Swati Talwar

Trophic Levels Study Guide

🗻 Big Picture: A trophic level refers to a pyramidal classification of each organism occupying different levels of the food web, comprising distinct food chains based on the nutrient needs of each organism. They are arranged in a sequence of progress in the ecosystem.

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Trophic levels make up the different steps in the food chain in an ecosystem, where one organism feeds on the other for survival. It illustrates the feeding behavior of different strata or groups of species.

What are the different trophic levels?

Trophic levels comprise the nutritive arrangement or food chain of the ecosystem. Here, the organisms are ranked based on their food requirements.

1. First Trophic Level: Autotrophs

The first level consists of green algae and plants (the producers), also known as autotrophs. They utilize solar energy through photosynthesis and don't depend upon other animals for fulfilling their food requirement. Autotrophs are consumed by heterotrophs.

2. Second Trophic Level: Primary Consumers

Herbivores are placed in this trophic level of the food chain. They depend upon the autotrophs to meet their food requirements and include organisms like insects, cows, and pigs.

3. Third Trophic Level: Secondary Consumers

Commonly known as carnivores, secondary consumers consume other animals. Examples include rats, spiders, and fish.

4. Fourth Trophic Level: Tertiary Consumers

Tertiary consumers eat primary and secondary consumers to fulfill their nutrient needs. They obtain their energies from meat, and include animals like hyenas, dolphins, and sharks.

5. Fifth Trophic Level: Quaternary Consumers

Commonly known as apex predators, quaternary consumers stand at the top of the food web. Examples include humans, wolves, lions, and orca.

trophic level Source

What can influence trophic levels?

Different organisms' traits and eating habits can affect the ecosystem, and can change the dynamism in the food web. The number of species and their interactions with each other can bring about effective change in the structure of the food web.

Trophic levels Source

Other factors such as biotic or abiotic triggers influence the food web at different trophic levels. The structural level of the food web keeps on fluctuating, and changes take place in the energy levels at different trophic levels.

✅ Conclusion

  • The different trophic levels portray a food web pyramid position occupied by different organisms with similar yet different feeding needs and methods.

  • Energy flows from the lowest trophic level (primary producers) to the top (apex predators).

  • A trophic pyramid, sometimes also known as the energy pyramid, can be termed an ecological pyramid.

  • Trophic levels depict a hierarchical situation where various species are categorized depending on their food needs.

  • It is better to term it as a food web that comprises a different level of food chains, as every organism here needs unalike nutrient requirements to attain its needs.


1. What are the 4th and 5th trophic levels?

The 4th and 5th trophic levels are comprised of top or apex predators.

2. How many trophic levels are there?

There are five trophic levels in the ecosystem.

3. What is the 4th trophic level?

The organisms or species of these strata are mainly the carnivores and omnivores who consumes the secondary consumers.

4. What is the 6th trophic level?

The sixth trophic level can be described as the decomposers or detritivores, the species that prey on the remains of dead animals and plants. This process helps transform nutrients, which the plants can later utilize for their growth. Fungi, bacteria, earthworms that replenish the lost nutrients of the trophic pyramid, and hence, play a vital role in balancing the ecosystem.

5. What are the trophic levels in the food chain?

A trophic level is composed of organisms within the biological trophic system of the food chain; Each stratum differs in eating habits of various species, energy consumed, energy utilized, and nutrient needs fulfilled.

The starting source of the trophic level in the ecosystem is the sun, which gets utilized by autotrophs. The other below trophic level is known as heterotrophs that cannot manufacture their food hence; has to depend upon the autotrophs to fulfill their food needs.

6. How do you know what trophic level you are at?

Human beings may belong to the 3rd, 4th, or 5th trophic levels depending upon their eating habits. Some may be herbivores who eat plants, while others may consume both plants and animals.

We hope you enjoyed studying this lesson and learned something cool about Trophic levels! Join our Discord community to get any questions you may have answered and to engage with other students just like you! Don't forget to download our App and check out our awesome VR room for this guide - we promise it makes studying much more fun 😎


  1. Trophic Levels. https://www.sciencedirect.com/topics/earth-and-planetary-sciences/trophic-level. Accessed on 6 Dec 2021.

  2. Tropic Level. https://www.britannica.com/science/trophic-level. Accessed on 6 Dec 2021.

  3. Trophic Level. https://flexbooks.ck12.org/cbook/ck-12-biology-flexbook-2.0/section/6.4/primary/lesson/trophic-levels-bio/. Accessed on 6 Dec 2021.

  4. Trophic level. https://www.biologyonline.com/dictionary/trophic-level. Accessed on 6 Dec 2021.