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By This New Measure, Plants Rule the Earth

They outweigh all other life on the planet, by a mile
By Arden Dier,  Newser Staff
Posted May 22, 2018 9:40 AM CDT
Stock photo.   (Getty/Jasmina007)
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(Newser) – A first-of-its-kind study reveals that humans make up a minuscule portion of life on the planet. As in 0.01%, reports the Guardian. The flip side of that? Despite the scant figure, humans have reshaped the animal kingdom, helping wipe out about 83% of mammals and half of all plants since civilization began, according to the comprehensive survey in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. For this study, researchers weren't counting individual members of species. This is all about weight—they surveyed the Earth's biomass, meaning the carbon content in living creatures. Start with this: All life on the planet weighs about 550 gigatons, notes Science. The new study breaks down that figure, including these highlights:

  • Plants account for an astounding 82% of the planet's biomass
  • Bacteria make up 13%—leaving just 5% for everything else beyond plants and bacteria
  • Fungi (think yeast, mold, and mushrooms) make up 2%
  • Ocean life makes up a surprisingly small 1%
  • Chicken and other poultry make up 70% of all birds on the planet; only 30% are wild
  • Livestock (mostly cows and pigs) make up 60% of all mammals; humans account for 36% of mammals, leaving only 4% as wild
  • "The fact that the biomass of fungi exceeds that of all animals sort of puts us in our place," says Harvard biology professor James Hanken, who wasn't part of the study, per a release at Phys.org.
(Read more Earth stories.)

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