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Humans Make Up Only 0.01 Percent Of All Living Things On Earth, While Plants Represent 82 Percent

May 23, 2018 08:29 PM EDT
Man In Nature
Humans may not be the masters of the planet after all. A comprehensive new study illustrates how little humankind weighs in the planet's total biomass — and yet they cause a disproportionate, massive impact on it.
(Photo : Pixabay)

A new study sheds light on the composition of life on Earth. Humans steal the limelight despite occupying just a tiny fraction of the planet's overall biomass.

The researchers used the carbon content of all living creatures, also known as biomass, to measure how much of Earth's biomass weight each group actually occupies.

The study published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences provides a biomass census that was created in hopes of gaining new knowledge on the structure and dynamics of life on the planet.

Human Population, Footprint

All life on Earth has a total biomass weight of roughly 550 gigatons, and the data shows that when it comes to carbon content, humans barely make a dent on the scale.

The global population of humans, which is currently estimated at 7.6 billion, reportedly account for just 0.01 percent of all living things.

However, just because humankind occupies a small space of the biosphere doesn't mean the group's impact on the totality of life is minimal. In fact, humans have played a huge role in dictating the biomass of every other group.

The study points out that since the dawn of civilization, humans have helped with cutting down plants' total biomass by half and wild mammals' by a dismaying 85 percent.

On the other hand, livestock such as pigs and cattle outweigh wild mammals due to their close association with human life. Chickens throughout the world reach triple of all other wild birds' weight.

"I would hope this gives people a perspective on the very dominant role that humanity now plays on Earth," study lead author Ron Milo says. "It is definitely striking, our disproportionate place on Earth."

Milo is a biologist from the Weizmann Institute of Science in Israel.

"Even though short in numbers, we have managed to throw a lot of sand in the air and mess up a lot of things," Harvard biologist EO Wilson adds. Wilson is not part of the study.

Plants Rule The World

It turns out that plants comprise the overwhelming majority of the Earth's biomass. Plants make up 80 percent of the total carbon content of all living things in the planet, with land plants being the most notable.

In decreasing order of biomass, plants are followed by bacteria, fungi, archaea, protists, animals, and viruses. Another remarkable finding is that marine life is only about 1 percent of the total biomass.

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