Energy Transfers

The term energy transfer refers to the changes in energy that occur in and between organisms within an ecosystem. 

Energy Transfers Energy Transfers

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    Organisms need a continuous input of energy. All life relies on energy and its transfer between different organisms. This helps to maintain their highly ordered structures and systems.

    Each interdependent community of organisms interacts with other communities within its environment. These ecosystems are maintained by energy from the sun, and photosynthesizing organisms that have the ability to get energy from sunlight.

    When it comes to how the energy is transferred, there are two types of organisms: autotrophs and heterotrophs. Some examples of autotrophs include plants, lichens or algae, as all three of these organisms can synthesize their own energy. Heterotrophs, on the other hand, cannot synthesize their own energy and rely on consuming it through eating other organisms. There are lots of examples of heterotrophs, including humans, dogs, or any other consumer in the food chain.

    How do I use the Energy Transfer Formula?

    Large amounts of energy are always lost between each level of the food chain, called trophic levels. This is because of the second law of thermodynamics. This states that whenever energy is converted from one form to another, there is an increase in entropy (disorder) in the system. In the context of the food chain, this means that a great deal of energy is lost in the form of heat when organisms are consumed.

    The efficiency of energy transferred between two trophic levels is called the TLTE. This stands for 'trophic level transfer efficiency' and is determined by the following energy transfer formula:

    \[TLTE = \frac{\text{production at present trophic level}}{\text{production at previous trophic level}} \cdot 100\]

    As an example, if the energy of grass is stated at 5000 kcal, and the cow which eats the grass received 400 kcal during the energy transfer, the calculation would be as follows:

    \[\frac{400 \space Kcal}{5000 \space Kcal} = 8\% \space TLTE\]

    Another equation that you need to know is the net production efficiency (NPE). The net production efficiency is used to calculate how efficiently organisms from a trophic level turn the energy they consume into biomass. The formula for NPE is:

    \[NPE = \frac{\text{net consumer productivity}}{\text{assimilation}} \cdot 100\]

    Net production productivity, or NPP, refers to the amount of energy available to organisms on the next trophic level. Assimilation refers to the biomass of the current trophic level after some energy is lost due to incomplete ingestion of food, waste, and respiration. You can read more about this in energy flow in ecosystems.

    How do you show energy transfer on a diagram?

    You can display different types of energy transfer in different ways. However, we usually use the diagram below when discussing energy transfer within an ecosystem.

    Energy Transfers, the flow of energy in a food chain, StudySmarterFig. 1 - The flow of energy in a food chain

    This diagram shows the flow of energy of a food chain. As you will see, the energy decreases with each trophic level. The total energy accumulated by the primary producers was shown to be 41,620 kcal /m2/yr.

    Since all living things use energy for biological functions, such as respiration, we often pay attention to an ecosystem's net primary productivity (NPP).

    In this diagram, 26,374 of the 41,620 kcal/yr was used for respiration or lost as heat, leaving 15,235 kcal/yr of energy for the primary consumers.

    What are the different types of energy transfer?

    Energy is acquired and transferred through an ecosystem in three different ways: photosynthesis, chemosynthesis, and consumption.

    Types of Energy Transfers: Photosynthesis

    This is performed by photoautotrophs, such as plants, algae, and photosynthetic bacteria. Photosynthesis allows these organisms to act as the energy source for most of the world's ecosystems. Photosynthesis involves harnessing the sun's energy and converting it into chemical energy in the form of a molecule called ATP (adenosine triphosphate). ATP is then used to fuel the synthesis of a range of biomolecules, including glucose.

    Types of Energy Transfers: Chemosynthesis

    This is performed by chemoautotrophs, which are typically bacteria that reside in ecosystems that are cut off from sunlight, such as within dark caves or hydrothermal vents on the ocean floor. Chemoautotrophs use chemical compounds, such as hydrogen sulphide, as a source of energy. This allows them to fuel the reactions that create complex biomolecules, including glucose. This creates energy for the rest of the ecosystem.

    An example of energy transfer via chemosynthesis would be the process by which specialized bacteria in hydrothermal vents use hydrogen sulphide as a source of energy.

    Types of Energy Transfers: Consumption

    Consumption is performed by heterotrophs, which function as consumers in the food chain. Heterotrophs get energy in the form of organic carbon. This is done through heterotrophs consuming autotrophs or other heterotrophs. They then break down this organic carbon, which is usually consumed in the form of complex compounds, into smaller, simpler compounds. This releases energy since they are oxidizing carbon and hydrogen and transforming them into carbon dioxide and water. This is achieved via a process called respiration. Studying respiration, you will learn more about various stages of respiration, such as glycolysis and the Krebs cycle.

    Energy Transfers - Key Takeaways

    • The term energy transfer refers to the changes in energy that occur in and between organisms within an ecosystem. Autotrophs and heterotrophs are involved in energy transfer. Autotrophs are able to synthesize their own energy, whilst heterotrophs have to consume other organisms to gain energy.
    • There are three types of energy transfer: photosynthesis, chemosynthesis, and consumption. Photosynthesis and chemosynthesis are both performed by autotrophs. Consumption is performed by heterotrophs.
    • As you go further up the food chain, more energy is lost. A level of the food chain in an ecosystem is referred to as a trophic level.
    • The efficiency of energy transferred between two trophic levels is called the TLTE. This stands for "trophic level transfer efficiency" and is determined by the following formula: \[TLTE = \frac{\text{production at present trophic level}}{\text{production at previous trophic level}} \cdot 100\]
    • Net production efficiency is used to calculate how efficiently organisms from a trophic level turn the energy they consume into biomass. The formula for NPE is:\[NPE = \frac{\text{net consumer productivity}}{\text{assimilation}} \cdot 100\]
    Frequently Asked Questions about Energy Transfers

    What are the three types of energy transfer?

    Energy is acquired and transferred through an ecosystem in three different ways: photosynthesis, chemosynthesis, and consumption. 


    Photosynthesis refers to the process by which photoautotrophs obtain energy from the sun and convert it into chemical energy. 


    Chemosynthesis refers to the process by which chemoautotrophs obtain energy from specific chemical compounds and convert this into chemical energy. 


    Consumption refers to the process by which heterotrophs consume autotrophs and other heterotrophs and obtain energy from the complex organic compounds contained in the organisms they consume. These compounds are broken down into simpler compounds, and the carbon and hydrogen atoms within these compounds are converted into carbon dioxide and water. 


    How do you calculate energy transfer?

    The efficiency of energy transferred between two trophic levels is called the TLTE. This stands for 'trophic level transfer efficiency' and is determined by the following formula: 


    TLTE = (production at present trophic level/production at previous trophic level) x100


    Net production efficiency is used to calculate how efficiently organisms from a trophic level turn the energy they consume into biomass. The formula for NPE is:


    NPE = (net consumer productivity/assimilation) x100


    Net production productivity, or NPP, refers to the amount of energy available to organisms on the next trophic level. Assimilation refers to the biomass of the current trophic level after some energy is lost due to incomplete ingestion of food, waste and respiration.

    Test your knowledge with multiple choice flashcards

    We can study the rate of photosynthesis using redox indicators.

    How does light affect photosynthesis?

    What are the best temperatures for photosynthesis?

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