Difference between Food Chain and Food Web

The food chain is the part of the natural ecosystem in which food, nutrients, and energy are transmitted from one organism to another organism whereas the food web is a system in which numerous food chains are interconnected with each other.

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In an ecosystem, all living organisms depend on each other for food which develops a food chain and in this way, they survive and reproduce. But organisms cannot depend on only one type of food chain so they have to interact with another type of food chain which eventually leads to the formation of a food web. All types of food chains have sunlight, producer, consumer, and decomposer as its components.

Comparison Chart

Basis for Comparison Food Chain Food Web
Definition Food chain can be defined as the single and straight pathway for the transfer of nutrients and energy in ecosystem. Food web can be defined as a convoluted and complicated pathway of numerous food chains for the transfer of nutrients and energy in an ecosystem.
Number of chains Single straight  food chain Numerous interconnecting chains
Stability Instability starts because of an increasing number of separate and confined food chains Presence of separate complex food chains provides stability in a food web
Disturbances arising factors Disturbance can arise only affecting by one organism The food web cannot be affected by the removal or disturbance of a single organism.
Feed upon Member of higher trophic level feeds upon a member of lower trophic level Member of higher trophic level feeds upon more than one organism of lower trophic level
Trophic level It contains only 4 or 6 trophic levels Numerous trophic levels
Types Detritus food chain, grazing food chain No type
Example The grass is eaten by grasshopper, the grasshopper is eaten by a toad, the toad is eaten by a snake and the snake is eaten by a hawk.
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What is the Food Chain?

A food chain is a hierarchy of food or energy transfer in the ecosystem where one type of organism eats another type and is then eaten by another type of organisms. Various levels of organisms in a food chain are called as trophic levels. The two major types of trophic levels in a food chain are autotrophs and heterotrophs. A food chain is the connection of autotroph with heterotroph.

Autotrophs are the primary producers of an ecosystem so they appear at the primary level of each food chain and food web. The two types of autotrophs are photoautotrophs and chemoautotrophs. Photoautotrophs use energy from the sunlight to produce simple organic compounds such as algae, plant, and cyanobacteria while chemoautotrophs use energy from chemicals to synthesize simple organic compounds such as bacteria.

Heterotrophs are other organisms that feed on primary producers are collectively known as heterotrophs. They are unable to capture energy to produce organic matter so they consume organic compounds that are produced by primary producers. Herbivores are called primary consumers since they directly feed on the plant matter. Carnivores are called secondary consumers since they consume both plant and animal matter to obtain energy. Omnivores show the final consumer level since they only consume animal matter and are called tertiary consumers. Some food chains have an apex consumer that shows a quaternary consumer level. Decomposers represent another significant trophic level of a food chain but they are not always appearing in a food chain. Sometimes, they are regarded as a separate trophic level since they consume decaying plant and animal matter.

The food chain is of two types based on the sequence of transfer of energy; grazing food chain and detritus food chain.

The grazing food chain has producers, primary consumers and secondary consumers as components. This food chain starts with the green plants (producers) which can prepare food with the help of sunlight, water, and air. Green plants are eaten by the first consumers and first consumers are eventually eaten by the secondary consumers.

On the other hand, the detritus food chain starts with the dead organic matter which was produced in the grazing food chain. The waste material such as dead bodies of animals or fallen leaves is eaten by the decomposers. At last the organic matter gets decomposed by their predators. Energy flows in a large amount in this food chain.

What is Food Web?

A food web is an interconnection of food chains in an aquatic or terrestrial ecosystem. Each and every organism is part of numerous food chains and each food chain is one possible route for food and energy to take within an ecosystem. It shows plants and animals are connected by different paths that are significant for their survival. Each component of the food web is important. Missing one part can arise danger for the survival of others. Food webs are used as models of actual ecosystems as they systemically and accurately group different species according to the same prey and predators they have on the food web.

A food web has different levels. At the bottom are the basal species, which include organism autotrophs and detrivores. Autotrophs make their own food while detrivores decompose organic matter. Organisms of intermediate level eat both animals and plants of different trophic levels. These organisms cause energy to pass through different pathways that initially start from basal species. At the very top, alpha predators are present which have no natural predators.

Key Differences between Food Chain and Food Web

  1. Food chains show only one consumer of an organism whereas the food web shows multiple consumers of an organism.
  2. A food chain may consist of 4 to 6 trophic levels whereas a food web consists of numerous trophic levels.
  3. In a food chain, disturbance at a single level can disturb the whole food chain whereas, in a food web, disturbance at a single trophic level or organism does not disturb the whole food web.
  4. The food chain increases the instability of an ecosystem whereas the food web increases the stability of the whole ecosystem.
  5. In a food chain, a member of a higher trophic level can feeds on only one type of organism from a lower level whereas, in a food web, members of higher trophic level feeds on several organisms.
  6. The food chain does not improve the competitiveness and adaptability of organisms whereas the food web improves the competitiveness and adaptability of organisms.

Key Similarities

  1. Both food chain and food web describe the flow of energy in a given ecosystem.
  2. Both food chain and food web starts with the producer and then flow through primary and secondary consumers.
  3. All trophic levels of both occupy the same habitat at the same time.


In conclusion, the food chain and food web are interlinked terms. A food chain is a component of the food web. But both have many differences to be described.

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