How much biomass plant communities can pack per unit of volume?

Production in terrestrial plant communities is most commonly expressed in amount of carbon per unit area. This reflects our utilitarian view of ecosystems, which has been conditioned by questions such as: How much wood, hay, or grain per unit area can be produced and harvested? Alternatively, expressing primary production per unit volume reflects an ecological view of the ecosystems and allows comparing plant communities in their capacity, not to store, but to pack biomass. In this work I reanalyzed published data from twelve ecosystems of the world to show that standing (dry) biomass values consistently average around 1 kg per square meter. Results also revealed a maximum packing density of approximately 5 kg per square meter across ecosystem types. Furthermore, I examined how general empirical relationships between biomass production and plant species richness are modified when standing biomass values are expressed per unit volume. Packing density represents a simple indicator of resource use efficiency in plant communities and emphasizes the importance of species coexistence mechanisms and plant-plant interactions.

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