The Soil Food Web

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.

Did you ever think about the organisms that live under your feet? In this lesson, you will learn about the soil ecosystem and some of the organisms that are a part of it. You will also view an example of a soil food web.


You love your sister, but her weird obsession with dirt has to stop. Ever since your mom and dad bought her that explorer kit for her birthday, it's been non-stop. Maya is always tracking dirt and other weird things into her room to examine under her microscope. She wants to be an entomologist when she grows up and study bugs. How gross!

'Come and see this!' she yells.

Reluctantly, you go into her room. When you get there, she has something she calls a nematode under her microscope.

'It looks like a tiny worm, Maya!'

Maya says, 'I know, and one day you'll be food for the organisms I look at under my microscope.' Maya laughs in her sinister villain laugh, Mwa-ha-ha!

Your sister has been watching too much television, you think. But maybe she has a point. You really don't know much about the soil ecosystem and what its food web is like. Don't worry, this lesson will teach you.

Life under your feet

Maya is not alone in her fascination about life in the soil. There is so much going on down there that there are scientists totally dedicated to what happens there. They are called soil ecologists. When you ask people about what they think is happening in the soil, most will tell you about plant roots and earthworms, but there is so much more. There are many organisms that live in the soil - bacteria, fungi, nematodes, ants, earthworms, and many plants, just to name a few.

The organisms that live in the soil make it possible for life above the soil to take place. Bacteria, fungi, and other soil organisms that live in the soil, take part in the Nitrogen and Carbon cycles. Both of these cycles are critical to all living things. Without soil organisms breaking down dead organisms, carbon, a critical molecule of life, could not be recycled. Nitrogen, another important element for living things, is turned into a form that can be used by other organisms in the soil.

Another extremely important role soil organisms play in the overall environment is that they make nutrients available for plants. This is done as earthworms, nematodes and bacteria break down and decompose other organisms. The nutrients that they don't consume become available for plants. All plants, which are the basis of every ecosystem in the world, are dependent on this process. Soil organisms may be small, many of them are even microscopic, but our whole planet depends on them.

Soybean Cyst Nematode

Food Chains, Food Webs & the Soil

A food chain is a linear representation of the feeding interactions between organisms of a particular area, which flows in only one direction. In simpler terms, a food chain shows what eats what. A food chain is a very simple version of what happens in an environment and does not represent the whole environment. A combination of multiple food chains showing the feeding relationships of an ecosystem in a multi-linear, multi-directional manner is called a food web. Food webs give a better overall idea of how organisms feed in an ecosystem.

Most food chains and food webs contain some or all of the following:

  • Producers - plants in an ecosystem
  • Herbivores - eat plants
  • Omnivores - eat plants and animals
  • Carnivores - eat only animals

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