The key difference between heterotrophs and autotrophs is that the heterotrophs are the organisms that cannot create their own food and depend on the organic matter produced by other organisms while autotrophs are the organisms that can make their own food.
Heterotrophs vs. Autotrophs
Every organism in this universe has its own importance. There are different ways to divide these organisms into different groups. All organisms require food for their survival or to get energy. So according to their feeding habits, organisms are divided into two main types, i.e. heterotrophs and autotrophs. Heterotrophs are the organisms that cannot make their own food and depend on other organisms to get their food while autotrophs are the organism that can make their own food. Heterotrophs ingest other organisms to get energy or food while autotrophs use inorganic material like water and carbon dioxide etc. in the presence of sunlight to prepare their own food through photosynthesis or through chemical reactions. Birds and animals are examples of heterotrophs while green plants are the example of autotrophs.
What are Heterotrophs?
The term heterotroph arose in microbiology in 1946. It is a Greek term derived from “heteros” meaning “other” and “trophe” meaning “nutrition”. So, heterotrophs are the organisms that cannot make their food and feed on other living organisms. Almost 95% or more of all organisms are heterotrophs. They get their energy by ingesting other organisms. They occupy the secondary or tertiary level in the food chain and also known as consumers.
- Photoheterotrophs are the heterotrophs that use light for energy, e.g. green non-sulphur bacteria.
- Chemoheterotrophs are the heterotrophs that use chemical energy, E.g. mushrooms and human.
Animals, Birds and some protozoa etc. are heterotrophs.
What are Autotrophs?
An autotroph is also a Greek term coined by the German botanist Albert Bernhard Frank in 1892. It is derived from “autos” meaning “self” and “trophe” meaning “nourishing”. So, these are the organisms that can prepare their own food. They use inorganic material to create organic matter for their survival. Autotrophs use water from soil and carbon dioxide from the air in the presence of sunlight to produce organic matter in the form of glucose or carbohydrates. These carbohydrates provide building material and energy to do work to the producers. Only 1% of the energy coming from the sun is absorbed by autotrophs to make their food through photosynthesis. They occupy the primary level in the food chain, and it is the highest energy level. The maximum energy of the food chain is present at this level, and they are also known as producers. Producers are the fundamental group of our ecosystem. Photosynthesis or producers provide over 99%of energy for life on earth.
- Photoautotrophs are the autotrophs that use the sunlight to synthesize their food.
- Chemoautotrophs are the autotrophs that use chemicals to prepare their food.
All the green plants are producers or autotrophs.
- Heterotrophs are the organisms that are not able to prepare their food while autotrophs can make their own
- Heterotrophs get their food through ingesting other organisms while autotrophs prepare their food by using inorganic material.
- Heterotrophs do not require any pigments whereas autotrophs have pigments like chlorophyll etc. to produce their food through photosynthesis.
- Heterotrophs occupy secondary and tertiary level in the food chain while autotrophs occupy primary level.
- Heterotrophs are also known as consumers whereas autotrophs are known as producers.
- Heterotrophs occupy the low energy level while autotrophs occupy high energy level in the food
- Animals, Birds and some protozoa are examples of heterotrophs but green plants are autotrophs.
From the above discussion, it is concluded that heterotrophs are the consumers that cannot make their food and get it through producers or other consumers while autotrophs are the producers that can produce their own food by using inorganic material like water, carbon dioxide, and sunlight, etc.