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Sequence of transfer of matter and energy from organism to organism in the form of food. These interconnected feeding relationships intertwine locally into a food web because most organisms consume or are consumed by more than one other type of organism. Plants and other photosynthetic organisms (such as phytoplankton), which convert solar energy to food, are the primary food source. In a predator chain, a plant-eating animal is eaten by a larger animal. In a parasite chain (seeparasitism), a smaller organism consumes part of a larger host and may itself be parasitized by even smaller organisms. In a saprophytic chain, microorganisms live on dead organic matter. Because energy, in the form of heat, is lost at each step, or trophic level, chains do not normally encompass more than four or five trophic levels.
This entry comes from Encyclopædia Britannica Concise. For the full entry on food chain, visit Britannica.com.