Difference Between Heterotrophs and Autotrophs (With Table)

Both these play an important role in the food chain and are interconnected to one another. Heterotrophs are creatures that do not have the ability to make their own food and rely on other species for their nourishment whereas, organisms that can make their food through sunlight and water are called autotrophs.

Heterotrophs vs Autotrophs

The main difference between Heterotrophs and Autotrophs is that heterotrophs cannot make their food, so they have to consume or absorb it. On the opposite hand, autotrophs are organisms that prepare their nourishment via the method of photosynthesis. Therefore, autotrophs are producers and heterotrophs are consumers.

Heterotrophs are not able to produce organic substances from inorganic ones. Heterotrophs rely both directly or indirectly on autotrophs for vitamins and food energy. For example, raccoons would possibly eat corn (maize) planted in a field, or they could seize and consume rodents that depend upon corn as a food source.

An autotroph is an organism that could make its food through synthesizing organic nutrients from inorganic materials, the use of power from daylight, or a chemical source to power the process. The autotrophic lifestyle is exemplified by plants, which Utilize solar energy to convert carbon dioxide and water into the naturally occurring molecule glucose, which is produced via photosynthesis.

Comparison Table Between Heterotrophs and Autotrophs

Parameters of Comparison



Raw material

No raw material is needed.

Raw materials are required.

Level in the food chain

They are at a secondary level in the food chain.

These are at the primary level.


Digestion is required to convert complex substances into simpler ones.

No need for digestion.

Food making

Food can be prepared at any time.

Food is prepared only in the daytime.


Herbivores, carnivores

Plants, algae

What are Heterotrophs?

A heterotroph is an organism that obtains energy and sustenance through the consumption of other plants or animals. The period originates from the Greek terms hetero for “different” and trophy for “nourishment.” Heterotrophs are termed consumers owing to the fact they devour producers or various consumers.

Dogs, birds, fish, and human beings are all instances of heterotrophs. Heterotrophs occupy the second and third tiers of a food chain, a sequence of creatures that give electricity and vitamins to various species. Each food chain has 3 trophic levels, which characterize an organism’s role in an ecosystem. Occupying the main trophic level are autotrophs, including plants and algae. Herbivores are creatures that devour flowers at the second level. Carnivores are creatures that devour meat and omnivores are species that ingest flowers and meat occupy the third level.

Both main (herbivores) and secondary (carnivores and omnivores) consumers are heterotrophs, at the same time as number one producers are autotrophs. The third sort of heterotrophic consumer is a detritivore. These creatures gain meals via feeding on the remnants of plant life and animals in addition to waste materials. Detritivores serve a significant part in sustaining a healthy environment via recycling garbage.

What are Autotrophs?

An autotroph is a creature that might manufacture its nourishment utilizing light, water, carbon dioxide, or alternative substances. Because autotrophs make their food, they’re frequently regarded as producers. Plants are the most recognizable sort of autotroph, although there are other distinct kinds of autotrophic creatures. Algae, which remains in the water and whose giant forms are termed seaweed, are autotrophic.

Phytoplankton, small creatures that reside withinside the water, are autotrophs. Some species of bacteria are autotrophs. Most autotrophs employ a method known as photosynthesis to create their food. In photosynthesis, autotrophs utilize energy from the sun to turn water from the soil and carbon dioxide from the air straight into nutrition known as glucose. Glucose is a form of sugar.

The glucose provides plants energy. Plants also utilize glucose to generate cellulose, a material they employ to build and construct cell walls. Some uncommon autotrophs create meals by a mechanism known as chemosynthesis, in preference to utilizing photosynthesis. Autotrophs that carry out chemosynthesis do now no longer utilize energy from the sun to create nourishment. Instead, they make meals using energy from chemical reactions, frequently combining hydrogen sulfide or methane with oxygen. Autotrophic bacteria that produce meals via chemosynthesis have additionally been observed at regions at the seafloor known as cold seeps.

Main Difference Between Heterotrophs and  Autotrophs

  1. Heterotrophs do not have chloroplasts, and so are unable to manufacture food. Autotrophs, on the other hand, use chloroplasts to aid in the preparation of their meal.
  2. Heterotrophs get energy from diverse species directly or indirectly, while autotrophs absorb energy from inorganic sources and transform it into chemical energy.
  3. It is possible for heterotrophs to travel between locations in quest of food and refuge. On the other hand, autotrophs can not move from their region.
  4. Heterotrophs include all members of the animal kingdom, while autotrophs include members of the plant kingdom as well as some unicellular organisms such as cyanobacteria.
  5. Heterotrophs use oxygen and release carbon dioxide withinside the environment. On the alternative side, autotrophs use carbon dioxide and release oxygen withinside the environment.


The planet earth is home to many organisms inclusive of people and plants. Thus, it has divided these organisms into two parts that are- heterotrophs and autotrophs. Both these are important elements in the food chain and without these the food chain is incomplete. Not only food chains, these both are related to one another. We can say that both are giving life to each other.

If plants stop releasing oxygen and only take in carbon dioxide, the organism’s survival becomes difficult and vice-versa. Now let’s look at some points why both these are important. Autotrophs are extremely crucial due to the fact without them, no different kinds of lifestyles can exist. Heterotrophs help in retaining stability withinside the surroundings by supplying organic compounds for autotrophs. Certain heterotrophs inclusive of fungi assist in lowering decomposed plant and animal material. This recycling activity is critical in lowering waste withinside the environment.


  1. https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1111/j.1365-2427.2010.02509.x
  2. https://www.int-res.com/abstracts/ame/v15/n2/p177-189/