Autotrophs and heterotrophs: their role in the ecosystem

All living creatures on Earth need food in order to survive. Food is not only what people and animals eat, it’s also minerals and that it absorbs plants. The opinion that plants are the initial source of food would be a great understatement, since they also need to be fed for survival. Everything was created by nature in such a way that living beings could harmoniously coexist with each other. In simple terms, autotrophs and heterotrophs are plants and animals that differ in their feeding habits.


For plants, food is starch and nutrients that are extracted from soil and sunlight. They do not need to engage in the search for food, it will be enough just to use their own innate abilities and characteristics to obtain the necessary nutrients for growth and development. Autotrophs are plants that get their food from rain, soil and sunlight.

An important role in supplying cells with nutrients and minerals is played by photosynthesis (the use of light), as well as chemosynthesis (chemical energy). During these complex processes, “raw” nutrients and minerals are transformed into special cells that absorb sunlight and transform it into energy. Autotrophs are also referred to as manufacturers.

autotrophs and heterotrophs


Heterotrophs are organisms that are unable to independently synthesize their food. This includes animals and humans, that is, consumers who need external sources of food. The development of energy for the preservation of life and the proper functioning of the body require the absorption and digestion of food. Without these processes, heterotrophs simply could not exist.

Heterotrophs are also called consumers. This includes herbivores (for example, cattle, deer, elephants and so on), carnivores (lion, snakes and sharks, all those who feed on other animals), as well as omnivores (humans). Earthworms that eat the remains of dead plants and animals, fungi are also considered to be heterotrophs.

Autotrophs, heterotrophs: comparative characteristics

Autotrophs get carbon from inorganic sources, such as carbon dioxide (CO2), while heterotrophs get their share of carbon from other organisms. Autotrophs are usually plants, heterotrophs - animals. Autotrophs and heterotrophs differ from each other in many respects. Autotrophs create their own food through photosynthesis or chemosynthesis using the non-living components of an ecosystem.

autotrophic and heterotrophic organisms

Heterotrophs depend on autotrophs in the food plan. Autotrophs are directly dependent on energy from the sun and convert inorganic matter into organic matter. Heterotrophs depend on solar energy only indirectly, while organic matter is acquired from autotrophs and used in metabolic processes.

Photosynthesis and chemosynthesis

In the process of photosynthesis, autotrophs use the energy of the sun to convert water from the soil and carbon dioxide from air to glucose. The latter provides energy and is used to create cellulose (which is indispensable for the construction of cell membranes), for example, by plants, algae, phytoplankton and some bacteria.Insectivorous plants use photosynthesis to produce energy, but they also depend on other organisms to produce nutrients such as nitrogen, potassium, and phosphorus. Consequently, these plants are also considered autotrophs.

Chemotrophs use the energy produced by chemical reactions to produce food. Hydrogen sulfide (methane with oxygen) most often reacts. Carbon dioxide is the main carbon source for chemotrophs. An example would be bacteria found in active volcanoes, hot springs, geysers and on the seabed. These organisms survive in the most extreme conditions.

Food chain

Autotrophs do not depend on other organisms, they themselves are the main producer and occupy the initial level of the food chain. Herbivores that feed on autotrophs occupy the second trophic level. Next are omnivores and carnivorous heterotrophs. Finally, at the top of the food chain is a person who uses to feed both the first and second.

autotrophs chemotrophic heterotrophs

Biological organisms of autotrophs and heterotrophs are two types of ecosystem biotic components,that interact with each other. All living organisms can be classified as autotrophs or heterotrophs. In an ecosystem, the flow of energy from one organism to another is described by the concept of the food chain. Each organism, depending on the next organism in terms of food, forms a linear sequence through which energy passes from one organism to another. Simply put, the food chain shows who eats whom.

role of heterotrophs and autotrophs

Autotrophs, heterotrophs, chemotrophs: the role in the ecosystem

All food chains begin at the producer level. Primary consumers eat producers for energy. Primary consumers are eaten by secondary consumers; secondary consumers are eaten by tertiary consumers and so on.

A common example for explaining the concept of a food chain is an ecosystem where grass is the producer, and a mouse that eats grass becomes the main consumer. The mouse turns out to be prey for the snake, which becomes a secondary consumer. Eagles eat snakes and become tertiary consumers.

The role of heterotrophs and autotrophs, as well as chemotrophs in nature, cannot be overestimated.Dead animals decompose and nutrients return to the soil. This cycle of nutrient flow from one level to the next is periodically repeated between the biotic and non-living components of the ecosystem.

Despite the many differences, autotrophs and heterotrophs are directly dependent on each other. In order to survive in the global sense of the word, they are simply necessary for each other, as they are one of the most important components of the ecosystem, although, in theory, chemotrophs and autotrophs could exist without heterotrophs, but the latter will not survive without foreign life energy.

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