Visualizing the Biomass of All the World’s Mammals
Even as we understand more about the world we live in, certain aspects of it remain undefined or hard to comprehend.
One such example is in the scale and distribution of Earth’s life. What’s the ratio of wild to domesticated animals? How much do all of the world’s humans weigh?
Until recently, such questions were nearly unanswerable. A new report titled The Global Biomass of Wild Mammals helps shed more light on the composition and scale of life on our planet. The research provides an estimate of the biomass of all mammals, globally—including humans.
So, What is Biomass Anyway?
Biomass is simply the weight of living things.
In this study, researchers
created rough estimates for four major categories of mammals: humans, domesticated animals, and those that were found in wild terrestrial and marine environments. A further breakdown of mammal groups are found within each category.
To achieve this, they took the estimated number of species from census data and multiplied it with each species’ average body mass.
One component worth pointing out is that animals contribute very different amounts to the world’s biomass total. For example, whales significantly outweigh rodents in terms of biomass, even though there are fewer species and populations of whales. The fact that whales are so much larger than rodents means that even smaller populations can contribute a meaningful portion to overall biomass.
Mammalian Biomass, Organized Neatly
Each larger cube above represents 20 million metric tons of carbon, and the entirety of the visualization represents all living mammalian life on Earth.
The paper separates mammals into four distinct categories:
|Category||Total Mass (Mt)||Top Sub-Category|
|Domesticated Mammals||651||Cattle (416 Mt)|
|Wild Marine Mammals||40||Baleen Whales (23 Mt)|
|Wild Terrestrial Mammals||24||Even-Hoofed Mammals (11 Mt)|
One of the most obvious takeaways from this data is that humans make up one-third of total mammalian biomass.
Perhaps even more strikingly, the animals we’ve domesticated for food, companionship, and labor make up close to 60% of the total weight of Earth’s mammals. Domesticated dogs and cats alone equal the total weight of all other wild land mammals combined.
The world’s sheep, on their own, weigh as much as all the whales and seals in the ocean. Domesticated buffalo such as the water buffalo, a species commonly found in Asia, combine to have the third largest biomass of all mammals.
Finally, there’s one category of mammal that comes way out on top.
The global livestock population has risen along with the human population, and cattle are now the top mammal in the world by weight.
In fact, just the United States’ share of cattle matches the biomass of all wild mammals on Earth.
As the standard of living continues to rise for people around the world, beef consumption has been increasing in many developing countries. Of course, raising cattle is a resource and land intensive operation, and there have been very real impacts on a global scale. For one, cows are a major source of methane emissions. As well, in Brazil, which accounts for around 25% of the world’s cattle population, pasture has directly replaced large swaths of rainforest habitat.
At the very bottom of the visualization, dwarfed by humans and domesticated mammals, lies the vast array of wild mammals that live on planet Earth.
It’s sobering to see that the biomass of North America’s human population alone compares closely with that of all terrestrial wild mammals in the world. This includes plentiful creatures like rats and mice, as well as large mammals like elephants and bears.
Below are the top 10 wild mammalian contributors to biomass in the natural world.
|Rank||Contributor||Total Mass (Mt)||Individuals (millions)|
|#4T||Antarctic Minke Whales||3||0.5|
In the ocean, whales and seals are the heavyweight champions. On land, deer, and boar come out on top as they are both heavy and plentiful.
Humans have a complicated relationship with large mammals. We feel a very clear connection to these creatures, and they are often the key figures in conservation efforts. That said, even small populations of humans have wiped out large mammal species in the past.
The news that cattle outweigh wild land animals by a factor of 20:1 is a reminder that human influence is perhaps even more powerful than we think.
The more we’re exposed to nature’s full splendor […] the more we might be tempted to imagine that nature is an endless and inexhaustible resource. In reality, the weight of all remaining wild land mammals is less than 10% of humanity’s combined weight. – Ron Milo, Professor of Systems Biology
Ranked: America’s Best Universities
Evaluated on 19 different metrics, here’s the list of America’s best universities, led by 14 private schools.
Ranked: America’s Best Universities
The latest ranking of America’s best universities is here, perfectly timed for the approaching admissions season.
“Best” is of course subjective, and U.S. News and World Report has compiled 19 metrics on which they evaluated more than 400 national universities. Some of them include:
- Graduation rates & performance: A four-year rolling average of the proportion of each entering class earning a bachelor’s degree in six years or less. Performance is measured against predictions made by the publishers, and when beaten, the university gains a higher scoring.
- Peer assessment: A two-year weighted average of ratings from top academics—presidents, provosts and deans of admissions—on academic quality of peer institutions with which they are familiar.
- Financial resources: The average per student spend on instruction, research, student services and related educational expenditures in the 2021 fiscal year.
- Debt: A school’s average accumulated federal loan debt among borrowers only.
- Pell graduation rates & performance: the same calculation as stated above, but focused only on Pell Grant students, adjusted to give more credit to schools with larger Pell student proportions.
The website’s methodology section details how they sourced their data, the weights assigned to each metric, and their changes over the years.
From the hundreds assessed come the nearly 50 best universities that offer a variety of undergraduate majors, post-graduate programs, emphasize research, or award professional practice doctorates.
Which are the Best Universities in America?
At the top of the list, Princeton University is the best university in the country, known for its physics, economics, and international relations departments. Notably, it’s a rare Ivy league university that does not have a law, medical, or business school.
Here’s the full ranking of America’s best universities, along with annual tuition requirements.
|1||Princeton University||New Jersey||$59,710|
|7||Duke University||North Carolina||$66,172|
|9||Brown University||Rhode Island||$68,230|
|12||Columbia University||New York||$65,524|
|12||Cornell University||New York||$66,014|
|12||University of Chicago||Illinois||$65,619|
|18||Dartmouth College||New Hampshire||$65,511|
|20||University of Notre Dame||Indiana||$62,693|
Michigan, Ann Arbor
|22||Georgetown University||Washington, DC||$65,082|
|22||University of North|
Carolina at Chapel Hill
|North Carolina||$39,338 (out-state)
|24||Carnegie Mellon University||Pennsylvania||$63,829|
|24||University of Virginia||Virginia||$58,950 (out-state)
University, St. Louis
California, San Diego
|28||University of Florida||Florida||$28,658 (out-state)
|35||New York University||New York||$60,438|
|35||University of Illinois|
|New Jersey||$36,001 (out-state)
|40||University of Washington||Washington||$41,997 (out-state)
|43||The Ohio State University||Ohio||$36,722 (out-state)
|47||Texas A&M University||Texas||$40,607 (out-state)
|47||University of Georgia||Georgia||$30,220 (out-state)
|47||University of Rochester||New York||$64,384|
|47||Virginia Tech||Virginia||$36,090 (out-state)
|47||Wake Forest University||North Carolina||$64,758|
|53||Florida State University||Florida||$21,683 (out-state)
|53||William & Mary||Virginia||$48,841 (out-state)
MIT places second, and Harvard and Stanford tie for third. Yale rounds out the top five.
Private universities, including seven Ivy League colleges, dominate the top of the rankings. Meanwhile, the highest-ranked public schools are tied at 15th, both state schools in California.
For affordability, since the higher ranks are populated by private universities, there tends to be a broad correlation of better universities being more expensive. That said, the most expensive school in the top 50 ranks is actually the University of Southern California, tied at 28th, for $68,237/year.
As it happens, also tied at 28th, the University of Florida is the most affordable public school for in-state students ($6,381/year) and Florida State University tied at 53rd, is the most affordable for out-of-staters at $21,683/year.
However these costs are tuition-only, and don’t account for other necessary expenses: accommodation, food, and textbooks.
Best University versus Best “Fit”
Finding the best university for prospective students is more than just perusing a long ranking list.
Aside from the numerous schools present within each university—which can often be the best for specific majors—factors like location, proximity to family, campus culture, the non-academic pursuits (sports, extracurriculars, internships) are also taken into consideration.
In fact, research has found that just attaining a university degree improves future earnings potential and employability.
Furthermore, individual engagement at college (irrespective of the rank of the school in question) plays a far bigger role in learning and general well-being than simply attending a highly-ranked school.
However, for low income and minority students, attending a top-ranked school does improve future earnings considerably. For women, it also often results in delaying marriage and kids, which results in more work-hours and as a result, more pay.
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