Food webs

 

A food web is the archetypal ecological network. Plants capture solar energy and use it to synthesize simple sugars during photosynthesis. As plants grow, they accumulate nutrients and are eaten by grazing herbivores, and the energy is transferred through a chain of organisms by consumption. The simplified linear feeding pathways that move from a basal trophic species to a top consumer is called the food chain. The larger interlocking pattern of food chains in an ecological community creates a complex food web. Food webs are a type of concept map or a heuristic device that is used to illustrate and study pathways of energy and material flows.
Food webs are often limited relative to the real world. Complete empirical measurements are generally restricted to a specific habitat, such as a cave or a pond, and principles gleaned from food web microcosm studies are extrapolated to larger systems. Feeding relations require extensive investigations into the gut contents of organisms, which can be difficult to decipher, or stable isotopes can be used to trace the flow of nutrient diets and energy through a food web. Despite these limitations, food webs remain a valuable tool in understanding community ecosystems.
Food webs exhibit principles of ecological emergence through the nature of trophic relationships: some species have many weak feeding links (e.g., omnivores) while some are more specialized with fewer stronger feeding links (e.g., primary predators). Theoretical and empirical studies identify non-random emergent patterns of few strong and many weak linkages that explain how ecological communities remain stable over time. Food webs are composed of subgroups where members in a community are linked by strong interactions, and the weak interactions occur between these subgroups. This increases food web stability. Step by step lines or relations are drawn until a web of life is illustrated.