Insect ecology is the branch of entomology that focuses on the interrelationships between insects and their environment. To an ecologist, the concept of “environment” encompasses both the abiotic world (non-living things like climate and geology) as well as the biotic world (all living organisms including plants, animals, microorganisms, etc.). All of these components interact within a framework called the biocenose (a natural community).
Communities are groups of organisms (populations) that maintain persistent associations with each other. The members of a typical community include plants, animals, and other organisms that are biologically interdependent through predation, parasitism, and symbiosis. The structure of a biotic community is largely characterized by the trophic (feeding) relationships among its member species. These relationships are often represented simplistically as a food chain. Each link in the food chain represents a trophic level encompassing either producers or consumers.
In most communities, green plants are the dominant producers. They represent the first link in a typical food chain. Plants capture kinetic energy from sunlight and, through the process of photosynthesis, manufacture organic molecules (e.g. simple sugars) from carbon dioxide and water. The captured energy is “stored” in the chemical bonds of these molecules. Some of the stored energy is used by plants for their own survival and growth, some is lost as heat, and some passes on to consumers when the plant is eaten, or to decomposers when the plant dies.
Primary consumers occupy the second link of a food chain. These animals, often called herbivores, survive by feeding exclusively on plants or plant products. The third link includes primary carnivores, secondary consumers that live as predators or parasites of herbivores. Any remaining links in the food chain are occupied by secondary or tertiary carnivores (predators or parasites of other carnivores). Since energy becomes limiting at the uppermost trophic levels, there are seldom more than four or five links in a terrestrial food chain.