The ten percent law of energy transfer in a food chain from one trophic level to the next was proposed by American Ecologist Raymond Laurel Lindeman (1942). The law described the ecological efficiency of energy transferred from one trophic level to the next.
In the 10% law of energy transfer, Lindeman quantifies the efficiency of energy transfer between trophic levels from the incident radiation (from the sun as light energy) received by an ecological community through its producer (green plants) during photosynthesis to its subsequent use by other trophic levels such as herbivores, carnivores, and decomposers.
Ecological efficiency measures the amount of energy that enters from one trophic level to the next. Energy transfer between one trophic level to the next is energy inefficient. The efficiency is about 5–15%. This inefficiency of energy transfer between two trophic levels limits the length of food chains as little energy remains present after four or five trophic levels.
For example, the Sun releases about 10,000 J of energy. Plants receive only 1% of the energy (100 J) from the sunlight. A herbivore gets only 10% of energy (10 J) from the plant. A carnivore gets again 10% of energy (1 J) from the herbivore. An apex carnivore gets 10% of energy (0.1 J) from the carnivore. The energy lost from one trophic level is in the form of respiration, defecation, and non-predatory death.