December 3, 2021

Heterotrophy (from the Greek heterone - other and trophe - nutrition) is a method of obtaining carbon for the formation of their own carbon skeletons of organic substances in heterotrophic organisms (consumers, consumers). Heterotrophic organisms, unlike autotrophic ones, cannot synthesize these skeletons from inorganic substances and therefore obtain them from other organic matter. In the food chain, heterotrophic organisms are primary, secondary and tertiary consumers, but not producers. Heterotrophic organisms include animals, fungi, non-green plants, and a variety of microorganisms. It is often associated with chemotrophy, ie the acquisition of energy by the decomposition of organic matter created by other organisms. Some organisms combine autotrophy and heterotrophy (for example, carnivorous plants), such organisms are called mixotrophic. Consumers (consumers) are divided into primary (herbivores), secondary (omnivores and carnivores) and higher order consumers. Heterotrophs represent one of the two mechanisms of nutrition (trophic levels), the other are autotrophs (from the Greek self - trophe - nutrition). Autotrophs are absolutely necessary for heterotrophs, that is, for most other living organisms on Earth. Herbivores and subsequently carnivores depend on them. They cannot all convert inorganic substances to organic ones. Some organisms combine heterotrophic and autotrophic nutrition (for example, carnivorous plants), which we call mixotrophic.

Heterotroph types

Heterotrophic organisms can be divided according to their energy source: Photoheterotrophs use the energy of light radiation (for example, green bacteria without sulfur). Chemoheterotrophs use chemical energy (such as humans, animals and fungi). Heterotrophic organisms can be further divided according to carbon source: Organotrophs use carbon from organic compounds, from plants and animals - carbohydrates, fats and proteins. Lithoheterotrophs use carbon from inorganic compounds, from inanimate nature - ammonium, nitrite or sulfur.

Trophic groups

Heterotrophic and autotrophic organisms are divided into trophic groups:

Heterotrophs and autotrophs

Without autotrophs, organisms capable of producing organic matter from inorganic, there would be no life on Earth. Autotrophs are producers of energy and oxygen, and other living organisms cannot live without them. Autotrophs take carbon dioxide, water and sunlight from the environment. And they convert them into carbohydrates and oxygen. This mechanism is also called primary production. Heterotrophs are dependent on autotrophs. We divide them into herbivores, carnivores and omnivores. Herbivores feed directly on plants and gain energy by breaking down carbohydrates or oxidizing organic molecules (carbohydrates, fats and proteins) that plants produce. Carnivores are indirectly dependent on autotrophs because they obtain nutrients from herbivores or other carnivores. Omnivores consume plants and animals. Heterotrophs are able to use all the energy they get from food for growth and reproduction, unlike autotrophs, who have to use part of their energy to fix carbon in carbon skeletons. Both heterotrophs and autotrophs are usually dependent on the metabolic activities of other organisms due to other nutrients and elements (nitrogen, phosphorus, sulfur and others).


This article uses material from the article Heterotrophy on the German Wikipedia.

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