Primary Productivity of Biomes

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  • 0:07 What is Primary Productivity?
  • 1:37 Biomes
  • 2:57 High Primary…
  • 4:22 Moderate Primary Productivity
  • 4:48 Low Primary Productivity
  • 5:49 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Margaret Cunningham

Margaret has taught many Biology and Environmental Science courses and has Master's degrees in Environmental Science and Education.

Imagine a desert, a rainforest, and a lake. All of these areas are similar in that there are plants growing in them. These areas all vary because the amount of plant production is different based on the type of habitat. This lesson will explore the concept of primary productivity and how it varies by biomes. It will also discuss the most productive biomes and the biomes that produce the least biomass.

What Is Primary Productivity?

Take a minute and think about the food you ate today. Now, think about the food you would expect a deer or an eagle to eat during a day. What do you think these diets have in common? Although there is a great deal of diversity in what these animals are consuming, the major thing they all have in common is the origin of the food materials.

The sun is the source of all energy on Earth, and plants are the mechanisms that take that energy and convert it to a usable form for other organisms. Plants use a process known as photosynthesis to combine carbon dioxide, water, inorganic salts, and energy from sunlight to create complex organic molecules, such as sugars. These sugars are then passed to other species when the plant is consumed, and the energy moves through the food web as organisms are consumed by others.

The plants that conduct photosynthesis are known as autotrophic because they produce their own food. These types of plants are also referred to as primary producers because the food they create is the main source of energy that is consumed by other organisms. Primary production is the term used to describe the amount of new organic material, or biomass, created by the primary producers in an ecosystem. It is important to understand primary production and the amount of organic materials produced because all organisms, including humans, rely on this material that plants produce to survive.


Primary production is dependent on many environmental factors, such as water, temperature, nutrients, and sunlight. Since these factors vary in availability throughout the globe, the level of primary production also varies by location or biome. Biomes are large terrestrial or aquatic regions on Earth that are characterized by a unique climate and community of plants and animals. Due to the fact that the descriptions of biomes are changing and new biomes are being identified, the number of different biomes on Earth is not a set number.

For this lesson, we will discuss fourteen different biomes and how they relate to primary productivity. The aquatic biomes discussed will include the open ocean, coral reefs, estuaries, lakes and streams, and swamps and marshes. The terrestrial biomes will be divided into four different types including tropical, temperate, polar, and desert. The tropical biomes include tropical rainforests, tropical seasonal forests, and tropical savannas. The temperate biomes include temperate deciduous forests, temperate evergreen forests, and temperate grasslands. The polar biomes include boreal forests and the tundra, while the desert biome does not have any subdivisions.

Biomes with High Primary Productivity

There are many biomes on Earth that have high levels of primary productivity. These highly productive areas have an average annual net primary production of over 1,000 grams per square meter per year. The aquatic biome with the highest level of primary productivity is the coral reef biome with around 2,500 grams of biomass per square meter per year. The biome that includes swamps and marshes and the estuary biome are the other aquatic biomes that have high levels of primary productivity. These biomes have higher levels of primary productivity than other aquatic biomes because, in these regions, there is an increase in nutrient availability.

As you might expect, the terrestrial biome with the highest level of primary productivity is the tropical rainforest biome with around 2,200 grams of biomass per square meter per year. The tropical seasonal forests also fall in the range of having high primary productivity. These tropical biomes can produce large amounts of biomass due to the high temperatures, large amounts of rainfall, and long daylight hours. There are also two temperate biomes that have high levels of primary productivity, the temperate evergreen forest biome and the temperate deciduous forest biome. Although these biomes produce a large amount of biodiversity, they are limited by colder winters and less rainfall.

Biomes with Moderate Primary Productivity

Biomes that are considered moderate in their primary productivity produce between 500 and 1000 grams of biomass per square meter per year. All three biomes in this category are terrestrial and include tropical savannas, boreal forests, and temperate grasslands. These biomes receive less rain than the biomes that produce high levels of primary productivity and are more prone to long periods without water.

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