Every pet rights activist has one specific argument hurled in ~ them ~ above an almost daily basis, “Humans room at the peak of the food chain”. But does scientific research confirm this together true?


Do we sit at the peak of the food chain alongside lions? photo credit: Joshua Hoehne via Unsplash

What is the food chain?

The food chain is a straight network throughout a food net which defines and also outlines the functions each types plays in a specific ecosystem. The food chain starts with organisms recognized as primary producers, that typically use radiation indigenous the sunlight as an power source, favor grass and trees. That ends through apex predators (like lions), detritivores (like earthworms) and decomposers (such as bacteria). Basically, the food chain shows how organisms are related to each other based on what food resource they consume.

You are watching: Top of the food chain meaning

Trophic levels

The food chain categorises organisms right into a hierarchy based upon trophic levels, i beg your pardon you have the right to think of as the position an organism rectal on the food chain. The simplistic means to watch these differences uses the adhering to numbering system.

Level 1: Producers that make their own food like plants and algae.

Level 2: Herbivores that eat plants, recognized as primary consumers.

Level 3: Carnivores who eat herbivores, recognized as an additional consumers.

Level 4. Carnivores that eat other carnivores, recognized as tertiary consumers.

Level 5: Apex predators who have no predators and are at the optimal of your food chains.

By this reasoning alone, it’s straightforward to check out why many civilization think that humans are at the height of the food chain; we are apex predators ~ all. However humans have one distinct difference to many other apex predators, which provides this thinking flawed, and that difference is our diet.


 Image credit: Frida Bredesen via Unsplash

If us take anyone favourite big cat, the king the the jungle, we view that lions eat whatever from timid mice, antelope, buffalo and also zebra, come dangerous rhinos, hippos, wild hogs and crocodiles. And also this trope is true for many other apex predators, from great white sharks and killer whales in the s to polar bears in the Arctic. They every eat virtually strictly carnivorous diet which consist of of animals that space themselves close come the height of the food chain – tertiary consumers. This isn’t the case for humans, who are omnivorous and gain a huge percentage of your nutrient intake from plant-based food sources. The the animal species we do frequently consume, these are most generally herbivores like cattle and also sheep, or omnivores like chickens and also pigs who themselves sit rather low top top the food chain.


Unlike other apex predators, humans obtain a big percentage that their nutrient from plant-based foods. Photo credit: rawpixel via Unsplash

Often food webs space complicated, due to the fact that many varieties feed indigenous organisms situated on more than one trophic level. This way the simple integer system noted above simply isn’t an excellent enough at plainly defining where a types sits. Due to the fact that of this, scientists make use of fractional trophic level to give a an ext precise indicator of simply where a types sits in relationship to various other organisms in your ecosystem. This come in valuable for humans, that eat a variety of foods throughout the world, from main producers such as the kale in your favourite YouTuber’s smoothie, to apex predators favor the whale meat marketed in some parts of Japan.

So where do people sit?

A team of French researchers used food it is provided data native the United nations Food and farming Organization (FAO) extending the diets of people across 176 countries to calculation the human being trophic level (HTL). The record published in the Proceedings the the natural Academy of Sciences discovered that humans scored an mean HTL that 2.21. That ranks united state somewhere just listed below the center of the food chain, about sitting close to pigs and anchovies. The researchers experienced diversity in between different countries. Because that example, Iceland’s HTL to be high at approximately 2.57 because they eat a diet consisting of about 50% meat and 50% plants, vice versa, Burundi had a HTL of 2.04 as a result of a diet that is 96.7% plant-based.

See more: What Is The Definition Of Trudge Definition & Meaning, Trudge (Verb) Definition And Synonyms


Humans sit near the middle of the food chain beside pigs and also anchovies. Photo credit: Christopher Carson via Unsplash

Interestingly us see raising HTLs in China and India whereby meat intake is on the rise, largely due to human being being brought out of excessive poverty at a fast rate. Conversely we view decreasing HTLs in Australia, phibìc America and brand-new Zealand, nations where plant-based eating, the price of living and also concern around the ecological damage and also health risks linked with meat production and also consumption room on the rise.2018 has been one explosive year because that plant-based food alternatives in Australia, v the beyond Burger and also Funky areas Mince hitting supermarket shelves, do their means into the meat part of Coles and Woolworths, then offering out almost immediately. Mega food corporations prefer Domino’s and also Hungry Jack’s have additionally jumped on the bandwagon v vegan options, reflecting that their fingers room well and truly ~ above the pulse of changing times. V a growing number of people concerned around climate adjust and the environment, food developments like the past Burger room becoming an ext attractive to people. A recent report finding the past Burger calls for 99 percent less water, 93 percent less land, produce 90 percent under greenhouse gas emissions and needs 50 percent less the energy to do than traditional beef burgers.

The millennial trend in the direction of veganism across the West is highlighted in data mirroring that the number of people identifying as vegan has actually grown by 600% in the us in three years and also 700% in the UK in simply two years. If this trend continues we will check out the HTL fall also lower end time. So sorry meat-eaters, people aren’t in ~ the top of the food chain; we’re not even at the middle, and it in reality looks choose we’re about to make a descent ago down.