In a biomass pyramid, the energy capacity that can be provided is concentrated at the base of this representation. As one moves up the pyramid, concentrations decrease as the availability of resources and providers also decreases. This helps to clarify the movement of the biomass being used, as well as the available energy which exists throughout the ecosystem.
In an energy pyramid, the structure is essentially the same. The greatest and most concentrated resources are available at the base of the pyramid.
So if both pyramids are the same, what is the difference in the biomass pyramid vs energy pyramid debate?
It all has to do with the specific resources that are being used.
In a biomass pyramid, the primary producers are living or recently living organic materials.
Most biomass that is used for energy consists of grasses, trees, shrubs, ferns, algae, flowers, and similar materials. They form the base of the biomass pyramid because they offer the greatest number of kilocalories per square meter.
In a standard energy pyramid, the primary producers would be fossil fuels.
This is because fossil fuels are considered the standard energy provider for most societies. In some developed countries, you may find an energy pyramid which offers alternative energies like solar or wind combined with fossil fuels to form the base of an energy pyramid.
Once we move up from the producers and available resources, the pyramids will then create consumer levels. There are three basic levels of consumers that are evaluated in a standard biomass pyramid or energy pyramid.
- Primary Consumers. These are the consumers that require the most energy production in order to meet their needs. Without the energy production occurring directly beneath them, they would not be able to accomplish tasks.
- Secondary Consumers. These consumers need fewer resources from the producers, but still tend to require high energy levels at specific points of time to accomplish specific tasks.
- Tertiary Consumers. These are the consumers that still need energy, but are more on the outside looking in. They rely on the output provided by the lower tiers of the pyramid in order to accomplish specific tasks.
So you could think of these pyramids like this. On the bottom, you have how the energy is produced. The next floor of the pyramid features those who require high energy levels to survive, such as a fish swimming upstream or a flock of birds migrating. The third floor features those who require “average” energy levels. Most humans would fit into this category.
At the top are those who rely on the energy consumption of others to exist, like a bear eating the salmon who just swam upstream.
What makes the biomass pyramid unique is that every living plant, animal, and person has a specific energy output that also makes them a producer. Now you’re not going to burn yourself to create energy, of course, but you could. That means every primary producer could have its own biomass pyramid.
In the biomass pyramid vs energy pyramid debate, the goal is to recognize producers and consumers. When you can do that, you can see how efficient the system is operating.
Crystal Lombardo is a contributing editor for Vision Launch. Crystal is a seasoned writer and researcher with over 10 years of experience. She has been an editor of three popular blogs that each have had over 500,000 monthly readers.