Polite reminder: Earth is a tree planet with some bacteria. Everything else is just the extra stuff that lives here too.

Seeing as a couple of people have noted that there's more virus on Earth than there is human...

Sea water is absolutely teeming with them! But don't panic. Most of them only hunt bacteria, and wouldn't bother with us even if they had the opportunity.

The number of viruses which cause illnesses is just a tiny, tiny fraction of the full number of viruses which exist out there. Biologists are discovering new ones all the time!

For everyone who found this interesting, the research paper it originally came from us Bar-On et al (2018) and it's free to read here:

Interestingly, the biomass distribution on Earth is overwhelmingly terrestrial, because most biomass is plants and most plant biomass is trees (with some other woody biomass like shrubs and things).

After terrestrial, a big slice is deep subsurface, which is mostly microbes.

Marine biomass is a surprisingly small fraction considering how much of Earth is ocean. Most ocean life is apparently animals and protists.

This has become a bit of a rabbit hole. As all the most interesting things tend to.

@InvaderXan Can we say that humans are just parasites, who are slowly killing the host?

@SeventhMagpie Certain types of human do seem to fit that description. But I think it's more that humans are a component of the system which is out of balance.

Any little ecosystem, from a fishtank to a sourdough culture, can get out of balance sometimes. It might mess stuff up for a while and do some damage. Eventually though, the system needs to find a balance, and usually does.

Humans just need to realise that they're part of such a system and learn to balance themselves within it.

This "out of balance" stuff is a very good point/hint to all if us - thanks.
Let's hope, we'll learn that soon.

@InvaderXan What of marine life? Plankton, corals, sea grasses, and the like?

@dredmorbius Corals are types of cnidarian, and sea grasses are plants. Plankton are a huge collection of any kind of drifting ocean organism – with the exception of the terrestrial vertebrates, I'm pretty sure every group in this diagram contains some kind of plankton.

@InvaderXan As the diagram casts it, plants. Your original toot overspecified trees, to nitpick.

I'm wondering about biomass distribution and/or carbon fixation among primary producers.

@InvaderXan this is such a wonderful illustration, thank you. I hadn't realised the scale! 😮

I am reminded of how individual humans are an ecosystem on a much smaller scale, but we couldn't survive without say, our gut bacteria.

Let's not kill our host organism.

@vicorva It's pretty interesting to realise where we fit, don't you think?

Ultimately, I'm not sure humans are even capable of killing out host organism. We are, however, quite capable of being a danger to ourselves...

@InvaderXan 😓 terrifying thought when you consider how thoroughly we've hurt ourselves already

@InvaderXan @vicorva not for the lack of trying though. 😅 😂 🤣

@InvaderXan I guess algea falls under plants here? and plankton split amongtn that and bacteria. I suspect a lot of biomass there...

plankton • algae 

@wmd Plankton is an umbrella term for a variety of mostly microscopic ocean life. It includes all kinds of things from bacteria and archaea to tiny arthropods to larval forms of other sea creatures. Weirdly, a few larger things are technically plankton too, like jellyfish!

Algae is a similarly informal term with no particular definition. It covers a variety of photosynthetic eukaryotic organisms, some single celled, some more complex (like kelp). Most algae are plants, but some protists are also considered algae. Cyanobacteria are usually excluded from this group though, even though they're colloquially called "blue-green algae".

I'm pretty sure these are some old terms, which is why they don't really match modern classifications.

plankton • algae 

@InvaderXan I know, just thinking they might take up a lot of biomass and curious how that amount relates to that of trees and other plants. Do you have more infographs like this?

@wmd I'm afraid not, though that would be quite an interesting comparison to make.

@InvaderXan Found this image that's kinda interesting.

Seems a lot less than I expected.


Which I find a bit confusing, seems like there -could- a shit (giga) tons of biomass also on the ocean floor which I think isn't counted in this diagram.

@InvaderXan While I certainly agree with leaving the environment healthy and balanced, ascendancy DOES generally work as a pyramid, yes.

@InvaderXan I don’t want to live on a planet with so many arthropods 😭. Please, get me out of here.

@Sylvhem @InvaderXan Your race is working on it by extincting itself and everybody else.

@fantazo No need to be so aggressive, it was just a joke based on fact that I’m arachnophobic and that arthropods-looking creatures scare me. Also, “your race”?


@Sylvhem @InvaderXan You are human, aren't you? So "your race" is appropriate here.

I'm not aggressive, just blunt, direct and honest. Also not a native English speaker.

So may you feel well in these difficult times and have a good day.

@fantazo I’m human, but you are one to, right? So I think “our species” will sound a little better than “your race”.

Sorry, I’m not a native English speaker either. I think I have misinterpreted your intentions.

Have a good day to!


@InvaderXan I didn't realize humans were such a massive chunk of the mammalian biomass, but it makes sense.

The carbon biomass of viruses is bigger than the carbon biomass of humans. 🤔

When will they start creating designer viruses to do things like reverse climate change & eat plastic
That's the hope that I'm clinging to

@InvaderXan It reminds me this little image, from the appendix of

BAR-ON, Yinon M., PHILLIPS, Rob and MILO, Ron, 2018. The biomass distribution on Earth. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. 19 June 2018. Vol. 115, no. 25, p. 6506–6511. DOI 10.1073/pnas.1711842115.

This applies to carbon, too? I am still thinking about, if the carbon content in plants isn't generally higher than in animals (70 % water). Why is carbon the element of interest?

@Antzessin "A quantitative description of the distribution of biomass is essential for taking stock of biosequestered carbon and modeling global biogeochemical cycles, as well as for understanding the historical effects and future impacts of human activities."

BAR-ON, Yinon M., PHILLIPS, Rob and MILO, Ron, 2018. The biomass distribution on Earth. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. 19 June 2018. Vol. 115, no. 25, p. 6506–6511. DOI 10.1073/pnas.1711842115.



@InvaderXan strange because I saw a few months ago an image with different numbers, especially bacteria were far far above the rest.

@phigger If you count the number of organisms, then there are substantially more bacteria. But seeing as bacteria are so small, that gives a distorted perspective. This image shows biomass instead, giving a fairer representation of how much space each form of life takes up on this planet.

@InvaderXan it counted the dry mass, not the number of individuals

Death, body disposal plans 

LB : This is part of why I want to be composted into tree fertilizer when I die. Trees are wonderful!

@InvaderXan don't know if this is calculable, but how does this change if you factor in the built environment?

@KingMob @InvaderXan
Where do you factor the part of the environment built out of plants?

@InvaderXan and the Earth's ecosystem has proven that it can survive *overwhelming* catastrophes, and bounce right back to beautiful, wild diversity, within a relatively short period of time.

the Earth will survive. life will survive. humans *still*, after all our destructive ingenuity and carelessness, haven't figured out anything that could stop it all. we'll take a lot of things with us when we go, but if we do go, Earth will survive, and in a few million years it'll be like we never even existed.

I find a lot of comfort in that thought. :]

@InvaderXan This is an extremely interesting image. A lot to think about in such a simple chart.

I wonder what proportion of the plant biomass consists of crops, and what of non-crop plants.


I have never regretted the places unreasonable curiosity has taken me

@InvaderXan what is deep subsurface ? Is it like... in the ground ?

@Nausicaa Deep below the ground. Shallow subsurface is where you find plant roots and fungus. Deep subsurface is below that. There's a lot going on in the deeper parts of Earth's crust.

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