Food Chains in the Great Lakes
- Producers: Plants form the base of Great Lakes food chains. They're called producers, because they make their own food by converting sunlight through photosynthesis. They also act as food, providing energy for other organisms. In the Great Lakes, most producers are phytoplankton, or microscopic floating plants. An example of phytoplankton is green algae. Large rooted plants, another type of producer, provide food and shelter for different organisms, fish and wildlife.
- Primary Consumers: The next level in the food chain is made up of primary consumers, or organisms that eat food produced by other organisms. Examples of primary consumers include zooplankton, ducks, tadpoles, mayfly nymphs and small crustaceans.
- Secondary Consumers: Secondary consumers make up the third level of the food chain. Secondary consumers feed on smaller, plant-eating animals (primary consumers). Examples of secondary consumers include water mites, bluegill, small fish, crayfish and frogs.
- Top Predators: Top predators are at the top of the food chain. Top predators eat plants, primary consumers and/or secondary consumers. They can be carnivores or omnivores. Top predators typically sit atop the food chain without predators of their own. Examples include fish such as lake trout, walleye, pike and bass, birds such as herons, gull and red tailed hawks, bears - and humans!
At the base of the aquatic food web are:
- Plankton: Plankton are microscopic plants and animals whose movements are largely dependent upon currents. Plankton are the foundation of the aquatic food web. Plankton are vital in the food supplies of fish, aquatic birds, reptiles, amphibians and mammals.
- Food Webs: In reality, many different food chains interact to form complex food webs. This complexity may help to ensure a species' survival in nature. If one organism in a chain becomes scarce, another may be able to assume its role. In general, the diversity of organisms that do similar things provides a type of safety, and may allow an ecological community to continue to function in a similar way, even when one species becomes scarce. However, some changes in one part of the food web may have effects at various trophic levels, or any of the feeding levels that energy passes through as it continues through the ecosystem.
- Phytoplankton: Plant plankton are called phytoplankton and may be single cells or colonies. Several environmental factors influence the growth of phytoplankton: temperature, sunlight, the availability of organic or inorganic nutrients, and predation by herbivores (plant eaters).
- Zooplankton: Animal plankton are called zooplankton. Zooplankton can move on their own, but their movement is overpowered by currents. Zooplankton may be herbivores or plant-eaters (eat phytoplankton), carnivores or meat eaters (eat other zooplankton) or omnivores, which eat both plants and animals (eat phytoplankton and zooplankton).