Difference Between Autotrophs and Heterotrophs

Food is the only source of energy for all living organisms on this planet. The food which we all consume is available in different sources.  Living organisms are further divided based on the modes of nutrition. The two main modes of nutrition are – Autotrophic and Heterotrophic.

The term Nutrition is mainly defined as the biological process of obtaining and utilizing the food by the organisms.

Here in this article let us know about Autotrophs and Heterophs and their modes of nutrition, along with the examples and their differences.


Autotrophs are organisms that undergo Autotrophic Modes of Nutrition. They are organisms which are able to prepare their own food from simple substances like carbon dioxide,  and water. All green plants are examples of autotrophs and through the process of photosynthesis, these green plants containing chlorophyll pigments in the plant cell synthesise their own food by absorbing energy from the sunlight. All Autotrophs are Producers and are placed at the primary level in the food web.

Photosynthesis provides the means by which carbon in carbon dioxide is fixed by conversion to carbohydrates including sugars such as glucose and sucrose, cellulose and starches such as amylopectin.

Carbohydrates are interconvertible and may be converted to fatty acids to make lipids. Other elements may be added to synthesize organic compounds such as proteins.  Carbohydrates, lipids, and proteins can all be used as sources of energy in respiration by both autotrophs and heterotrophs, recycling carbon dioxide so that it may again be used in photosynthesis.

Also, read about Autotrophic Nutrition


Heterotrophs are organisms which cannot prepare their own food for their energy. These organisms are dependent on producers or green plants and other animals for their food. This mode of nutrition is known as the heterotrophic mode of nutrition.

Heterotrophs rely on autotrophs to provide a continuous supply of new organic molecules. Heterotrophs are considered as consumers and in the food web, it is placed at a secondary or tertiary level.

All the non-green plants and animals, inclusive of human beings, are the best examples of heterotrophs.

The heterotrophs are benefited from photosynthesis in many ways.

  • Directly by consuming plants as herbivores
  • Indirectly by attacking, killing and consuming other herbivores animals (carnivores) or both animals and plants (omnivores),
  • By using oxygen for the cellular respiration process.

Also, read about Heterotrophic Nutrition

Difference between Autotrophs and Heterotrophs

The difference between autotrophs and heterotrophs is given below:

Autotroph Heterotroph
Autotrophs produce their own food for energy. Heterotrophs eat other organisms to get energy and proteins.
Chemoautotroph and Photoautotroph are two major types of Autotrophs Herbivores, Carnivores, Omnivores and Decomposers are four types of Heterotrophs
Are capable of storing energy in the form of ATP within their cells. Do not store energy
Are at the primary level in Food chain Are at Secondary and tertiary level in Food chain
Acts as a producer in Food Web Acts as consumers in Food Web
Are independent as they synthesise their own food Depends on other organisms for the food
Obtain energy from inorganic sources, where the light energy is converted into chemical energy. Obtain energy directly or indirectly from other organisms.
Parasites and saprophytes are not found Autotrophs Parasites and saprophytes are not found Heterotrophs
Plants, Algae few Photosynthetic bacteria are examples of Autotrophs Carnivores, Omnivores and Herbivores are examples of Heterotrophs

Flow Chart of Autotrophs and Heterotrophs

The flowchart gives a clear pictorial representation of autotrophs and heterotrophs.

Autotrophs and Heterotrophs


From the above discussion, we can conclude that both autotrophs and heterotrophs and the modes of nutrition play equal roles in maintaining the food chain of the ecosystem.

Important questions for you:

  • List out the different types of heterotrophs?

The different types of heterotrophs based on their source of nutrition are:-

  1. Herbivores:  Animals which obtains their nutrition from eating only plants and its materials.
  2. Carnivores: Animals which obtains their nutrition from killing and eating the flesh of other animals.
  3. Omnivores: Animals which obtains their nutrition from both plants as well animals.
  4. Decomposers: Animals which obtains their nutrition from dead and decay matters.
  • List out the examples of  Heterotrophs?

Animals including Herbivores, omnivores, and carnivores are examples of Heterotrophs.

  • List out the examples of  Autotrophs

All green plants synthesizing their own food through the biological process called Photosynthesis are examples of Autotrophs.

Learn more about the difference between autotrophs and heterotrophs, nutrition, modes of nutrition and other related topics @ BYJU’S Biology

Practise This Question

Which of the following is a rich source of energy and does not cause pollution?

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