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Building a food chain

 
Ages
1012141618+

A food chain is an organized series of living things linked together by an alimentary (food related) relationship.  Animals draw the energy needed for survival from their food.

At the base of such a chain one finds the producers. These are terrestrial  plants or aquatic ones (algae, phytoplankton). They make their own organic matter from nutrients, CO2, and light (photosynthesis).

The animals situated one step up on the chain are the first level consumers: the herbivores.  They are the prey of the second level consumers: the carnivores.

A carnivore that doesn’t have any predators is called an apex predator. These are situated at the top of the chain.

An arrow stands for “…is eaten by…”. A food chain is made up of links that can also be part of other chains. They are branches of a vast alimentary network.

This animation omits the  role of decomposers. These are organisms and microorganisms that degrade dead organic matter (wastes, dead plants and animals). They provide the larger part of the nutrients that are recycled by the producers.

Click on the « arrows » button to obtain an arrow.

Click on an animal to place the tail of the arrow, then click on another animal to place the arrow's head.

Click and drag the animals to move them around.

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  • To classify organisms according to their role in a food chain: producers, herbivores, carnivores, apex predators.
  • To teach the interdependence among all of the organisms inside an ecosystem.
  • To mention that many chains exist within the same ecosystem. A food chain is a branch of an alimentary network.
  • To approach the notions of trophic network and food web.
  • To approach the notions of predator and prey.

Guide - Download

At the elementary level:

Ask the class to define the terms “prey” and “predator”, at first using an example and then a sentence (“the predator eats the prey”).

One could ask each child to draw his/her example.

The teacher defines the prey/predator couple using one of the examples from the class.  He/she explains the close relationship between a prey organism and its predator, and introduces the notion of a food chain. An arrow is used to indicate that one organism eats the other. The arrow means “…is eaten by …”.

The prey organism could also be the predator of another living organism, or might feed on plants. The teacher asks the class to complete this food chain through four or five links, without forgetting the arrows between links. The terms “Producer”, “herbivore”, “carnivore” and “Apex Predator” are defined.

The teacher projects the animation for the whole class and uses it as an interactive exercise for going deeper into each of the terms, and to apply the notions that have been taught.

The teacher can also approach the notion of an alimentary network (there are  many chains within any ecosystem) and, above all, the fragile equilibrium that exists here. The class can be asked  about the effects of a predator being removed.  Edumedia’s animation “Food Web” could be pertinent here.

To conclude, the teacher opens other areas for reflection:

  • The notion of energy: “Why does an animal eat other animals (or plants)? : to feed is to obtain the energy needed for survival.
  • The animations presented ignore certain abiotic but essential factors (light, CO2, humus for the growth of plants,  water and the quality of that water, temperature …) In addition, the decomposers should be mentioned.