Quaternary consumers


The quaternary consumers are those feed tertiary predators . They occupy the fourth level among consumers, but the fifth and highest link in the grazing trophic chain, also constituted by tertiary, secondary, primary predators and primary producers. They are also at the top of the detritus chain, where the energy comes from dead organic matter from the grazing food web. They are heterotrophic bodies, they devour organic matter to obtain the necessary energy and sustenance . They are also known as apex predators or super predators, because they do not have natural stalkers.


What are Quaternary Consumers?

The quaternary consumers represent the fourth and highest link in the food chain . They are also found as alpha predators, apexes or super predators, because they are not stalked by any other creature. Its existence, or not, in biological systems depends on the efficiency in the flow of energy between the different rings of the food structure. They feed on other living beings, mainly tertiary predators . They kill for food and / or eliminate an ecological competitor, affecting the balance of their prey populations. An example of a fourth-level consumer is the human being.


Not all ecosystems have four or five levels, some food chains are shorter. This is related to the conditions of each ecosystem , which present more or less amount of sunlight, rainfall, differences in temperature and in the variety of plants and animal species.


The existence, or not, of the quaternary hunters depends on the efficiency in the transfer of energy between the different links. Only one tenth (10%) of the biomass or energy stored in the organisms of one level is assimilated in the next stratum. If the energy flow is incomplete or deficient, the highest links in the food chain tend to disappear. Some structures only reach tertiary consumers.

  • What are the quaternary consumers?
  • Characteristics of quaternary consumers
  • Importance
  • Examples of Quaternary Consumers

What are the quaternary consumers?

Quaternary consumers are heterotrophic organisms, participants in trophic dynamics (energy flow between one level of the chain and another). They prevail over the other species in their ecosystem. This group of animals of large size, body mass, strength and speed make up:

  • Felines : tiger, jaguar, lion, leopard, cheetah and puma.
  • Crocodiles: marine and Nile, alligators and alligators.
  • Carnivorous mammals: hyena, gray wolf, wolverine and polar bear, among others.
  • Snakes: anaconda and python.
  • Bird: Eagle owl.
  • Birds of prey: eagles.
  • Cetaceans : killer whale.
  • Escualos: whale shark.
  • Mollusks : giant octopus of the North Pacific.
  • Humans.

They are not the only ones. Some key species can be considered super predators due to the impact they produce on their ecosystems, in relation to biomass and / or productivity. They do not always occupy the fourth level, they may be higher or lower in the trophic series.

Characteristics of quaternary consumers

Quaternaries are exclusively predatory . Unable to produce their own food: energy and organic compounds. They appropriate the energy stored in other organisms and derived products. They are mainly carnivores, but at this level there are also omnivores, which feed on raptors, secondary consumers and the vegetables that make up the lowest level of the chain.

They contribute to the stability of their ecosystems through the predation of dominant species at lower levels, they regulate the concentration and dynamics of organisms. This is known as a trophic cascade .

Energy does not disappear with quaternary consumers, a part of it is released in the form of CO2 through respiration, another part of the organic matter – undigested – is expelled in the form of excrement, which is used by decomposers. And once the organism dies, it remains at the mercy of decomposers that synthesize dead matter and convert it into heat, released back into the atmosphere through cellular respiration and / or generation of substances that enrich the soils.


All members of a biological group or ecosystem need food to grow, develop and reproduce – to live! The so-called food chain offers a picture of who comes to whom, how energy and nutrients are transferred from one level to another. Also of the relationship that exists between organisms based on the food they eat. A predator can kill to eliminate an ecological competitor and not eat it.

Quaternary consumers fulfill important functions in their environment, not only because they are among the few dominant species, but also because of their determining action on the structure, function and stability of the entity to which they belong. That is, in the types and numbers of species, productivity or energy and nutrient conversion rates, and food webs over time.

Quaternaries affect the dynamics of tertiary consumers , in number and activity, they also directly or indirectly influence the development of organisms at lower levels. When they consume herbivorous animals, they intervene in the primary production of plants, and even when they have nothing to do with the predation of plant species, the pressure they exert on herbivorous animals ends up changing the amount, form and rate of consumption of losses . Predators are – unintentionally – defenders of smaller prey.

Although feared and besieged for their ferocity, apex predators control the populations of the animals that serve as their prey . They also protect riparian banks from erosion and are involved in creating zones of concentration of nutrients necessary for the ecosystem.

Feeding on species of one level or another has an impact on the food chain or web that follows each organism. The suppression or reduction of quaternary consumers can lead to the overpopulation or extermination of producers and predators at lower levels.

Examples of Quaternary Consumers

Perhaps the best known quaternary consumer is Homo sapiens , the human being, prone to feeding on other carnivores, but also on herbivorous organisms and plants, including the products derived from them. In just one meal, homo sapiens can consume a representative of each of the groups that make up its pyramid or food structure. However, due to his level of consciousness and power of action, man is the one most called to preserve his ecosystem.

Another example of a quaternary predator in the animal kingdom is the golden eagle, one of the best-known raptors in the world. It hunts snakes, foxes, rabbits, mice and even birds of the same species. Snakes, in turn, are carnivorous animals, they consume rodents , birds and fish. Rodents feed on seeds or plants.

The polar bear is the king of the Arctic , if we speak of the food chain of this ecosystem. It consumes seals and reindeer in large proportions daily, about 30 kilos a day. In extreme conditions it can eat other examples of the same species, but younger or dead. From its prey it obtains the water and other fluids necessary to live. Seals are carnivores, they eat fish, crustaceans, squid and mollusks. Crustaceans – also carnivores and predators – eat mollusks and fish. While mollusks feed on microscopic organisms suspended in water, including algae, located at the base of the trophic series of aquatic ecosystems.

Interestingly, a dominant animal such as the polar bear can serve as food for another super predator: the orca whale . The killer whale feeds on birds and almost all marine species and even some land mammals. Use the grazing technique to catch and consume their food, a technique in which several killer whales participate, they surround the prey and only one or a small group of them feeds on the hunted animal.

Killer whales eat other whales , seals, sea lions, and depending on where they live: sharks, sea rays, cod, salmon, herring, penguins and seabirds. Sharks feed on other smaller sharks, fish, crustaceans, mollusks, and plankton. And it has already been said what crustaceans and mollusks feed on.

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