Ecological pyramid explained with its importance and limitations

len Alfred Ajibola - 16th September, 2021 @ 04:23 PM

Topics in Biology

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Academic Questions in Biology

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In a food chain, the primary consumers are classified under trophic level  _____.

  • A. Zero

  • B. One

  • C. Two

  • D. Three

  • E. Four

  • F. Five

Cold blooded animals are referred to as _____.

  • A. Homeotherms

  • B. Endotherms

  • C. Poilokitherms

  • D. Ectotherms

  • E. Thermotherms

  • F. None of the above

All reptiles are vertebrates.

  • A. True

  • B. False

_____ cells are responsible for the formation of osteoblasts.

  • A. Osteocytes
  • B. Chondrocytes
  • C. Chondroblasts
  • D. Osteoclasts
  • E. Osteoprogenitor cells
  • F. Osteoblastic

_____ is a bone that constitute the axial skeleton.

  • A. Clavicle
  • B. Scapula
  • C. Patella
  • D. Radius
  • E. Sternum
  • F. Femur

Which of the following is false concerning cartilages and bones?

  • A. Cartilage does not have a direct blood supply while bones have direct blood supply
  • B. The process of ossification replaces a cartilage to bone
  • C. The protein that makes up cartilage is called chondrin while that that makes up bone is called ossein
  • D. Cartilage grows from both ends while bones grow from one of its epiphysis
  • E. They both have living cells within them
  • F. Haversian system is absent in cartilage but present in bones

A diagram showing the movement of energy through a food chain is called a _____.

  • A. Food Chain
  • B. Food Web
  • C. Food Energy
  • D. Food Link
  • E. Food Flow
  • F. Food Pyramid

Which of the following is NOT a part of the wrist bones (or carpal bones)?

  • A. Cuboid
  • B. Scaphoid
  • C. Hamate
  • D. Triquetral
  • E. Pisiform
  • F. Trapezium

What is ecological pyramid?

An ecological pyramid is defined as a graphical representation that shows the relationship between various organisms present in an ecosystem at their respective tropic levels.

Recall that the trophic level of an organism is the specific position which that organism occupies in a food chain or food web. These positions (trophic levels) include:

  • Producers (trophic level 1)

  • Primary consumers (trophic level 2)
  • Secondary consumers (trophic level 3)
  • Tertiary consumers (trophic level 4)
  • Decomposers (trophic level 5)

Please read on the concept of food chain here.


The ecological pyramid is always present in an ecosystem. This concept of ecological pyramid was first illustrated by Evylen Hutchinson G. and Raymond Lindeman in 1942.

As the name suggests, ecological pyramids are pyramidal (or triangular) in shape with the the base being the broadest or widest because it comprises of the producers in the ecosystem and they are always numerous in numbers. The top of this pyramid is narrowest since it comprises of the tertiary consumers which are always few in numbers.

Note: The narrowing at the top of an ecological pyramid signifies the loss of energy in what is termed 'an energy pyramid'.

Please read the introduction to an ecosystem here.


An ecological pyramid is often referred to as food pyramid, trophic pyramid, energy pyramid or Eltonian pyramid. Meanwhile, it is noteworthy to state that ecological pyramids commences at the base (broadest) and ends at the top (narrowest). This is shown in the image below:

Food Pyramid - Len Academy

From the above diagram, the primary consumers (grasshoppers) fed on the grasses (producers) and gained 1,000kcal of energy in the process. However, most of the consumed energy would be used for their metabolic activities like hopping, respiration, movement, reproduction and so on. Also, understand that all living organisms must lose energy in the form of heat to their surroundings. This is as a result of their metabolic activities.

Please read on the characteristics of living organisms here.

Referencing the diagram, the secondary consumers consumed the grasshoppers (primary consumers) and it was only able to get 10kcal of energy. This is so because the grasshoppers had already lost some energy in the form of heat to it's surroundings.

Similarly, the secondary consumers will also use some of the consumed energy (10kcal) for it’s metabolic activities, thus losing some energy in the form of heat to the surroundings.

Finally, the tertiary consumer consumed the secondary consumers and was able to get 1kcal of energy. This is because the secondary consumers had already lost 9kcal of energy in the form of heat to its surroundings.

Note: As a student, you should be able to state the 2nd law of thermodynamics since it has everything to do with energy transformation and loss of heat to the surroundings.

The 2nd law of Thermodynamics, with regards to food chain states thus:

In the course of energy transformation or transfer, some energy is lost in the form of heat to the surroundings.

You can read on the concept of heat and temperature here.


Types of ecological pyramids

We have three types of ecological pyramids. These are:

  1. Pyramid of energy

  2. Pyramid of biomass

  3. Pyramid of numbers


Importance of ecological pyramids

  1. It presents the feeding pattern of different organisms in various ecosystems.

  2. It gives us more detail on energy transfer within the trophic levels in an ecosystem.

  3. It shows us the efficiency of energy transfer in the ecosystem, although some of these are lost as heat to the surroundings.

  4. When monitored appropriately, it can be used as a tool to preserve the ecosystem.

You can read on various ecological terms and concepts here.


Limitations of ecological pyramids

Ecological pyramids has shown to serve as a useful metric in an ecosystem. However, it does not give us information about certain patterns occuring in the ecosystem. Below are some of it's limitations:

  1. Typically, the saprophytes or decomposers aren't considered into any trophic level in the pyramid even though they make up a large number in the food chain.

  2. Ecological pyramids take no account of food web due to their complexities.
    Please read more on food web here.

  3. Same specie of organisms cannot exist at different trophic levels in a food pyramid.

  4. It does not give an accurate account of ongoing activities in the ecosystem in relation to seasonal variations.

  5. They are only applicable to food chains.

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For a thing to be considered living, it must possess all the basic characteristics of life. These include:

  1. Movement

  2. Respiration

  3. Nutrition

  4. Irritability or Sensitivity

  5. Growth

  6. Excretion

  7. Reproduction

  8. Death

  9. Adaptation

  10. Competition

Please read the explanations on all the basic characteristics of life here

During strenuous exercises like sprinting or running, your body may actually work in the shortage of oxygen. During this time, your body owes oxygen (called oxygen debt) and it must be replenished or repayed after the exercise is stopped. This is why you breathe excess of oxygen after you stopped the exercise.

This is the concept of anaerobic respiration

Food Chain - Len Academy

A food chain is a diagram that shows the relationship between plants and animals within a habitat on the basis of how they rely on each other for food.

Note: Habitat is a place where an organism live. It is of three types:

  • Terrestrial (Land)
  • Aquatic (Water)
  • Arboreal (Treetops)

You can read on food chain here

The term Biology originated from two Greek words. They are:

  • Bios: means life.

  • Logos: means knowledge or to study.

Biology can therefore be defined as the study of life

Anything that has life is generally considered as a living organism (or organism). All living organisms must be able to carry the following activities:

  1. Movement

  2. Respiration

  3. Nutrition

  4. Irritability or Sensitivity

  5. Growth

  6. Excretion

  7. Reproduction

  8. Death

  9. Adaptation

  10. Competition

The above listed points are often regarded as the basic characteristics of life. You can memorize them using the acronym -> MR. NIGER DAC.

You can read on the introduction to biology and the basic characteristics of life here

The gas used in the manufacture of food by plants is Carbon dioxide or Carbon(IV)oxide or CO2

Plants manufacture food through a process called photosynthesis.

Please read on photosynthesis here

It is noteworthy to state that plants are the only orgnisms that take away CO2 from the atmosphere