produces glucose (energy the plant can use) and oxygen. The glucose is the important part for plants, because that's what they use to live - to grow, repair, reproduce etc. - but humans gain multiple benefits from plants also. Let's talk about some of those benefits.

Importance of Photosynthesis for Animals

Probably the most obvious benefit that photosynthesis has for animals, like humans, is that photosynthesis is the reason that we have plants that we can eat. Without photosynthesis all plants would die, and that includes the fruits, vegetables, and leaves that form part (or in some cases all) of the diet of animals.

But let's say you hate eating vegetables. Maybe you're practically a carnivore - even you still have plants to thank for your existence. The energy that you eat when you eat meat originally came from plants: animals like chicken and cows eat plants, and that's how their meat gets energy in the first place. But even if you were to eat a predator - like a crocodile or lion (not that many people would) - that energy came from those predators eating animals that in turn eat plants. All the energy on Earth that allows animals to live originally came from the sun, and was absorbed by photosynthesizing plants.

Energy travels along the food web
Energy travels along the food web

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