In the study of the environment, the pyramid of biomass is an important indicator of the health of ecosystems. When there is an imbalance in the pyramid, it indicates that something is going wrong in that ecosystem, and an investigation is needed.
Before discussing the biomass pyramid and its impact on the environment, it’s essential to have a sound grasp on what it is, why it’s important, and what it indicates. This is a complex area of conservation science, and the delicate balance it represents is well-documented.
Simplifying the terminology
According to Wikipedia, the biomass pyramid “shows the relationship between biomass and trophic level of an ecological community at a particular time.” To gain an insight into what this really means, let’s unpack the concepts:
Biomass refers to the comprehensive total of organisms in a given area, expressed as a weight. It is used to calculate how much energy an organism generates when it is consumed.
The trophic level refers to the rank of an organism in a food chain, which is a set of organisms that each relies on the organism lying beneath them in the sequence of consumption. There are five trophic levels:
- Plants and algae occupy the lowest level of a trophic system. They are also known as primary producers since they are the source of each food chain. Another term associated with plants and algae when it comes to the trophic system is autotrophs.
According to the best paper writing service, the prefix auto implies something to do with ‘self’, and it applies to these organisms because they produce their own food through photosynthesis. None of the other organisms in a food chain can do this.
- Primary consumers form the next level in the trophic system. These are herbivorous animals that eat the plants from the first trophic level. They are exclusively vegetarian, getting all their energy from that which the plants manufacture for themselves. Primary consumers include insects, cattle, deer, and rabbits.
- Secondary consumers are specialized carnivores, who only eat herbivores. They get their energy from eating the primary consumer, which got its energy from the plants it consumed. The fox, which eats the rabbit, is an example of a secondary consumer.
- Tertiary consumers are carnivores and omnivores that eat animals from the secondary consumer trophic level. An omnivore eats both plants and animals, so tertiary consumers also eat from the lowest trophic level. The best energy omnivores obtain is from plant-based foods because they get it firsthand. They get less energy from eating meat because the energy has been transferred from one organism to another at least twice before they access it. In the ocean, seals and sea lions are tertiary consumers.
- The apex predator sits at the top of the food chain, eating both carnivores, herbivores, and omnivores. No animal preys on the apex predator, meaning that it is not actively hunted by any other species. No one hunts the king of the jungle, meaning that a lion is an apex predator. Humans are the greatest apex predators of all in the trophic system.
An ecological community is a set of organisms that interact with each other and their environment, including things in it, such as rocks, soil, and sunlight. There are six main ecosystem types, each of which is being affected by global warming.
- Water ecosystems can be divided into two types: freshwater and marine. The freshwater ecosystem is further broken down into two subtypes. The first is moving water, such as a river or stream. The second is stationary water, such as ponds. The marine ecosystem is the largest on the planet since the ocean covers more than 70% of the earth.
- Desert ecosystems are characterized by low rainfall levels and high winds. While most people might think of the sun beating down on miles of sand and dunes as typical of a desert, there are other types.
Some deserts are comprised mainly of rocks. There are also arctic deserts, which falls in line with the concept that deserts feature extreme temperatures. There is minimal vegetation in a desert, and the animals that live there are adapted to the dry conditions.
- Tundra ecosystems are frozen landscapes, where the land may be frozen all year, known as permafrost. Spring and summer are fleeting, and the snow melts briefly. The extreme conditions mean that few plants and animals can survive living on the tundra.
- Grassland ecosystems have different names around the world. From the veld of South Africa to the savannah of Kenya to the steppes of Siberia, they all have similar characteristics.
These include an abundance of grasses, but a sparsity of trees. Grasslands typically occur in temperate regions and have semi-arid climates. These ecosystems are the ideal place for grazing and browsing animals like zebra and giraffe.
- Forest ecosystems are divided into three categories, which are tropical, boreal, or temperate. Tropical forests are more commonly known as rainforests or jungles, where there is high rainfall.
Many exotic species of plants, animals, and birds live in these ecosystems, which are under threat due to logging, human settlement, and inefficient wasteland management. Boreal forests are cold and feature an abundance of evergreen coniferous trees, such as the pine tree. Temperate forests feature a mix of trees, some of which are evergreen, while others shed their leaves each autumn.
So, what is the biomass pyramid?
The biomass pyramid indicates the ratio of plants and algae to primary consumers to secondary consumers to tertiary consumers to apex predators in a specific ecosystem. It calculates whether there are enough organisms and animals at each trophic level to sustain the food chain.
In an upright biomass pyramid, the mass of the producers exceeds that of the mass of the consumers. The inverted biomass pyramid is the opposite, meaning that the mass of the producers is less than the mass of the consumers.
An inverted biomass pyramid is quite normal in some ecosystems, especially the freshwater ecosystem in a stationary body of water like a pond. When the biomass pyramid of a specific ecosystem changes, there is cause for concern.
The biomass pyramid should remain mostly constant, and any extreme changes warrant immediate investigation.
Different biomass calculations
As a complex concept, there are two types of biomass. The first is species biomass, which measures each trophic level according to the species it features. The total is still expressed as a mass.
When expressed as a quantity, the data is more suitable for contributing to a pyramid of numbers. The second is community biomass, which is the total mass of each trophic level within the ecosystem.
Calculating biomass takes a precise scientific approach, and there are norms and standards that should be followed to get an accurate example. For example, calculating the mass of fish should happen while they are still wet. If some scientists weigh them wet and others dry, the final total will not be representatively accurate. Animals should be weighed including their bone mass.
The calculation of how much energy is transferred from one trophic level to another is called the pyramid of energy.
Conclusion: Why the biomass pyramid should be relevant to you
The ravaging effects of global warming and climate change are everywhere. They have an impact on the ecosystems and can negatively affect the mass of each trophic system. This creates an imbalance in the food chain, which can lead to a catastrophic event such as the extinction of a species.
Thousands of species are already extinct, and a significant effort is needed to make sure that it doesn’t keep happening.
The study of the biomass pyramid is a good indicator of the health of an ecosystem, as any major changes signify the need for intervention to secure the food chain. Recognizing the early warning symptoms can make rebalancing the food chain much easier than when left too late.