This lesson is on ocean producers and consumers. In this lesson, we’ll go over the definition of producers and consumers in biology. We’ll also give specific examples of each in an ocean ecosystem.
What Are Producers and Consumers?
You experience producers and consumers in your everyday life.
Producers are organisms that make their own food, so anytime you’re having a salad, you’re snacking on some producers. Consumers are organisms that eat to gain energy, so you are actually a consumer. Your pets or loved ones are consumers, too. Producers and consumers in the ocean look a little bit different, however. Let’s dive into the ocean ecosystem to see what’s making and eating the food there.
Producers in the Ocean
Since the oceans on Earth are so vast, the climate varies dramatically. Warm tropical waters along the coast of the equator feel nearly like bath water. These places are home to incredible biodiversity. But, the freezing waters of the Arctic have their own ecosystem too, despite the temperature. Even the bone crushing depths of the deep sea are home to amazing types of life.Coral reefs live in the shallow, warm waters near the coast of the equator. The producers in all oceans, including the coral reefs, are mainly algae and phytoplankton, microscopic photosynthetic organisms that produce food from water and sunlight.
Larger forms of algae, like kelp, exist in cooler waters. Massive forests of kelp are found near the coast of California, supporting consumers like sea otters and sea urchins.Producers can even be found in the deepest, darkest parts of the ocean. Light doesn’t penetrate this area of the ocean, so the producers have to use something other than sunlight to make their food. Large hydrothermal vents deep in the ocean spew chemicals from inside the earth. These chemicals allow chemosynthetic bacteria to produce food, just like green plants use sunlight. The bacteria form the base of an ecosystem with giant tube worms and bioluminescent fish.
Consumers in the Ocean
Consumers in the ocean are even more diverse than the producers. In any ecosystem, consumers can be divided into groups, or layers. Primary consumers only eat producers; secondary consumers eat primary consumers. The last layer, tertiary consumers, eat both primary and secondary consumers. The primary consumers in the ocean vary.
Zooplankton are microscopic organisms that feed on phytoplankton. Larger organisms, like small fish, crustaceans, sea stars and sea anemones, feed on algae or phytoplankton, too.Coral is actually an animal and a secondary consumer.
It feeds on tiny zooplankton in the water. On the other side of the spectrum, massive whales, like the humpback whale, filter billions of zooplankton into their mouths each day to get their energy. In between these two extremes are hundreds of species of small fish, feeding on crustaceans and zooplankton. In the arctic, penguins are notable secondary consumers, hunting down small fish as they zoom through the water.Tertiary consumers in the ocean are top predators. Sharks, like the hammerhead, great white, or the tiger shark control aquatic ecosystems in all areas of the globe.
In cooler climates, like the Antarctic ocean, giant leopard seals track down penguins as a meal. Polar bears roam the surface, snatching smaller seals, penguins, and large fish.
In summary, producers are organisms that make their own food. In the ocean, algae, phytoplankton and kelp are producers.
Consumers are organisms that need to eat to obtain energy. Consumers are divided into primary consumers, which eat producers, secondary consumers, which eat primary consumers, and tertiary consumers, which eat both primary and secondary consumers. Primary consumers in the ocean include zooplankton, small fish, and crustaceans. The secondary consumers are fish, coral, penguins, whales, and other species that eat the zooplankton. The top predators in the ocean, sharks, killer whales, and leopard seals, eat both primary and secondary consumers.