Scientists Baffled by New “Size of Life” Discovery About Our Planet’s Biomass

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New analysis from the University of British Columbia has revealed that Earth’s biomass is predominantly concentrated in organisms at both finish of the scale spectrum. In the primary examine of its sort, Dr. Eden Tekwa surveyed the physique sizes of all dwelling organisms on Earth and found that the smallest and largest organisms considerably outweigh all others. This surprising sample challenges present theories, which predict that biomass could be unfold evenly throughout all physique sizes.

Life is available in all shapes in sizes, however some sizes are extra common than others, new analysis from the University of British Columbia (UBC) has discovered. 

In the primary examine of its sort revealed at this time (March 29) in PLOS ONE, Dr. Eden Tekwa, who carried out the examine as a postdoctoral fellow at UBC’s division of zoology, surveyed the physique sizes of all Earth’s dwelling organisms, and uncovered an surprising sample. Contrary to what present theories can clarify, our planet’s biomass—the fabric that makes up all dwelling organisms—is concentrated in organisms at both finish of the scale spectrum.

“The smallest and largest organisms significantly outweigh all other organisms,” mentioned Dr. Tekwa, lead creator of “The size of life,” and now a analysis affiliate with McGill University’s division of biology. “This seems like a new and emerging pattern that needs to be explained, and we don’t have theories for how to explain it right now. Current theories predict that biomass would be spread evenly across all body sizes.”

In addition to difficult our understanding of how life is distributed, these outcomes have necessary implications for predicting the consequences and impacts of local weather change. “Body size governs a lot of global processes as well as local processes, including the rate at which carbon gets sequestered, and how the function and stability of ecosystems might be affected by the composition of living things,” mentioned Dr. Tekwa. “We need to think about how body size biomass distribution will change under environmental pressures.”

“Life constantly amazes us, including the incredible range of sizes that it comes in,” says senior creator Dr. Malin Pinsky, affiliate professor within the division of ecology, evolution, and pure assets at Rutgers University. “If the tiniest microbe was the size of the period at the end of this sentence, the largest living organism, a sequoia tree, would be the size of the Panama Canal.”

To receive their outcomes, Dr. Tekwa spent 5 years compiling and analyzing knowledge in regards to the dimension and biomass of each sort of dwelling organism on the planet—from tiny one-celled organisms like soil archaea and micro organism to giant organisms like blue whales and sequoia bushes. They discovered that the sample favouring giant and small organisms held throughout all forms of species, and was more pronounced in land-based organisms than in marine environments. Interestingly, maximum body size seemed to reach the same upper limits across multiple species and environments.

“The largest body sizes appear across multiple species groups, and their maximum body sizes are all within a relatively narrow range,” Dr. Tekwa noted. “Trees, grasses, underground fungi, mangroves, corals, fish and marine mammals all have similar maximum body sizes. This might suggest that there is a universal upper size limit due to ecological, evolutionary or biophysical limitations.”

Dr. Tekwa was also able to uncover some intriguing details about the distribution of life in various ecosystems. “Even though corals occur in only a small fraction of the ocean, it turns out that they have about the same biomass as all the fish in the ocean,” said Dr. Tekwa. “This illustrates how important the balance of biomass is in the oceans. Corals support a lot of fish diversity, so it’s really interesting that those two organisms have almost the same biomass.”

As for humans, we already know we comprise a relatively small biomass, but our size among all living things reveals our place in the global biome. “We belong to the size range that comprises the highest biomass, which is a relatively large body size,” said Dr. Tekwa. 

Dr. Tekwa added that their findings will help inform future research into Earth’s evolving environment. “This enables us to move forward, because it establishes a baseline of the current state that already includes human-driven effects,” they said. “For example, fish biomass is probably half of what it was before humans arrived, but it gets harder and harder to infer those patterns as we go farther back in geological time. These are really important empirical studies to conduct. There’s a lot of relevance to humans and societies as we tackle sustainability challenges, and global ecological assessments should be an essential part of sustainability initiatives.”

For more on this research, see Surprising Size Extremes Dominate Earth’s Biomass.

Reference: “The sizes of life” by Eden W. Tekwa, Katrina A. Catalano, Anna L. Bazzicalupo, Mary I. O’Connor and Malin L. Pinsky, 29 March 2023, PLOS ONE.
DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0283020