8 Differences Between Food Chain and Food Web (With Similarities)

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Plant and animal species depends on another plant or animal species for its existence. For example cow eating shrub leaves or lions eating the gazelle or bees taking pollen from a flower. Both food chain and food web describes how energy and nutrients flow in an ecosystem. Also both food web and food chain help as to understand the living organisms within an ecosystem and how energy is balanced in an ecosystem. In this article, learn the difference between food chain and food web. The basis of comparison include: description, energy flow, ecosystem stability, Trophic levels, competitiveness and feeding relationship.

The Difference

Description

A food chain is a linear sequence of organisms through which nutrients and energy pass as one organism eats another. The sequence of organisms starts from producer organisms and ends with decomposer species.

A food web is a natural interconnection of food chains and a graphical representation of what-eats-what in an ecological community. It implies the transfer of food energy from its primary source (plants) through herbivores to carnivores.

Energy Flow

A food chain is a single, linear pathway of energy and nutrient flow in an ecosystem whereas a food web consists of a number of interconnected pathways through which nutrients and energy flows within an ecosystem.

Ecosystem Stability  

Given in a food chain, energy travels in a single pathway, isolation or separation of a food chain results to instability in the ecosystem. What this means is that, when one organism is removed from the food chain, energy and nutrient flow is greatly affected.

Given that a food web is complex and interlinked, isolation or separation of some food chains that make up the food web does not affect the ecosystem stability. What this means is that removal of one organism from the food web does not affect energy and nutrient flow in the ecosystem and therefore, a food web guarantees ecosystem stability.

Trophic Levels

Trophic level of an organism in an ecosystem is the number of steps it is from the start of the chain. A food chain start at trophic level 1 with primary producers such as plants, then herbivores at level 2, carnivores at level 3 or higher and typically finish with apex predators at level 4, 5 or 6. Well, a food chain may consist of between 4 to 6 trophic levels while a food web may consist of numerous trophic levels.

Adaptability and Competitiveness

Food chains in its entirety may not have an impact on enhancing the adaptability and competitiveness of the organisms in the ecosystem because food energy travels in a single pathway.

Given that food web has an interlink of many food chains, it has an impact on enhancing the adaptability and competitiveness of organisms in the ecosystem.

Feeding Relationship

Usually in every ecosystem, organisms are linked through feeding relationships. There may be numerous feeding relationships in an ecosystem, but energy will always flow from primary producers to various consumers. In a food chain, usually members of higher trophic level feed upon a single type of organisms of lower trophic level, whereas in a food web, members of higher trophic level feed upon many organisms of lower trophic level.

Also Read: Difference Between Heterotrophic and Autotrophic Mode Of Nutrition

The Difference Between Food Chain and Food Web in Tabular Form

BASIS OF DIFFERENCE FOOD CHAIN FOOD WEB
Description A food chain is a linear sequence of organisms through which nutrients and energy pass as one organism eats another. The sequence of organisms starts from producer organisms and ends with decomposer species.   A food web is a natural interconnection of food chains and a graphical representation of what-eats-what in an ecological community. It implies the transfer of food energy from its primary source (plants) through herbivores to carnivores.  
Energy Flow A food chain is a single, linear pathway of energy and nutrient flow in an ecosystem. A food web consists of a number of interconnected pathways through which nutrients and energy flows within an ecosystem.  
Ecosystem Stability In a food chain, energy travels in a single pathway, isolation or separation of a food chain results to instability in the ecosystem. What this means is that, when one organism is removed from the food chain, energy and nutrient flow is greatly affected.   Food web is complex and interlinked, isolation or separation of some food chains that make up the food web does not affect the ecosystem stability. What this means is that removal of one organism from the food web does not affect energy and nutrient flow in the ecosystem and therefore, a food web guarantees ecosystem stability.  
Trophic Levels A food chain may consist of between 4 to 6 trophic levels.   A food web may consist of numerous trophic levels.  
Adaptability & Competitiveness Food chains in its entirety may not have an impact on enhancing the adaptability and competitiveness of the organisms in the ecosystem because food energy travels in a single pathway.   Food web has an interlink of many food chains, it has an impact on enhancing the adaptability and competitiveness of organisms in the ecosystem.  
Feeding Relationship Members of higher trophic level feed upon a single type of organisms of lower trophic level.   Members of higher trophic level feed upon many organisms of lower trophic level.  
Producers, Consumers & Predators A food chain starts from one producer and ends one top producer.   Food web has many producers, consumers and numerous predators at top trophic levels.

What are the similarities between food web and food chain?

  1. Both food web and food chain depicts how energy and nutrients flow in an ecosystem.
  2. Both food chain and food web have lines that connect various species in the ecosystem.
  3. Both food web and food chain begin from primary producers.
  4. Both help to understand interaction and feeding relationship between different organisms in an ecosystem.
  5. Both can help to explain population patterns in a ecosystem.

Summary

What is the main characteristic of a food chain and food web?

Food chain and food web depicts feeding relationship as well as the interaction between the organisms in the ecosystem.