Definition

Consumer is a classification that belongs in ~ the food chain of an ecosystem. The refers mainly to animals. Consumers space unable to do their own energy, and instead count on the consumption and also digestion of producer or other consumers, or both, to survive.

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Consumer Explained

Consumers are discovered in food chains, wherein they space joined by 2 other groups – producers and also decomposers. All plants are producers as they develop their own energy from sunlight and also nutrients via photosynthesis. Plants comprise the primary trophic level of the food chain.


Herbivores – pets which only eat plants – consume vegetation from which they space able to develop energy. Herbivores are unable to make their very own energy and also are recognized as consumers. As herbivores only ever eat producers, they are main consumers in the second trophic level of the food chain.

Omnivores – animals which eat both plants and also other pets – are likewise consumers. The pets they eat carry out not produce their very own energy, and are as such not classed as producers under any type of circumstances. Carnivores – pets which eat just meat – hold various location within different food chains. Castle may also be part of a predator-prey relationship. Decomposers, which will not be discussed further in this article, rotate the dead material of producers and consumers right into nutrients which are then used by producers (plants) to grow.

Food chains execute not require to include whole animals. In the human being food chain, vegetarians that eat dairy room omnivores, and also vegans who eat no dairy nor eggs space the indistinguishable of main consumers. Categorization within a food chain may additionally be transient, as with calves the drink your mother’s milk together omnivores, then end up being herbivores ~ weaning.


The position a customer holds within the food chain have the right to be manipulated through disease, deforestation, the seasons, biodiversity, human being encroachment into herbal habitats, and also many other variables. Additionally, multiple varieties can be discovered within each category and trophic level. As soon as multiple types are involved, a straightforward food chain can end up being a complicated food web.

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Terrestrial and marine food chains

The two simplified food chains pictured above show terrestrial and marine development from producer (dandelion and phytoplankton) to quaternary consumer (hawk and also shark).

Consumer Examples

Consumer examples are plentiful, as every pet must consume food in order to live. Consumers are grouped into 4 categories – primary, secondary, tertiary, and quaternary. The classification in i m sorry an animal is situated is identified by the food source within a certain food chain or food web, and not necessarily by its varieties or habits. Because that example, grizzly bears only have access to salmon at certain times the the year, if in the early on spring diets are largely root-based and also herbivorous. Depending on the available food source(s), a single species could be put in different categories. The straightforward diagram below shows how basic it is to uncomfortable the circulation of the trophic cascade of a food chain.

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Trophic Cascade

Primary Consumers

Examples of main consumers space zooplankton, butterflies, rabbits, giraffes, pandas and elephants.

Primary consumers room herbivores. Their food source is the very first trophic level of organisms within the food web, or plants. Tree are additionally referred to together autotrophs. Autotrophs develop their own energy from sunshine and an easy nutrients via photosynthesis; in any type of ecosystem, the state producer and also autotroph have the exact same meaning. The herbivorous diet does no only include leaves, branches, flowers, fruits and also roots the plants, but likewise other autotrophic resources such together nectar and phytoplankton.


Primary consumer feed solely on autotrophs. Any organism that have to eat in bespeak to develop energy is both a heterotroph and also a consumer. Fairly confusingly, main consumers are located in the 2nd trophic level that the ecosystem. A trophic level is the position any type of organism rectal within any food chain. As vegetation is the most simple food source, plants are to be found at the first trophic level. Herbivores space positioned ~ above the next rung the the trophic ladder, and also are as such primary consumers at the 2nd trophic level.

Secondary Consumers

Examples of second consumers room earwigs, ants, badgers, snakes, rats, crabs, hedgehogs, blue whales (their diet is generally composed of phytoplankton-eating krill and zooplankton, and phytoplankton), lions, and humans.

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Phytoplankton, foundation of oceanic food chain

Secondary consumers virtually always consume both producers and also primary consumers and are as such usually classed as omnivores. Secondary consumers make up the 3rd trophic level of the food chain and also are – as are all consumers – heterotrophs.

Tertiary Consumers

Examples that tertiary consumers room hawks, snakes, crocodiles and some huge cats.

Tertiary consumers deserve to be either omnivorous or carnivorous. They feed on main and secondary consumers, and may likewise eat producers (plants). For a food chain to have a tertiary consumer, there need to be a second consumer accessible for it come eat.

It is exciting to note that various organisms in different situations or at different times may occur at likewise different trophic levels. Because that example, human vegans are major consumers that the 2nd trophic level, but a large proportion that the person race are omnivores. An additional example have the right to be discovered in beef intake before and also after bovine spongiform encephalophathy (BSE) legislation, whereby it was eventually determined to avoid beef cows from being fed meat- and bone meal. Before legislation to be passed, human usage of beef would course us as tertiary consumers, as cows eat an omnivorous diet space themselves classed as secondary consumers. After ~ the link between bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) and meat-based feeds, ranches were only permitted come feed your herds plant-source diets. This means that humans right now eat beef as secondary consumers, as farms are just authorized to produce beef from primary consumers.

Quaternary Consumers

Examples the quaternary instances are the white shark, polar bear and alligator.

Quaternary consumers space not necessarily apex predators. An apex predator is in ~ the top of the food chain in which that exists, and is no the living prey of any kind of other organism. A quaternary customer is simply a consumer which preys top top a tertiary consumer. To it is in classed together a quaternary customer within a food chain or food web, there need to be a tertiary consumer obtainable for the quaternary customer to food upon. Quaternary consumers are found in the fifth trophic level and also are no to be discovered in every food chain. The higher up the consumer ladder one goes, the more the power required to support it. This is described in the graphic below, wherein the dimension of each layer of the trophic pyramid shows the proportion of each varieties to each other within a healthy and balanced food chain.

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Trophic Pyramid

Carnivorous tree – producer or Consumers?

Are carnivorous plants, such as the Venus fly-trap and pitcher plant, producers or consumers?

Carnivorous tree are discovered predominantly in greatly forested regions, well known for low levels of nutrients. This plant types are the perfect instance for showing just how the different levels and categories that a food chain space in constant motion and also never absolute.

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Evolution has developed plants which have the right to collect extr nutrients (mainly nitrogen) with the slow digestion that insects captured via ingenious traps. However, carnivorous plants room able to endure without capturing prey, back their rates of expansion will be negatively affected. This mirrors that carnivorous tree are mostly producers, yet able to step outside of this box and also simultaneously act as consumers.