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Our planet is home to approximately 8.7 million species, of which more than one trimester live in water.

But humans can have a hard time figuring out such big numbers, so it can be difficult to truly appreciate the extent of this incredible diversity of life on Earth.

In order to fully understand this scale, we draw on the research of Bar-On et al. to break down the total makeup of the living world, in terms of its biomass, and where we stand in that picture.

Why Carbon?

A “carbon-based life form” may sound like something out of science fiction, but that’s what we and all other living things are.

Carbon is used in complex molecules and compounds, making it an essential part of our biology. This is why biomass, or the mass of organisms, is usually measured in terms of carbon composition.

In our visualization, a cube represents 1 million metric tons of carbon, and every thousand of these cubes is equal to 1 Gigaton (Gt C).

Here’s how the numbers stack up in terms of the biomass of life on Earth:

Taxon Mass (Gt C) % Of total
Plants 450 82.4%
Bacteria 70 12.8%
Mushrooms 12 2.2%
Archaea 7 1.3%
Protists 4 0.70%
Animals 2,589 0.47%
Virus 0.2 0.04%
Total 545.8 100.0%

Plants make up the overwhelming majority of biomass on Earth. There are 320,000 species plants and their vital photosynthetic processes prevent entire ecosystems from collapsing.

Fungi are the third most abundant type of life, and although 148,000 species fungi have been identified by scientists, it is estimated that there may be millions more.

Animals: a drop in the ocean of biomass

Although animals only make up 0.47% of all biomass, there are many sub-categories that are worth exploring further.

Taxon Mass (Gt C) % of animal biomass
Arthropods (Marine) 1.0 38.6%
Fish 0.7 27.0%
Arthropods (terrestrial) 0.2 7.7%
Annelids 0.2 7.7%
Molluscs 0.2 7.7%
Livestock 0.1 3.9%
Cnidarians 0.1 3.9%
Humans 0.06 2.3%
Nematodes 0.02 0.8%
Wild mammals 0.007 0.3%
Wild birds 0.002 0.1%
Animals (Total) 2,589 100.0%


Arthropods are the largest group of invertebrates and include up to 10 million species in insects, arachnids and crustaceans.


The cordate category includes wild mammals, wild birds, cattle, humans and fish. On the other side 65,000 living species in total, almost half are bony fish such as piranhas, salmon or seahorses.

Surprisingly, humans contribute a relatively small mass compared to the rest of the animal kingdom. People make up only 0.01% of all the biomass on the planet.

Annelids, Molluscs, Cnidarians and Nematodes

Annelids are segmented worms like earthworms or leeches, with more than 22,000 living species on this planet. After arthropods, molluscs are the second largest group of invertebrates with more than 85,000 living species. Of these, 80% are snails and slugs.

Cnidarians are a taxon of aquatic invertebrates covering 11,000 species in various marine environments. These include jellyfish, sea anemones, and even corals.

Nematodes are commonly referred to as roundworms. These hardy creatures have successfully adapted to virtually all types of ecosystems, from polar regions to ocean trenches. They even survived space travel and back.

Microscopic rest

Beyond these animals, plants and fungi, there are about a trillion species of microbes invisible to the naked eye – and we probably only discovered that 0.001% of them so far.


Bacteria were one of the first life forms to appear on Earth and classified as prokaryotes (without nucleus). Today, they are the second largest composition of biomass behind plants. Perhaps this is because these organisms can be found living literally everywhere, from your gut to the deepest part of the earth’s crust.

Researchers at the University of Georgia believe that there is 5 non-millions bacteria on the planet, it’s a five with 30 zeros after.

Protists and archaea

Protists are mostly single-celled, but are more complex than bacteria because they contain a nucleus. They are also essential parts of the food chain.

Archaea are single-celled microorganisms similar to bacteria but differ in composition. They also thrive in extreme environments, from high temperatures above 100 ° C (212 ° F) in geysers to extremely saline, acidic or alkaline conditions.


Viruses are the most fascinating category of biomass. They have been described as “living organisms” because they are not technically living things. They are much smaller than bacteria, but, as the COVID-19 pandemic has shown, their microscopic effects cannot be underestimated.

Terrestrial biomass, threatened

Human activities have a continuous impact on the Earth’s biomass.

For example, we have lost significant forest cover in recent decades, to make way for agricultural land use and ranching. One of the results is that biodiversity in virtually all regions is declining.

Will we be able to reverse this trajectory and preserve the diversity of all biomass on Earth, before it is too late?

Editor’s Note: This visualization was inspired by Javier Zarracina’s work for Vox a few years ago. Our goal with the above article was to recognize that while good communication doesn’t need to be reinvented, it can be improved and reinvented to increase editorial impact and help disseminate knowledge to a larger party. Population.


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