Explaining The Pyramid of Biomass in a Easy and Logical Way...

The pyramid of biomass is best explained as an ecological pyramid. The pyramid shape is a graphical view of how each level in the biomass represents the living matter or organic matter necessary for survival of an organism.

All ecosystems are ecological pyramids. The pyramid of biomass begins with the initial production level at the bottom (such as plants) and proceeds through other levels that rely on the levels of biomass beneath them for their survival.

The highest level is the top of the food chain. Thus, the base of the pyramid may be a wide ranging of plant matter that provides food to support the next level of the pyramid which are herbivores that eat those plants.

Then there are carnivores that consume the herbivores, larger carnivores that eat those smaller carnivores, etc.


The pyramid is critical at every level. Removing or reducing the plant matter at the bottom level will have an effect on the survival rate of creatures that rely on that plant matter for sustenance.

A pyramid of biomass may be an inverted pyramid in some cases. It can sound very confusing until you look at the parts and realize it's simply a matter of species survival.

The pyramid of biomass is simply an ecological structure showing the relationship between biomass and more advanced levels (trophic levels).

When displayed as a productivity pyramid the graphic will show the change in production or turnover of biomass that will occur as change occurs in various trophic levels.

For example, there is a pyramid that applies to ponds. This would be an inverted pyramid because the basic element of the pond is lower in mass than the more advanced levels.

There will be more mass of fish and insects populating a normal pond than there will be plankton that feeds them. This is because the plankton reproduce so rapidly they are constantly renewing the supply of food to support the fish and insects.

However, if something happened to change the pond's environment and kill of the plankton, the fish and insect populations would quickly decline.

Pyramid by the Numbers

The energy of one level is used to build a new level of biomass. As a rule, only about 10% of the energy of one level will be transmitted to the next, higher level.

That is why the pyramid shape is applied. At the bottom of the pyramid there is 100% energy and each level above that is reduced by a factor of 10.

So it takes a huge amount of plant life at the bottom to provide the food for a herbivores at the next level. Pyramid productivity is listed as steps - 100; 10; 1; 0.1; 0.01.

A pyramid may begin at a higher level rather than simply with the simplest biomass that is the most basic structure. This is seen clearly when you consider a simple example.

  • At the top of this pyramid is 100 kg of shark (large carnivore)
  • Second level - mid-level carnivores (1000 kg large fish)
  • Third level - low-level carnivores (10,000 kg shrimp)
  • Fourth level - Zooplankton (100,000 kg herbivores)
  • Fifth level - Primary Product (1,000,000 kg plants)

Remove any level of the pyramid structure above and you have an effect on the levels above.

The Critical Nature

The pyramid of biomass is an ecological system that builds on itself. As you go down the pyramid from the "top" life form each level must be maintained.

Removing one portion of a pyramid can result in the elimination of species. Experts use complex calculations to predict the effect of a reduction in a natural resource that is part of a pyramid.

Perhaps the most interesting overview is that the most advanced life form is at the very top of the ecological pyramid.

In the case of humans, we are the top of the pyramid. Maintaining the structure and health of every level of that pyramid ensures our own survival.

However, development, population growth, deforestation, and climate change are leading to the elimination of many wildlife and plant species.

Each of these has a place in at least one pyramid. Though species do disappear naturally it is usually only after other species have emerged to replace them.

The pyramid is a chain of life forms that are interdependent. Protecting species and using regulations to protect areas where endangered plants or wildlife are know to live is important as it may also protect the existence of humans who are part of the pyramid.

The Name

The pyramid measures levels by thermodynamics. Natural laws say energy can never be destroyed or created. Energy can only be transferred from one form to another.

A pyramid of biomass is a graph of energy transmission. Tiny animals eat plants, mid-size animals eat the tiny animals, and larger animals eat the mid-size animals.

At the top of the heap a predators that convert the energy to waste that decomposes and is transferred back to the bottom level of the pyramid.

The levels of the pyramid are primary producers, primary consumers, secondary consumers and tertiary consumers. The actual mass decreases from the lower level to the top of the pyramid.

The pyramid of transferring energy from one form to another is the basic goal of using biomass to create electrical energy for our power grids.

The goal is to use the energy discarded in waste products and even human waste into energy that can be used to power cars and homes.

Biomass would be a renewable energy resource and would also help solve the problems created by the huge amount of waste produced daily by homo sapiens and livestock animals.

Creating energy from biomass is a process for the future. Research and testing are advancing but the reality of energy created on demand from biomass is often limited today to lighting a wood fire. In time, however, there may be a pyramid that has energy production at the top level.