Importance

The biomass of plants is of interest for at least three reasons: ecosystem structure, timber, and carbon stocks. Biomass determines the structure of ecosystems. Terrestrial ecosystems generally have more biomass than aquatic ecosystems (compare trees with phytoplankton), and forests have a higher biomass than other types of ecosystems. As a result of the greater physical complexity in the distribution of this biomass, forests also provide a greater diversity of habitats.

The biomass of forests is particularly important as a source of wood for timber and pulp, and forests are managed to optimize production of wood. It is worth noting that the 'production' of wood is not the same as the standing stock or amount of wood. Mature forests, for example, have high stocks of wood (high biomass), but 'woody grasses' (e.g., sugar cane, bamboo, switchgrass) may be more productive of biomass and thus are receiving attention as potential biomass fuels.

A third reason for interest in biomass is that on a dry weight basis it is 50% carbon. Reductions in biomass through the clearing of forests for croplands, for example, release carbon (as CO2) to the atmosphere, and reforestation withdraws carbon from the atmosphere. Reducing deforestation and increasing biomass (carbon sequestration - both terrestrial and oceanic) are both options important for managing carbon, and, thereby, the rate of climatic disruption.

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