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The scale of life and its lessons for humanity
Burgess, M.G.; Gaines, S.D. (2018). The scale of life and its lessons for humanity. Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. U.S.A. 115(25): 6328-6330. https://hdl.handle.net/10.1073/pnas.1807019115
In: Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America. The Academy: Washington, D.C.. ISSN 0027-8424; e-ISSN 1091-6490, more
Peer reviewed article  

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  • Burgess, M.G.
  • Gaines, S.D.

Abstract
    The scale of life on Earth is shaped by a confluence of biophysical, evolutionary, ecological, and, recently, human forces. Measuring the scale of life offers insights about these forces and raises many more questions. In PNAS, Bar-On et al. (1) offer the most comprehensive quantification to date of the biomass of life on Earth, broken down by major taxonomic groups, ecological strategies, and environments. Despite high uncertainty in some estimates, their findings shed fascinating light on how biomass is distributed. Although many of the detailed findings will likely surprise most readers, the study also builds a foundation for exploring major ecological, evolutionary, and environmental questions. We highlight two such questions as examples of the future impact of this work. One of the findings is the striking contrast between marine and terrestrial biomes. Can we account for the differences on the basis of what we know about how these disparate ecosystems function? The findings also raise important questions about the future. What scale of human activities can be supported by marine and terrestrial environments, looking forward? How will climate change alter the answers?

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