Autotroph vs. Heterotroph

Autotroph
Heterotroph

Autotrophs are organisms that can produce their own food from the substances available in their surroundings using light (photosynthesis) or chemical energy (chemosynthesis). Heterotrophs cannot synthesize their own food and rely on other organisms -- both plants and animals -- for nutrition. Technically, the definition is that autotrophs obtain carbon from inorganic sources like carbon dioxide (CO2) while heterotrophs get their reduced carbon from other organisms. Autotrophs are usually plants; they are also called "self feeders" or "primary producers".

Comparison chart

Autotroph

Heterotroph

Produce own food Yes No
Food chain level Primary Secondary and tertiary
Types Photoautotroph, Chemoautotroph Photoheterotroph, Chemoheterotroph
Examples Plants, algae and some bacteria Herbivores, omnivores and carnivores
Definition An organism that is able to form nutritional organic substances from simple inorganic substances such as carbon dioxide. Heterotrophs cannot produce organic compounds from inorganic sources and therefore rely on consuming other organisms in the food chain.
What or How they eat ? Produce their own food for energy. They eat plants and animals.
Monotropastrum humile, a myco-heterotroph dependent on fungi throughout its lifetime
Monotropastrum humile, a myco-heterotroph dependent on fungi throughout its lifetime

Energy Production

Autotrophs produce their own energy by one of the following two methods:

Heterotrophs survive by feeding on organic matter produced by or available in other organisms. There are two types of heterotrophs:

Type of organism Energy source Carbon source
PhotoautotrophLightCarbon dioxide
ChemoautotrophChemicalsCarbon dioxide
PhotoheterotrophLightCarbon from other organisms
ChemoheterotrophOther organismsOther organisms
A flowchart explaining the various types of trophs
A flowchart explaining the various types of trophs

Food Chain

Autotrophs do not depend on other organism for their food. They are the primary producer and are placed first in the food chain. Heterotrophs that depend on autotrophs and other heterotrophs for their energy level are placed next on the food chain.

Herbivores that feed on autotrophs are placed in the second trophic level. Carnivores that eat meat, and omnivores that eat all types of organisms are placed next in the trophic level.

Food cycle between autotrophs and heterotrophs
Food cycle between autotrophs and heterotrophs

References

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Comments: Autotroph vs Heterotroph

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Anonymous comments (3)

March 22, 2014, 6:56pm

Plants ARE autotrophs, where does it say that they are heterotrophs?

— 65.✗.✗.27
2

June 14, 2013, 12:27pm

How come plants be a heterotroph if they can make their own food? It should be autotroph.

— 112.✗.✗.33
2

January 15, 2014, 2:01am

Typo in the last sentence is should read - Autotrophs are usually plants; they are also called "self feeders" or "primary producers".

— 174.✗.✗.209
-1

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