Consumer (food chain)
Consumers are organisms of an ecological food chain that receive energy by consuming other organisms. These organisms are formally referred to as heterotrophs, which include animals, some bacteria and fungi. Such organisms may consume by various means, including herbivory, predation, parasitization, and biodegradation.
The 3 Levels
Within an ecological food chain, consumers are categorized into three groups: primary consumers, secondary consumers, and the tertiary consumers. Primary consumers are herbivores, feeding on plants. Secondary consumers, on the other hand, are carnivores, and prey on other animals. Omnivores, who feed on both plants and animals, can also be considered a secondary consumer. Tertiary consumers, sometimes also known as apex predators, are usually at the top of food chains, capable of feeding on secondary consumers and primary consumers. Tertiary consumers can be either fully carnivorous or omnivorous.
Importance to the ecosystem
Consumers have important roles to play within an ecosystem such as balancing the food chain by keeping plant populations at a reasonable number. Without proper balance, an ecosystem can collapse and cause the decline of all affected species. This will lead to a severely disrupted ecosystem and a nonfunctional consumer web.
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