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In this lesson, we’ll cover what a food chain is and what plants and animals are involved in the Arctic food chain.

We’ll end with the important of preserving the Arctic wildlife in the food chain. ?!!!What Is a Food Chain?Imagine you’re a huge bowhead whale, spanning over 50 feet in length. As you swim through the Arctic Ocean, you filter zooplankton into your mouth, consuming millions of these tiny creatures every day. Your connection to the plankton can be represented in a food chain.

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Food chains are diagrams showing the energy transfer between different organisms in an ecosystem. Arrows point from the prey to the predator that will eat them. In our example, the arrow in the food chain points from the zooplankton, to you, the whale!

Whale food chain

Food chains start with producers, or organisms that make their own energy. Primary consumers eat the producers and are herbivores. Secondary consumers are carnivores that eat the primary consumers.

Lastly, tertiary consumers, or top predators, eat both primary and secondary consumers and keep the food web in check. Here is a diagram of the structure of a sample food chain.

food chain diagram

The Arctic Climate

To study the food chain of the Arctic, we first need to learn a little about the climate and wildlife there. The Arctic is the most northern region of the globe with extremely cold temperatures that can reach below -50 degrees Fahrenheit. The Arctic Ocean is frozen over with sea ice, like in the Canada Basin.

But despite these challenges, large ecosystems exist above and below the ocean.

Ocean Food Chain

The producers in the Arctic Ocean are mostly phytoplankton. These are tiny, microscopic organisms that make their own food, making them producers.The primary consumers in the Arctic Ocean are phytoplankton and crustaceans that consume the zooplankton. Harp seals are secondary consumers, which mainly eat fish like Arctic cod and Arctic char, and some crustaceans.

The top predators, or tertiary consumers, are polar bears and the Orca whale. Polar bears eat seals and fish, while Orca whales eat fish, but also have been known to attack larger whales and seals. All put together, this is how a food chain in the Arctic Ocean might be drawn up.

Arctic Ocean food chain

Terrestrial Food Chain

Above ground, lichens, small moss-like plants, are the producers, clinging to rocks and other surfaces. There are also small shrubs and moss close to the ground.

Caribou, rabbits, and other grazing animals are the primary consumers.The Arctic fox is an endangered species native to the Arctic, which feeds on caribou, rodents, birds, and fish. The Arctic fox is a secondary consumer.

In the winter, the Arctic fox may follow polar bears, picking up scraps when prey is sparse. Tertiary consumers include the polar bear, wolves, and eagles, which prey on the arctic fox as well as primary consumers.

Dangers to the Arctic Food Chain

Many of the animals living in the Arctic are endangered species, meaning that due to intrusions on habitat or hunting, they are in danger of going extinct.

Global warming is an increase in global temperature due to the release of carbon dioxide from cars, burning fossil fuels and deforestation, or cutting down trees. Global warming is increasing sea temperatures and melting sea ice. Although the Arctic may seem too cold, the plants and animals there are adapted to the temperature and may die if temperatures rise too high.

Polar bears live on sea ice above land, and their habitat is shrinking as sea ice melts. Illegal hunting of polar bears, whales, and arctic foxes are also decreasing their population. Offshore drilling for oil is also damaging the Arctic ecosystem. Offshore drilling disrupts the natural habitat of Arctic life, and oil spills can wreck an ecosystem instantly.

What Can We Do?

Decreasing use of fossil fuels is a great first step that everyone can take in their homes. Decreasing the use of cars and using carpooling, bus and train systems, or walking and riding bikes are strategies to decrease carbon dioxide emissions.

Recycling also reduces trash and pollution. Since fossil fuels are used to generate electricity in coal and oil plants, turning off lights and appliances when not using them can also help. Even better, some areas have an option to buy solar or wind power, which does not contribute to global warming! Advocating with the government for strict protection of wildlife preserves, hunting, and drilling laws is also necessary to preserving these habitats.

Lesson Summary

In summary, the Arctic is the north-most region of the globe with frigid temperatures. Despite this, life flourishes above and below the ocean. The main producers in the Arctic Ocean are phytoplankton, which are eaten by the primary consumers, fish and whales.

Secondary consumers are seals and beluga whales, which eat fish and crustaceans. The top predators are polar bears, consuming seals and other fish.Above ground, lichens, moss, and small shrubs are producers. Primary consumers are caribou and other grazing animals. Arctic foxes prey on caribou and rabbits as secondary consumers. The polar bear, wolves, and hawks are the tertiary predators, preying on arctic foxes and other primary consumers.

The Arctic region is in danger due to global warming, illegal hunting, and drilling. Decreasing carbon emissions and advocating for protection of these areas will save this ecosystem for years to come.

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