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All biological communities have a basic structure of interaction that forms a trophic pyramid. The trophic pyramid is made up of trophic levels, and food energy is passed from one level to the next along… The base of the pyramid The organisms that make up the base level of the pyramid vary from community to community.
In terrestrial communities, multicellular plants generally form the base of the pyramid, whereas in freshwater lakes a combination of multicellular plants and single-celled algae constitute the first trophic level.
The trophic structure of the ocean is built on planktonspecifically phytoplankton flora that use carbon dioxiderelease oxygenand convert minerals to a form animals can use. Zooplanktonsuch as krillalso play important roles, both as consumers of phytoplankton and as food for a wide variety of marine animals.
There are some exceptions to this general plan. Many freshwater streams have detritus rather than living plants as their energy base. Detritus is composed of leaves and other plant parts that fall into the water from surrounding terrestrial communities.
It is broken down by microorganisms, and the microorganism-rich detritus is eaten by aquatic invertebrateswhich are in turn eaten by vertebrates. The most unusual biological communities of all are those surrounding hydrothermal vents on the ocean floor.
These vents result from volcanic activity and the movement of continental plates, which create cracks in the seafloor. Sulfur-oxidizing bacteria chemoautotrophs thrive in the warm, sulfur-rich water surrounding these cracks. The bacteria use reduced sulfur as an energy source for the fixation of carbon dioxide.
Unlike all other known biological communities on Earth, the energy that forms the base of these deep-sea communities comes from chemosynthesis rather than from photosynthesis ; the ecosystem is thus supported by geothermal energy rather than solar energy.
Some species surrounding these vents feed on these bacteria, but other species have formed long-term, reciprocally beneficial relationships mutualistic symbioses with sulfur bacteria. These species harbour the chemoautotrophic bacteria within their bodies and derive nutrition directly from them.
The biological communities surrounding these vents are so different from those in the rest of the ocean that since the s, when biological research of these vents began, about new species have been described, and there are many more that remain undescribed—i.
Among the described species there are at least 75 new genera, 15 new families, one new order, one new class, and even one new phylum.
Food chains and food webs Because all species are specialized in their diets, each trophic pyramid is made up of a series of interconnected feeding relationships called food chains.
Most food chains consist of three or four trophic levels.
A typical sequence may be plant, herbivorecarnivoretop carnivore; another sequence is plant, herbivore, parasite of the herbivore, and parasite of the parasite. Many herbivores, detritivores, carnivores, and parasites, however, eat more than one species, and a large number of animal species eat different foods at different stages of their life histories.
In addition, many species eat both plants and animals and therefore feed at more than one trophic level. Consequently, food chains combine into highly complex food webs. Even a simplified food web can show a complicated network of trophic relationships.
Generalized aquatic food web.
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The trophic level of an organism is the position it occupies in a food chain.A food chain is a succession of organisms that eat other organisms and may, in turn, be eaten themselves. The trophic level of an organism is the number of steps it is from the start of the chain.