When we classify living beings into autotrophs and heterotrophs, we refer to the way in which they obtain the nutrients necessary for their survival.
All living organisms need energy to carry out their activities and also need biomolecules to build their bodies . Human beings, for example, obtain the nutrients necessary for their survival through food, but not all organisms act in the same way. Plants, for example, do not ingest any food.
Based on the type of food that living beings eat and the way they obtain carbon, we can classify them as autotrophs and heterotrophs.
Autotrophs (from the Greek autos , “of oneself”, and trophos , “feeder”) are able to synthesize their own food from inorganic material. The processes used by these living beings to carry out this transformation are photosynthesis and chemosynthesis .
Plants fit into the group of autotrophic organisms, as they carry out photosynthesis. In this process, solar energy is captured and converted into chemical energy, and carbon is fixed into organic compounds. In addition to plants, algae and cyanobacteria are considered autotrophic photosynthetic organisms .
In addition to photosynthesis, some organisms make their food by oxidizing inorganic compounds, a process called chemosynthesis. As an example of chemosynthetic autotrophs, we can mention some species of bacteria .
As they produce their own food, autotrophic organisms belong to the trophic level of producers in the food chain. These organisms are the basis of all chains.
Plants are organisms capable of producing their own food.
Heterotrophs (from the Greek heteros , “other”, and trophos , “feeder”) are those that are not capable of producing their own food, requiring organic matter already produced . This means that heterotrophs feed on other living beings to produce energy and synthesize their biomolecules. These organisms are incapable of transforming inorganic material into organic.
In the food chain, heterotrophs can be consumers or decomposers. Consumers are those who feed on other living things. Herbivores , carnivores and omnivores are part of this group.
In addition to consumers, we can mention decomposers as heterotrophic organisms . Fungi and bacteria are representatives of this group, which stands out for degrading dead organic matter into smaller parts and soluble forms of nutrients. This process is important because it ensures that nutrients return to the medium and can be reused by other organisms.
Autotrophs: They make their own food.
Heterotrophs: They do not produce their own food.