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Have you ever heard of the 10% Rule in ecology? Do you know what it means? In this lesson, you will learn all about this rule and how it applies to every natural energy pyramid and food chain.

The 10% Rule

The day Jamal has been dreading has arrived. The annual family fishing trip. Jamal loves his family, but he absolutely hates fishing! There is so much preparation. He has to help his dad secure the boat to the truck.

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Then Jamal and his siblings have to pack gear, life jackets, waterproof goulashes, fishing rods, and bait. Then he has to get up really early in the morning, help load up the car and ride out to the lake. All that preparation, all that energy just to maybe, possibly, catch a few fish. Then Jamal has to go home and help unload the car, all before helping his dad clean, prepare, and cook the fish. Jamal wants to spend time with his family just as much as the next person, but fishing just seems like an incredible waste of energy to him!What Jamal doesn’t realize is that anytime a source of energy is obtained via natural means, the 10% Rule will apply. The 10% Rule means that when energy is passed in an ecosystem from one trophic level to the next, only ten percent of the energy will be passed on.

A trophic level is the position of an organism in a food chain or energy pyramid.For example, let’s think about Jamal and his fishing trip. Let’s say that Jamal caught a bass on his trip.

The bass did not know he was going to end up on Jamal’s plate for dinner that day, so he ate, swam and went about his normal routine. While completing his routine, the bass was expending energy. So, all of the energy that the bass could have given Jamal will not be transferred to him because some of it was used by the fish.Now, to get the fish, Jamal has to expend energy.

He has to catch the fish, clean it, prepare it, and cook it. Then when the fish ends up on his plate, he will cut it, chew it, and then begin to digest it. All of this takes place before Jamal has used any of the energy locked in the molecules of the fish to help his body power itself. In the end, Jamal will only end up with a ten percent energy transfer from his fish meal.

Energy Pyramids and Food Chains

An energy pyramid shows the feeding levels of organisms in an ecosystem and gives a visual representation of energy loss at each level. An energy pyramid demonstrates exactly what we just discussed about the 10% Rule. All energy pyramids start with the sun as the source of all energy, followed by the trophic levels: producers (plants) at the bottom, herbivores (Plant eaters) at the next level up, then omnivores (which eat both plants and meat) and then carnivores (or meat eaters) at the top. Again, as you move from the sun through each trophic level, only ten percent of the energy will be carried to the next level. Each organism uses some of what it obtains for its life processes, so the organism that eats it, can only use the energy that is left over. The organism that eats the one at the level below it also has to expend some energy to get the food, thus continuing the pattern.

Food chains show a very similar pattern. A food chain is a linear demonstration of the feeding pattern of organisms in an ecosystem. A food chain also follows the same pattern of an energy pyramid. Starting with a producer, then an herbivore, followed by an omnivore, and then a carnivore. Only ten percent of the energy possessed is passed onto the next level or organism. The biggest difference between an energy pyramid and a food chain is that the food chain names specific organisms. It does not just label them as a producer, a plant, or a consumer, an organism that eats others to obtain energy.

Lesson Summary

The 10% Rule means that when energy is passed in an ecosystem from one trophic level to the next, only ten percent of the energy will be passed on. An energy pyramid shows the feeding levels of organisms in an ecosystem and gives a visual representation of energy loss at each level. Energy pyramids start with the sun as the source of all energy, followed by the trophic levels: producers (plants), herbivores (Plant eaters), omnivores (eaters both plants and meat), and finally carnivores(or meat eaters). As you move from the sun through each trophic level, only ten percent of the energy will be carried to the next level.

A food chain is a linear demonstration of the feeding pattern of organisms in an ecosystem. The difference between an energy pyramid and a food chain is that the food chain names specific organisms. It doesn’t just label them as producers, which plants, or consumers, organism that eat others to obtain energy.

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