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Michigan dnr > wildlife viewing guide > ecology: food webs

Food WebFood chains and food webs are simplified ways of looking at the way energy flows among living organisms.

SunIt all starts with the sun, which provides the energy that sustains all life on earth.

Aquatic plantsGreen plants, such as grass and duckweed, convert the sun's energy and nutrients from the soil or water into plant material.

Herbivores on landHerbivores (plant eaters), such as mice and minnows, eat plant materials an convert his stored energy into animal tissue.

Carnivores on landCarnivores (meat eaters), such as hawks and bass, eat the smaller animals and transfer the energy once again.

Aquatic decomposersWhen carnivores die, specialized organisms called decomposers convert this tissue back into soil nutrients that are again used by the green plants at the beginning of the chain.

In reality this diagram is oversimplified because very few animals feed at only one level of the chain. For instance, foxes eat fruits, insects and even other small predators, which means there could be arrows connecting the carnivores with each of the other levels shown here. In addition, decomposers work at every level of the chain, adding even more arrows to this simple illustration. If all possible arrows were added, the diagram would appear more like a web than a chain, which is why these illustrations are often called food webs.

Food webs help illustrate the complex ways that energy and nutrients are transferred among living organisms and their environments. They also show how damage to ay single strand can have far-reaching impacts on the health of the entire web.red Species


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