What Is Biomass? - Definition & Explanation

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  • 0:00 Ecosystems & Biomass
  • 1:14 Ecological Pyramids
  • 2:07 Inverted Pyramids
  • 2:35 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Sarah Friedl

Sarah has two Master's, one in Zoology and one in GIS, a Bachelor's in Biology, and has taught college level Physical Science and Biology.

In this lesson, you'll learn what ecologists use to quantify the amount of matter in an ecological community. This often relates to the amount of energy being produced by various parts of that community.

Ecosystems & Biomass

If you look out your window right now, you'll most likely be able to catch a glimpse of an ecosystem, or a community of both living and nonliving elements. Ecosystems are dynamic and unique. The view out of a window in the Eastern United States will probably be quite different from the view out a window in coastal California or the Rocky Mountains or the Great Lakes region.

Despite their differences, one thing all ecosystems have in common is that they all contain matter. This matter is made up of all the plants, animals, and other living things that make up a community. When all of an ecosystem's mass is added up, it is called the biomass of that ecosystem.

Biomass refers to the overall mass of an ecosystem. However, scientists can study more specific types of biomass too, such as plant biomass, heterotrophic biomass (organisms that eat other organisms), species biomass (the biomass for an individual species in a community), terrestrial biomass, ocean biomass, and even global biomass. Biomass may be quantified as the total amount of mass in an ecosystem or as an average amount of mass in a given area.

Ecological Pyramids

When trying to understand biomass, we first need to know a little more about how an ecosystem functions. Ecosystems have different energy levels called trophic levels, which are basically where different organisms exist in the food chain.

Generally, as you move through the upper trophic levels, the amount of both production and biomass decreases. This is because there has to be more energy available to be consumed from the lower trophic levels. In other words, producers in an ecosystem, like plants, have to provide more energy than those that are eating them, like animals, because they are supporting those upper trophic levels.

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