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What Is the Definition of an Energy Pyramid?

"What is the definition of an energy pyramid?" A graphical energy pyramid is a rendering that categorizes the utilization of energy and depicts the Earth's primary food chains. The energy pyramid shows the four essential categories of living organisms on the planet and how they transfer energy from the sun to support life on Earth.

energy pyramid

What is the definition of an energy pyramid? An energy pyramid is comprised for four levels that categorize the food chain, and energy flow, in the ecosystem. Each level on an energy pyramid is known as a tropic level.

The first level is comprised of primary energy producers, also known as plants. Producers are defined as those who can create energy from inorganic raw materials. Plants, through a process of photosynthesis, take energy from the sun and use it to not only sustain its own life, but also as a support to other life forms. The plants are most plentiful in this food chain, or energy pyramid, and thus comprise the base, or largest portion of the pyramid. A perfect example of the base of this pyramid, is grass, which employs photosynthesis and is plentiful in the ecosystem.

The second level on the energy pyramid is comprised of the primary consumers of plants, known as herbivores. Herbivores live by eating plant life, thus converting energy from the sun, through plants. Herbivores are relatively plentiful, and exist on the next level of the energy pyramid. Excellent examples of herbivores are insects of various kinds, including grasshoppers, that might eat the primary energy producers, grass.

The third level on the energy pyramid is made up of secondary consumers, or primary carnivores. These secondary consumers survive on herbivores, turning those herbivores into energy. They are less numerous than herbivores, but exist in greater numbers than those at the top of the energy pyramid. Examples of secondary consumers might be toads, frogs, turtles, and other creatures that might feed on herbivores like grasshoppers and other insects.

The fourth level on the energy pyramid is its apex, comprised of tertiary consumers, or secondary carnivores. These are at the top of the food chain, and thrive by consuming primary carnivores. Tertiary consumers are the least plentiful in the energy pyramid, and exist in fewer numbers as apex predators. Hawks are examples of apex predators, which might feed on secondary consumers like toads and frogs.

What is the definition of an energy pyramid? In addition to the food chain described above, the energy pyramid also accounts for the energy within the ecosystem. There is the most energy contained in the population of producers, or plants, which photosynthesize energy from the sun. Less energy exists in the next trophic layer of herbivores, but still more energy resides in the population of grasshoppers and other insects than exist in the third trophic level, and so on. The third trophic level of primary carnivores accounts for less population, and less energy then the second, but more than the fourth or apex level on the energy pyramid.

Consider another example. There is much vegetation on an African plain, and millions of insects and other herbivores eat and trap the energy of this vegetation. There are fewer herbivores than there are individual vegetative forms, and thus less energy in the herbivore trophic level. Likewise, there are fewer carnivores, like frogs, lizards, and toads that eat these insects, but still more of those carnivores than those that feast on them. The third trophic level may include a wide array of carnivores that feed on each other to varying degrees. For example, secondary carnivores can include snakes that feed on rodents that feed on insects, etc. In the end, the fewest creatures, and the least energy are contained at the top of the energy pyramid, where lions and other apex predators exist.