A saprophyte or saprotroph is an organism which gets its energy from dead and decaying organic matter. This may be decaying pieces of plants or animals. This means that saprophytes are heterotrophs. They are consumers in the food chain.
This is the typical life-style of fungi. Some fungi are parasites on living organisms, but most are saprophytes. Many bacteria and protozoa are also saprophytes. To put it simply, most dead organic matter is eventually broken down and used by bacteria and fungi. Lastly, slime moulds are also saprophytes, as well as consuming bacteria.
Other terms, such as ‘saprotroph’ or ‘saprobe’ may be used instead of saprophyte. Strictly speaking, -phyte means ‘plant’. The problem is that no embryophytes (land plants) are true saprotrophs, and bacteria and fungi are no longer considered plants. Nevertheless, saprophyte is such a well-known term that most writers continue to use it.
Saprobionts are organisms that digest their food externally and then absorb the products. Fungi are examples of saprobiontic organisms also known as decomposers.
Saprobiontic organisms feed off dead and or decaying matter, to digest this they excrete digestive enzymes which breaks down the cell tissues allowing the organism to extract the nutrients it needs to survive while leaving the indigestible waste. This is called extracellular digestion. This is very important in ecosystems, for the nutrient cycle.
They are a form of decomposer, but not to be confused with detritivores, which digest internally.
These organisms can be a good source of extra-cellular enzymes for industrial processes such as the production of fruit juice. For instance, the fungus Aspergillus niger is used to produce pectinase. An enzyme which is used to break down pectin in the concentrate to make the juice appear more translucent.
Myco-Heterotrophy – A heterotroph is a general term for an organism that needs organic material to get its carbon for growth and development. Many plants which lack chlorophyllneed fungi to break down organic material for them. Traditionally, they were called saprophytes. Now they are given a new name: myco-heterotrophy. quite a number of orchids and gentians.