What are primary consumers and their characteristics

The food chain is complemented by the different levels and types of food. It is thanks to her that there is no waste due to the excellent use of resources.

There are herbivorous and carnivorous animals, but beyond this classification, we can classify them into those that produce and those that consume.

The former refer to plants that produce their own food, and consumers are those that require external sources to survive. Of this last type there are primary, secondary and tertiary ones, each group feeding on the group before them in the food chain.

That is, the secondary ones feed on the primary ones, and the tertiary ones feed on the secondary ones. In this article we will explain in detail what primary consumers and examples are and what their importance is.

What are primary consumers and their characteristics

A primary consumer is one that feeds on the lower level in the food chain , that is, on plants. They are organisms that feed on producers. Another way to call them is herbivore .

There are different types of primary consumers, a variety that corresponds to the different parts of plants that can be consumed. There are the following subgroups of herbivores:

  • Frugivores: they eat fruit.
  • Xylophages: their main food is wood.
  • Granivores: consume grains and seeds.
  • Folivores: consume leaves.
  • Nectarivores: they feed on floral nectar.
  • Other groups: they can feed on plant sap or even roots.

Their diet is heterotrophic , which means that they require sources of organic matter to produce their energy, and they must take them from external sources. Through feeding, these organisms take energy to complete their metabolic functions necessary for survival.

Their digestive system is adapted to processing plant tissues that are very difficult to process. This is how there are special characteristics within primary consumers. Some may be ruminants with flat, wide molars to prevent wear, as well as stomachs that decompose easily, while others have extremely long beaks to reach the nectar inside the flowers.

In many primary consumers, especially vertebrates, we can observe modifications in the body structure that makes it easier for them to spot their predators. Some examples are eyes on the sides, fast and nervous rhythm, or colors to blend in with their surroundings.

Examples of primary consumers

There are herbivores of all sizes: from small rodents to strong oxen. Below we present some examples of these primary consumer animals.

  • Zooplankton: This is an example of marine primary consumers. Zooplankton drift in the water column and feed on phytoplankton, that is, plant organisms. Discover Zooplankton: what it is and examples .
  • Aphids or aphids: they are small insects that parasitize plants. They have a mouth structure called a stylet that they use as a straw to extract sap from plants, and can be a great pest for crops and gardens.
  • Bats: many groups of bats are insectivores, but many others have specialized to feed on very particular plant parts. We can find frugivores and nectarivores, the latter feeding on flowers that only open at night and coinciding with the habits of these flying mammals.
  • Cows: Cattle are a great example for understanding the different levels of the food chain. Today, 70% of cultivated land is used for livestock feed for human consumption.

Functions of primary consumers

Primary consumers have specific functions within their ecosystems, which we can point out as:

  • Energy transfer to higher trophic levels: food is a form of energy, and thanks to primary consumers it is transferred from plants to secondary and tertiary consumers.
  • They are prey and feed secondary consumers: herbivores tend to be the prey of larger animals and the basis of their diet.
  • Seed dispersion: those frugivorous organisms consume the fruits along with seeds that will be deposited in the feces. These seeds travel long distances thanks to the animal and will be able to reach areas that they could not have reached on their own.
  • Biological control of plant communities: by feeding on vegetables, they control the overpopulation of these communities.
  • Flower pollination: When a primary consumer approaches a flower to feed, it moves male pollen into the female stigma, indirectly assisting in the fertilization of plants. This is an example of the symbiotic relationships that form throughout the food chain.
  • You may be interested in this article on The vital functions of living beings: what they are and what they are .

Importance of primary consumers

Primary consumers are an important link in the food chain, maintaining a balance within ecosystems. Specifically, primary consumers are those who keep plant communities in control . If they did not exist, vegetation would grow abundantly, something that could even interfere with the atmospheric oxygen levels we know today.

It is thanks to herbivores that the transfer of energy is completed from plants to carnivores, causing the energy cycle to be completed and all resources to be used correctly.

Related PostsExploring the World of Secondary Consumers: Examples and Significance Examples of Tertiary Consumers in Ecosystems Exploring the Role of Primary Consumers in Ecosystems