In GCSE Science, students will learn about the transfer of energy and biomass in food chains. This is the first of three quizzes on that topic and it looks specifically at the transfer of chemical energy as biomass and how each stage of the food chain sees the transfer of less energy from one organism to another.
Apart from the extremophiles (some of whom get their energy from chemicals and heat coming from deep-sea hydrothermal vents), animals are solar powered! How come? The answer is food chains. Food chains are concerned with the transfer of chemical energy as biomass to the top predator. They always begin with plants or algae and end with a carnivore and they can be combined into food webs. A food web describes the feeding relationships within a community of plants and animals.
A food chain can be represented as a pyramid of biomass (mass of living material) by drawing a pyramid style of histogram. Each trophic (feeding) level is drawn to the same scale. The lowest level of the food chain normally has the highest biomass whilst the top predator has the lowest biomass. The reason for this is that energy and materials are lost at each stage of the food chain. Let's consider a simple 3 step food chain to see how this works.
The start of a food chain are the plants or algae living in the community. They absorb the Sun's energy and use it for photosynthesis. During photosynthesis, some of the food (glucose) they produce is used to release energy in the process of respiration and some is used to form the biomass of the plant.
Herbivores eat the plants or algae. Some of the energy from what they eat is used immediately for respiration and therefore lost from the food chain. Some is stored in the body or used by the body for growth, repair or both, this keeps the biomass in the food chain. The herbivores excrete waste material which lessens the amount of biomass in the system.
Next in the food chain is a predator. This hunts and eats the herbivores. As it hunts, a lot of the energy from its previous successful kill is used up and lost from the food chain. More is lost as the predator excretes its wastes. Only a proportion of the energy from eating the prey remains in the predator.
OK, let's see what you know about energy and food chains now...