All living things need nutrients in the forms of solids, liquids, or gas, as well as energy from the sun, to live. Nutrients that pass through the food chain go through trophic levels, as seen in the energy pyramid video above. (Click on video to play.)

A trophic level is made up of a group of species that share the same link in the food chain, passing on essential nutrients and energy from one level of the pyramid to the next. The amount of energy and nutrients, that each trophic level passes along to the next, is illustrated in the pyramid in percentage.

Species in any given ecosystem support the transfer of nutrients and energy to species in the next trophic level in a form that they can consume, and so on. The energy and nutrients are then recycled back into the soil, creating a healthy, self-sustaining ecosystem.

Each level of the trophic pyramid represents a group of species categorized by the way they get their energy: as producers, consumers, or decomposers.

When energy is consumed by an animal, most of it is used for movement and maintaining body temperature to keep them warm. In fact, only 10% of that energy is stored and passed on to the next link in the food chain. This means that animals in higher trophic levels must consume more nutrients and energy to sustain themselves.

Let’s see how energy and nutrients move through terrestrial ecosystems and what different trophic levels do to transfer nutrients to other levels.



Abiotic components: 
Non-living chemical and physical parts of the environment that affect living organisms and the functioning of ecosystems.

Amino acid:
A structural unit that builds proteins.  

An organism that is able to form nutritional organic substances from simple inorganic substances such as carbon dioxide.

Any living component that affects another organism or shapes the ecosystem.

An animal that feeds on flesh.

Organisms that need to eat (i.e., consume) food to obtain their energy.

Organisms that breaks down dead organic material.

Heterotrophs that obtain nutrients by consuming dead and decaying organisms.

The study of interactions between biotic and abiotic factors that influence their location, population, and distribution.

A community of living organisms that live in and interact with each other and their environment.

Essential nutrients:
Nutrients required for normal physiological function that cannot be created within our body.

Fossil Fuel:
A natural fuel such as coal or gas, formed in the geological past from the remains of living organisms.

An animal that feeds on plants.

An organism that eats other plants or animals for energy and nutrients.

The phenomena of the physical world collectively, including plants, animals, the landscape, and other features and products of the earth.

An animal that eats both plants and animals.

A form of life.

The process by which green plants and some other organisms use sunlight to synthesize foods from carbon dioxide and water. Photosynthesis in plants generally involves the green pigment chlorophyll and generates oxygen as a byproduct.

Primary Consumers:
Organisms that eat the primary producer.

Organisms that make their own food.

An organism that decomposes organic matter outside their body using enzymes.

Secondary Consumers:
Organisms that eat primary consumers for energy.

Trophic Level:
A group of species that share the same link in the food chain/ food web.

Trophic pyramid:
Explains the movement and amount of energy passed through the food chain.


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