Consumers

All animals, most protists, all fungi, and many bacteria are het-erotrophs. Unlike autotrophs, heterotrophs cannot manufacture their own food. Instead, they get energy by eating other organisms or organic wastes. Ecologically speaking, heterotrophs are consumers. They obtain energy by consuming organic molecules made by other organisms. Consumers can be grouped according to the type of food they eat. Herbivores eat producers. An antelope that eats grass is a herbivore. Carnivores eat other consumers. Lions, cobras, and praying mantises are examples of carnivores. Omnivores eat both producers and consumers. The grizzly bear, whose diet ranges from berries to salmon, is an omnivore.

Detritivores (dee-TRIET-uh-VAWRZ) are consumers that feed on the "garbage" of an ecosystem. This waste, or detritus, includes organisms that have recently died, fallen leaves, and animal wastes. The vulture shown in Figure 18-8 is a detritivore. Many bacteria and fungi are detritivores that cause decay by breaking down complex molecules into simpler molecules. So, they are specifically called decomposers. Some of the molecules released during decay are absorbed by the decomposers, and some are returned to the soil or water. Decomposers make the nutrients that were contained in detritus available again to the autotrophs in the ecosystem. Thus, the process of decomposition recycles chemical nutrients.

Word Roots and Origins omnivore from the Latin omnis, meaning "all," and-vore, meaning "one who eats"

figure 18-8

This turkey vulture, Cathartes aura, is a detritivore that consumes dead animals. Detritivores play the important role of cleaning up dead organisms and aiding decomposition.

figure 18-8

This turkey vulture, Cathartes aura, is a detritivore that consumes dead animals. Detritivores play the important role of cleaning up dead organisms and aiding decomposition.

Hawk

Snake

Mouse

Hawk

Snake

Mouse figure 18-9

Grass

Energy is transferred from one organism to another in a food chain. The food chain shown above begins with a producer, grass, and ends with a carnivore, a hawk.

Grass

Energy is transferred from one organism to another in a food chain. The food chain shown above begins with a producer, grass, and ends with a carnivore, a hawk.

figure 18-10

Because a large carnivore may be at the top of several food chains, it is helpful to show as many feeding relationships as possible in a food-web diagram. Not all organisms are listed in the food web. For example, no decomposers are shown.

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