What Is the Difference Between a Food Chain and a Food Web?

Difference Between a Food Chain and a Food Web
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This article aims to highlight the difference between a food chain and a food web.

The ecosystem comes to mind whenever one mentions the term food chain or food web. These terms describe the flow of energy and nutrients in an ecosystem.

They both aid our understanding of how living organism relates and balance energy in the ecosystem. Notwithstanding, there is a marked difference between a food chain and a food web.

But before we proceed, let’s look at the individual definition of these terms.

Table of Contents

Definition of a Food Chain and a Food Web

A food chain shows the energy flow from a lower trophic level to a higher one. In a nutshell, it shows the movement of energy from producers to consumers.

For instance, in the food chain, plants use photosynthesis to make energy; the worm eats the plant, and the bird then consumes this worm. 

A food web is a multi-linked version of a food chain that shows the energy flow in an ecosystem. The food web demonstrates how different animals are interconnected and interact in a food chain.

In the example above about the plant utilizing photosynthesis to make energy, for a food chain, the worm eats the plant, and the bird eats the worm.

But, for a food web, several predators can eat the worm or the bird. The food web examines the multiple pathways that energy can take within an ecosystem.

From the above definition, we can notice some similarities between these terms. in the same vein, there is also the difference between a food chain and a food web.

In terms of similarities, both portray the flow of nutrients and energy while connecting various species in the ecosystem. More so, they show the feeding relationship and interaction amongst organisms in the ecosystem.

That being said, let’s examine the difference between a food chain and a food web.

Difference Between a Food Chain and a Food Web

The Flow of Energy

One significant difference between a food chain and a food web is in energy flow. 

For the food chain, energy flows in a single pathway; it has a linear feeding hierarchy. But for the food web, on the other hand, energy flows in a considerable number of ways, it has a graphical model that shows the feeding hierarchy.

The Number of Trophic Levels

Every phase in a food chain is known as a trophic level. In a food chain, the number of trophic levels is 4-5, comprising different species.

The Food web, on the other hand, has numerous trophic levels, which include diverse populations of species. 

Main Composition/ Types

Another basis for comparison is in their composition. The food chain comprises just one main chain, I.e., a single unit.

It starts from primary producers and ends at the top producer. More so, there are two food chain types: grazing food chains or detritus food chains.

On the other side, a food web is composed of various interconnected food chains. The Food web starts with primary producers and consumers and ends with predators at the top trophic level.

A food web is more complex because it is a whole system of connected food chains. More so, the food web has no type.

At this stage, it is worth knowing that the producers we are talking about here are autotrophs. Autotrophs produce their food through photosynthesis or chemosynthesis.

At the same time, consumers are the animals that eat producers. The consumers can be carnivores or herbivores and may be omnivores. 

Feeding Pattern

The feeding relationship between organisms in the ecosystem is also a difference between a food chain and a food web. 

In the food chain, predators, i.e., the members of higher tropic level, feeds upon one specific consumer in its lower trophic level. But for the food web, the predators, I.e., the members of higher trophic levels, feed upon multiple organisms that exist in their lower trophic levels.

Stability in the Ecosystem

Another difference lies in their stability in the ecosystem. The food chain increases instability in an ecosystem.

This is because of the dependency system here. Since one organism depends on another for survival, the extinction of a single species will have an impact and cause instability in the ecosystem. As the number of limited and different food chains grows, instability increases. 

The Food web, on the other hand, increases stability in the ecosystem. This is because of the presence of complex food chains.

Since no single organism relies on one species for nutrition, eradicating one organism will not significantly impact activities in the food web. Here, the presence of complex food chains enhances stability.

Adaptability and Competitiveness of Organism

The manner of adaptation and competition among organisms in the ecosystem is another difference between a food chain and a food web. Here, unlike the former, which limits the organism because there is a single source of nourishment, the latter improves adaptability and competitiveness among the organisms.

The food web provides an atmosphere that requires organisms to adapt and be highly competitive. Hence, there is heavy competition and survival of the featest here. As a result, the organism’s chances of survival are significantly increased in a food web.

Disturbance and Tolerance Level

Another basis for comparison is the disturbance and tolerance level. The food chain does not tolerate disturbance. Here, a single trophic level affects the whole food chain because one trophic level’s organism relies on the trophic level before it. 

If one set of organisms is disrupted, the whole chain gets affected and is disrupted whereas the food web tolerates disturbance.

The removal of one group of species does not disrupt the course of the food web. In essence, one trophic level does not become totally reliant on a single species in a food web.

This means that a single organism can function as both producer and consumer. So, when it is removed, it does not disrupt the ecosystem in the food web.

Conclusion

The food chain and food web are maps in the ecosystem that characterizes the flow of energy. They are both essential factors in understanding how the biotic community works.

The significant difference between a food chain and a food web lies in their most considerable similarity- energy.

While the food chain shows a single flow of energy, the food web shows interconnected pathways that energy flows in an ecosystem.

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