An organism has a trophic level, or the number of steps it is from the start of the food chain, which is called the phylum level. In Environmental studies, the Trophic level is one of the most important lessons which we should know about. A food web starts at trophic level 1 with primary producers such as plants, can move to herbivores at level 2, carnivores at level 3 or higher, and typically finishes with apex predators at level 4 or 5. The number of steps an organism travels through the level is called its life history at that trophic level. Occasionally, two organisms, predator and prey, will occupy the same trophic level and will be called a level predator and prey.
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How do trophic levels form?
The trophic level is formed by the various organisms of the ecosystem as they are linked based on food and its contained energy, in a chain-like manner. The trophic level of an ecosystem is the position an organism occupies in the food chain. While there is an organism at the bottom of the food chain, e.g., bacteria, there also exist organisms at the top of the food chain, e.g., higher organisms that feed upon the bacteria as it is absorbed. These higher organisms include parasites that have been attached to the bacteria and carnivorous organisms which consume the parasites and lower the metabolic activity of the host.
How important are trophic levels?
From a production point of view, trophic levels are important not only for a plant’s health but also for that any other potential consumers in that system. For example, a plant’s health may be dependent for its survival on the products of others (like sunlight absorbed by the leaves), and it may depend on other species occupying that niches in the local ecosystem to absorb sunlight, help produce oxygen for the plant and/or yield proteins that the plant can use to survive (like cellulose).
There are two big advantages of trophic levels. First, they show consumers that the food source is consistently there and available. Second, they show consumers how much work is required to attract (feed) the consumers; there will be an energy cost to attracting consumers.
Types of Trophic levels
There are four levels of trophic levels in animals.
Level 1: Autotrophs, a group of organisms that include algae and some bacteria and fungi, are self-sufficient in producing nutrients. That means they derive their energy from the bacteria and other organisms they parasitize.
Level 2: Primary producers are usually large grazers that limit their activities depending upon their availability and landscape-level conditions. They do not supplement their diets with human food sources; they specialize in plants and animals that are more abundant in their local environments.
Level 3: Secondary consumers are organisms that live in a relationship with an organism that provides either directly or indirectly for their food and/or other resources. These relationships are known as trophic levels.
Level 4: Tertiary consumers are animals that obtain their nutrition by eating primary consumers and secondary consumers. Usually, tertiary consumers are carnivorous predators, although they may also be omnivores, which are animals that feed on both meat and plant material.