Food Webs Portray Nature’s Energy Flow

You might be curious what connections in Nature actually looks like. Through the use of food webs, I hope that this blog post will give you that picture.

The main theme of this web site can be summarized with these three statements:

  • Everything in Nature in interconnected.
  • Connections in Nature are the conduits for energy flow within Nature.
  • Good conservation focuses on the identification, the understanding, and the preservation of connections in Nature

Energy is the fuel of life. From the smallest cells in our bodies to huge elephant herds, every living thing, needs energy to live. The energy that is contained in the living cells of our bodies, in the food that we eat, or in sunlight, flows from one organism to the next.

Connections in Nature are the conduits for this energy flow. Wherever there is a large or a small group of living things, you will find that Nature’s communities are connected together in many different ways in order to transport and process energy that is typically in the form of food.

It is these relationships that define biodiversity between living organisms. If plants and animals within an ecosystem have many energy conduits we can say that they live within a biodiverse ecosystem. This means that if one energy connection were, within the group of many connections, destroyed, chances are small that this act would affect the entire ecosystem.

We can learn a lot about connections in Nature by creating a food web diagram of any ecosystem that you might be studying. The food web diagram illustrates a network of creatures that are bound together in order to transport and transform the essential energy of life. The food web helps us understand the dynamics of food energy flow within in an ecosystem. It portrays the feeding relationships among species within a community. It illustrates species interactions and community structure.

This diagram portrays the food web for the southern Atlantic Ocean north of Antarctica.

antarctic food webs

This food web visualizes the energy flow within this ecosystem. It illustratess how food energy flows between creatures. The lines in this diagram represent the conduits that transport food energy from one organism to the next.

As you can probably see, all organisms in this food web have some role to play in the resulting ecosystem. Any change in the food energy flow between organisms can cause problems for the whole food web.

From microscopic organisms to the great whales, the image in this diagram portrays the complexity of the food web in the Southern Atlantic Ocean. The heavy line that runs through the diagram represents the direct energy links between the krill ( a shrimp-like creature) and other creatures. If you look carefully, you will see the energy network that starts with the microorganisms that are eaten by krill and ends with the large whales eating the krill. Throughout the energy network, other creatures also eat the krill. These creatures are then eaten by other creatures.

What would happen to this large, biodiverse ecosystem if the krill were to disappear because of reduced solar energy, climate change, or other changes in Nature due to man’s carelessness? Mentally, remove that heavy line which represents the food energy connection that krill provides. How many different species would disappear?

The humble krill is called a keystone species because it is a vitally important part of the chain of energy flow from small creatures all the way to the great whales. All of these creatures would disappear if the krill disappears.

Modern science is currently exerting a great deal of effort to fully understand the structural and functional details of food webs. While energy, in the form of food, is the key driving force that causes creatures to assemble in a network such as the one portrayed in this blog post, there are other factors that add to the complexity and help define the structure and function of food webs. These factors include the environment, the terrain, safety, predation, and mutual benefits resulting from species interactions. The result is a highly complex and unpredictable network of relationships. Nonetheless, this food web helps you identify important energy flow conduits. By identifying and preserving these conduits, you are conserving this ecosystem.

Worth Your Extra Attention :

Thanks for reading this blog post.

There is a section in my blog entitled “Musings”. You can reach it by clicking on the menu tab near the top of my blog site. This area contains my growing list of posts that list web material that I have found interesting. You might stop by an take a look.

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My name is Bill Graham. As a Marine Biologist who has worked in the US and Mexico for 30 years, I am a student of Nature, a teacher, a researcher, and a nature photographer. Through my work, I have acquired an ever growing passion for how everything in Nature is connected. Today, I travel extensively contemplating about, writing about, and photographing Nature’s connections. I also work with conservation projects in the USA and Mexico and mentor talented youth.

3 Responses to “Food Webs Portray Nature’s Energy Flow”

  1. “Great things come in small packages.”

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  1. In Nature, Change Is Normal - Nature's Tangled Web - […] two previous posts, Visualizing Connections In Nature and The Architecture of Biodiversity, described Nature as a highly interconnected network…

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