All the Biomass on Earth in One Massive Visualization
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All the Biomass of Earth, in One Graphic

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Visualizing All the Biomass on Earth

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All the Biomass of Earth, in One Graphic

Our planet supports approximately 8.7 million species, of which over a quarter live in water.

But humans can have a hard time comprehending numbers this big, so it can be difficult to really appreciate the breadth of this incredible diversity of life on Earth.

In order to fully grasp this scale, we draw from research by Bar-On et al. to break down the total composition of the living world, in terms of its biomass, and where we fit into this picture.

Why Carbon?

A “carbon-based life form” might 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. That’s why biomass, or the mass of organisms, is typically measured in terms of carbon makeup.

In our visualization, one 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 biomass of life on Earth:

TaxonMass (Gt C)% of total
Plants45082.4%
Bacteria7012.8%
Fungi122.2%
Archaea71.3%
Protists40.70%
Animals2.5890.47%
Viruses0.20.04%
Total545.8100.0%

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

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

Animals: A Drop in the Biomass Ocean

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

TaxonMass (Gt C)% of Animal Biomass
Arthropods (Marine)1.038.6%
Fish0.727.0%
Arthropods (Terrestrial)0.27.7%
Annelids0.27.7%
Mollusks0.27.7%
Livestock0.13.9%
Cnidarians0.13.9%
Humans0.062.3%
Nematodes0.020.8%
Wild mammals0.0070.3%
Wild birds0.0020.1%
Animals (Total)2.589100.0%

Arthropods

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

Chordates

The category of chordates includes wild mammals, wild birds, livestock, humans, and fish. Across 65,000 living species in total, nearly half are bony fish like 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, Mollusks, Cnidarians, and Nematodes

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

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

Nematodes are commonly referred to as roundworms. These sturdy critters have successfully adapted to virtually every kind of ecosystem, from polar regions to oceanic trenches. They’ve even survived traveling into space and back.

The Microscopic Rest

Beyond these animals, plants, and fungi, there are an estimated trillion species of microbes invisible to the naked eye—and we’ve probably only discovered 0.001% of them so far.

Bacteria

Bacteria were one of the first life forms to appear on Earth, and classified as prokaryotes (nucleus-less). Today, they’re the second-largest composition of biomass behind plants. Perhaps this is because these organisms can be found living literally everywhere—from your gut to deep in the Earth’s crust.

Researchers at the University of Georgia estimate that there are 5 nonillion bacteria on the planet—that’s a five with 30 zeros after it.

Protists and Archaea

Protists are mostly unicellular, but are more complex than bacteria as they contain a nucleus. They’re also essential components of the food chain.

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

Viruses

Viruses are the most fascinating category of biomass. They have been described as “organisms at the edge of life,” as they are not technically living things. They’re much smaller than bacteria—however, as the COVID-19 pandemic has shown, their microscopic effects cannot be understated.

The Earth’s Biomass, Under Threat

Human activities are having an ongoing impact on Earth’s biomass.

For example, we’ve lost significant forest cover in the past decades, to make room for agricultural land use and livestock production. One result of this is that biodiversity in virtually every region is on the decline.

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

Editor’s note: This visualization was inspired by the work of Javier Zarracina for Vox from a few years ago. Our aim with the above piece was to recognize that while great communication needs no reinvention, it can be enhanced and reimagined to increase editorial impact and help spread knowledge to an even greater share of the population.

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Science

Explainer: The Basics of DNA and Genetic Systems

All living things have a genetic system made up of DNA. This graphic explores the basics of DNA composition and structure.

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Explainer: The Basics of DNA and Genetic Systems

While there is great diversity among living things, we all have one thing in common—we all rely on a genetic system made up of DNA and/or RNA.

But how do genetic systems work, and to what extent do they vary across species?

This graphic by Anne-Lise Paris explores the basics of DNA and genetic systems, including how they’re structured, and how they differ across species.

Composition of Genetic Systems: DNA and RNA

A genetic system is essentially a set of instructions that dictate our genetic makeup—what we look like and how we interact with our environment.

This set of instructions is stored in nucleic acids, the two main types being deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) and ribonucleic acid (RNA).

While most living things rely on a mix of DNA and RNA for cellular reproduction, some viruses just use RNA to store their genetic information and replicate faster.

DNA is made up of four molecules, known as nucleotides: Adenine (A), Thymine (T), Cytosine ( C), and Guanine (G). These nucleotides are grouped in sets of two, which are called base pairs.

Size of Genomes Across Different Organisms

Human DNA is made up of approximately 3.2 billion base pairs that are tightly wound up and stored in our cells. If you were to unwind and measure the DNA stored in a single human cell, it would be about 2 meters (6.5 feet) long!

This lengthy DNA is stored in pairs of chromosomes. A full collection of chromosomes, or an entire set of genetic information, is referred to as a genome.

Genomes vary in size, depending on the organism. Here is a look at 24 different species and the size of their genomes, from animals and plants to bacteria and viruses:

OrganismKingdomSize of genomes (number of base pairs)
Poplar treePlant500,000,000
HumanAnimal3,200,000,000
ChimpanzeeAnimal3,300,000,000
Marbled lungfishAnimal130,000,000,000
DogAnimal2,400,000,000
WheatPlant16,800,000,000
PufferfishAnimal400,000,000
Canopy plantPlant150,000,000,000
Mouse-ear cressPlant140,000,000
CornPlant2,300,000,000
MouseAnimal2,800,000,000
MossPlant510,000,000
Fruit FlyAnimal140,000,000
C. ruddiiBacteria160,000
S. pombeFungi13,000,000
S. cerevisiaeFungi12,000,000
S. cellulosumBacteria13,000,000
H. pyloriBacteria1,700,000
E. coliBacteria4,600,000
Panadoravirus s.Virus2,800,000
HIV-1Virus9,700
Influenza AVirus14,000
BacteriophageVirus49,000
Hepatitis D virusVirus1,700

The Marbled Lungfish has the largest known animal genome. Its genome is made up of 130 billion base pairs, which is about 126.8 billion more than the average human genome.

Comparatively, small viruses and bacteria have fewer base pairs. The Hepatitis D virus has only 1,700 base pairs, while E. coli bacteria has 4.6 million. Interestingly, research has not found a link between the size of a species’ genome and the organism’s size or complexity.

In fact, there are still a ton of unanswered questions in the field of genome research. Why do some species have small genomes? Why do some have a ton of redundant DNA? These are still questions being investigated by scientists today.

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Politics

Mapped: Which Countries Still Have a Monarchy?

Beyond the 15 nations under the British monarchy, 28 other countries still have a ruling monarch. Here’s a look at the world’s monarchies.

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monarchies

Mapped: Which Countries Still Have a Monarchy?

In the wake of Queen Elizabeth II’s death, the question of monarchy is brought sharply into focus.

However, a surprising number of countries have ruling monarchs, and in this visual we break down the kinds of royal leadership across the 43 countries that still have them.

Types of Monarchies

A monarch in the simplest sense is a country’s king, queen, emir, or sultan, and so on. But before diving in, it’s important to break down the distinctions between the types of monarchies that exist today. Generally, there are four kinds:

① Constitutional Monarchy

The monarch divides power with a constitutionally founded government. In this situation, the monarch, while having ceremonial duties and certain responsibilities, does not have any political power. For example, the UK’s monarch must sign all laws to make them official, but has no power to change or reject new laws.

Here are some examples of countries with constitutional monarchies:

🇯🇵  Japan
🇬🇧  United Kingdom
🇩🇰  Denmark

② Absolute Monarchy

The monarch has full and absolute political power. They can amend, reject, or create laws, represent the country’s interests abroad, appoint political leaders, and so on.

Here are some examples of countries with absolute monarchies:

🇸🇿  Eswatini
🇸🇦  Saudi Arabia
🇻🇦  Vatican City

③ Federal Monarchy

The monarch serves an overall figurehead of the federation of states which have their own governments, or even monarchies, ruling them.

Here are some examples of countries with federal monarchies:

🇦🇪  UAE
🇲🇾  Malaysia

Malaysia is a unique form of federal monarchy. Every five years, each state’s royal leaders choose amongst themselves who will be the monarch, or the Yang di-Pertuan Agong, of Malaysia and the respective states. Furthermore, the monarchy is also constitutional, allowing a democratically elected body to govern.

④ Mixed Monarchy

This is a situation wherein an absolute monarch may divide powers in distinct ways specific to the country.

Here are some examples of countries with mixed monarchies:

🇯🇴  Jordan
🇱🇮  Liechtenstein
🇲🇦  Morocco

Interestingly, Liechtenstein is the only European monarchy that still practises strict agnatic primogeniture. Under agnatic primogeniture, the degree of kinship is determined by tracing descent from the nearest common ancestor through male ancestors.

Kings, Queens, Emperors, and Sultans Around the Globe

Now let’s break down the different monarchies country by country:

CountryType of MonarchyTitle of Head of StateMonarchTitle of Head of Government
🇦🇩 AndorraConstitutionalCo-PrincesJoan-Enric Vives, Emmanuel MacronPrime Minister
🇦🇬 Antigua and BarbudaConstitutionalKingCharles IIIPrime Minister
🇦🇺 AustraliaConstitutionalKingCharles IIIPrime Minister
🇧🇭 BahrainMixedKingHamad bin Isa Al KhalifaPrime Minister
🇧🇪 BelgiumConstitutionalKing PhilippePrime Minister
🇧🇿 BelizeConstitutionalKingCharles IIIPrime Minister
🇧🇹 BhutanConstitutionalKingJigme Khesar Namgyel WangchuckPrime Minister
🇧🇳 Brunei DarussalamAbsoluteSultanHassanal BolkiahSultan
🇰🇭 CambodiaConstitutionalKingNorodom SihamoniPrime Minister
🇨🇦 CanadaConstitutionalKingCharles IIIPrime Minister
🇩🇰 DenmarkConstitutionalQueenMargrethe IIPrime Minister
🇸🇿 EswatiniAbsoluteKingMswati IIIPrime Minister
🇬🇩 GrenadaConstitutionalKingCharles IIIPrime Minister
🇯🇲 JamaicaConstitutionalKingCharles IIIPrime Minister
🇯🇵 JapanConstitutionalEmperorNaruhitoPrime Minister
🇯🇴 JordanMixedKingAbdullah IIPrime Minister
🇰🇼 KuwaitMixedEmirNawaf Al-Ahmad Al-Jaber Al-SabahPrime Minister
🇱🇸 LesothoConstitutionalKingLetsie IIIPrime Minister
🇱🇮 Liechtenstein MixedSovereign PrinceHans-Adam IIPrime Minister
🇱🇺 LuxembourgConstitutionalGrand DukeHenriPrime Minister
🇲🇾 MalaysiaConstitutional & FederalYang di-Pertuan AgongAbdullahPrime Minister
🇲🇨 MonacoMixedSovereign PrinceAlbert IIMinister of State
🇲🇦 MoroccoMixedKingMohammed VIPrime Minister
🇳🇱 NetherlandsConstitutionalKingWillem-AlexanderPrime Minister
🇳🇿 New ZealandConstitutionalKingCharles IIIPrime Minister
🇳🇴 NorwayConstitutionalKingHarald VPrime Minister
🇴🇲 OmanAbsoluteSultanHaitham bin TarikSultan
🇵🇬 Papua New GuineaConstitutionalKingCharles IIIPrime Minister
🇶🇦 QatarMixedEmirTamim bin Hamad Al ThaniPrime Minister
🇰🇳 Saint Kitts and NevisConstitutionalKingCharles IIIPrime Minister
🇱🇨 Saint LuciaConstitutionalKingCharles IIIPrime Minister
🇻🇨 Saint Vincent and the GrenadinesConstitutionalKingCharles IIIPrime Minister
🇸🇦 Saudi ArabiaAbsoluteKingSalmanPrime Minister
🇸🇧 Solomon IslandsConstitutionalKingCharles IIIPrime Minister
🇪🇸 SpainConstitutionalKingFelipe VIPresident of the Government
🇸🇪 SwedenConstitutionalKingCarl XVI GustafPrime Minister
🇹🇭 ThailandConstitutionalKingRama XPrime Minister
🇧🇸 The BahamasConstitutionalKingCharles IIIPrime Minister
🇹🇴 TongaConstitutionalKingTupou VIPrime Minister
🇹🇻 TuvaluConstitutionalKingCharles IIIPrime Minister
🇦🇪 UAEFederalPresidentMohamed bin Zayed Al NahyanPrime Minister
🇬🇧 UKConstitutionalKingCharles IIIPrime Minister
🇻🇦 Vatican CityAbsolutePopeFrancisPresident of the Pontifical Commission

Constitutional monarchies are undoubtedly the most popular form of royal leadership in the modern era⁠, making up close to 70% of all monarchies. This situation allows for democratically elected governments to rule the country, while the monarch performs ceremonial duties.

Most monarchs are hereditary, inheriting their position by luck of their birth, but interestingly, French president, Emmanuel Macron, technically serves as a Co-Prince of Andorra.

Another unique case is the Vatican’s Pope Francis, who has absolute power in the small independent city⁠—he gained his role thanks to an election process known as a papal conclave.

The Role of Monarchies

One of the most notable and famous ruling monarchies is the United Kingdom’s House of Windsor⁠—also known as Queen Elizabeth II’s family. King Charles III has now ascended to the country’s throne, making him head of state in 15 nations total, including Canada, Australia, and New Zealand.

Many see the benefit in having a stable and consistent form of tradition and decorum at the country’s head of state.

“The Crown is an integral part of the institution of Parliament. The Queen [now King] plays a constitutional role in opening and dissolving Parliament and approving Bills before they become law.” – British Parliament

Japan’s royal family has been a prime example of stability, having reigned in the country for more than 2,600 years under the same hereditary line.

Critiques and the Future of Monarchy

Some claim, however, that there is no function of monarchy in the modern day, and complaints of monarchies’ immense wealth and power are rampant.

For example, according to the Dutch government, King Willem-Alexander’s budget for 2022, funded by the state and thus, taxpayers, comes out to more than €48 million.

Beyond tax dollars, with absolute monarchies there is typically a lack of political freedoms and certain rights. Saudi Arabia, for example, has no national elections. Rather its king, Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud, stays in power for life, appoints the cabinet himself, and passes laws by royal decree.

The death of Queen Elizabeth, though, may bring about change though for many of the world’s royally-governed. Since Barbados’ removal of her as head of state in 2021, six other Caribbean nations have expressed the desire to do the same, namely:

🇧🇿  Belize
🇧🇸  The Bahamas
🇯🇲  Jamaica
🇬🇩  Grenada
🇦🇬  Antigua and Barbuda
🇰🇳  St. Kitts and Nevis

The future of monarchy in the 21st century is certainly not a guarantee.

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