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Manuel Tzul

Primary Productivity and Energy Dynamics - Key
Introduction to Primary Productivity
The flow of energy through any ecosystem starts with the fixation of sunlight by plants and
other autotrophic organisms. In this way the plant accumulates energy and this energy is
called primary production. The rate at which this energy accumulates is called primary
productivity. The total energy accumulated is gross primary productivity, however, since
plants use some of this energy themselves, it is not all available for the food web. The difference
between what is accumulated and what is available for the food web is called net primary
production expressed in kilocalories or grams m-2 y-1 or kcal or g/m2/y. This is measured by
sequentially measuring growth of the biomass over time by marking the plants somehow, or
measuring a total at the end of the growing season. Alternatively you can measure oxygen
production or CO2 consumption both of which equal grams C produced.
In general, swamps and marshes have the highest primary production of all the world's
ecosystems. Primary production of all wetland types varies from 600-2000 gC/m2/y.
To review a little:
In general, the "openness" of a wetland to hydrological fluxes is probably one of the most
important determinants of primary productivity. So wetlands that are stagnant are less
productive than those that flow or are open to flooding rivers. This makes sense because a flowthrough system constantly gets more nutrients. This isn't 100% though because wetlands get
most of their nutrients from recycling rather than from the outside. This is what allows them all
to be fairly productive.
Experimental Scenario: (from old AP Bio Lab 12 and PH School Lab Bench)
1. Fill six bottles with water containing a culture of photosynthetic algae.
2. Measure the initial dissolved oxygen content of the water.
3. Leave one bottle alone, cover one bottle in tin foil and use increasing numbers of screens
to cover the remaining bottles. Then place all of the bottles under a light source for 24
hours. This will simulate a decrease in the amount of light available to the algae since
each additional screen will block out more light and the tin foil will completely obscure the
light from the algae.
4. Wait 24 hours and then measure the dissolved oxygen level of each bottle.
5. Use the O2 readings to determine the primary productivity conducted in each bottle.



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Manuel Tzul
1. Why is dissolved oxygen a good measure of primary productivity?
Its a direct measurement of how much photosynthesis has been done.
2. What process(es) occur in each of the following bottles:
a. 100% light bottle : photosynthesis and cellular respiration
b. Dark bottle: cellular respiration
3. For each of the calculations show in Step #5 of the Procedure, explain how it provides the
given measurement. (Example, for calculation a, why does subtracting the amount of
dissolved oxygen in the dark bottle from the amount of dissolved oxygen in the initial
sample provide a measure of respiration?)
a. The dark bottle has only been doing respiration so the difference in the amount of
O2 in the beginning and the amount in the dark bottle at the end is all as a result of
b. The light bottle has done both photosynthesis and respiration, by subtracting the
dark bottle, which is a negative number, you add in what is lost from respiration and
gives you the gross amount made by photosynthesis

This calculation gives you the amount of oxygen gained over the experiment by
photosynthesis, since respiration was also occurring we get the net productivity

4. The following dissolved oxygen readings were taken. Assume the initial DO was measured
at 4 mg O2/L. Complete the first three columns of the data table below, the last column
will be done after Part Two.





Gross Carbon fixed




1-4 = -3

-3 x .698 x .536 =




2 4 = -2

-2 x .698 x .536 =




3 4 = -1

-1 x .698 x .536 =

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1 x .698 x .536 = .


B = 10

10 1 = 9

10 4 = 6

6 x .698 x .536 =


D= 14

14 1 = 13

14 4 = 10

10 x .698 x .536 =

5. Under what circumstance would an autotroph have no net productivity? For the above
problem, at what light intensity do you expect that to happen? Please explain.
When the amount of photosynthesis done exactly equals the amount of respiration. In our
experiment it would be at about 17.5% light in between 10% and 25%.

Manuel Tzul
Part Two: Energy Dynamics
Primary Productivity matters to ecosystems because it allows us to determine how much energy
is available for the higher trophic levels. In order to determine how much mass is available for
the next trophic level, the amount of O2 produced can be used to determine the amount of CO 2
1 ml of O2 = .536 mg of Carbon assimilated
To convert: ppm O2 = mg O2/L
mg O2/L x 0.698 = ml O2/L
ml O2/L x 0.536 = mg carbon fixed/L
Explanation of carbon assimilation:
(http://www.globalchange.umich.edu/globalchange1/current/lectures/kling/energyflow/energyflow.html) A

hare (or a population of

hares) ingests plant matter; we'll call this ingestion. Part of this material is processed by the
digestive system and used to make new cells or tissues, and this part is called assimilation.
What cannot be assimilated, for example maybe some parts of the plant stems or roots, exits the
hare's body and this is called excretion. Thus we can make the following
definition: Assimilation = (Ingestion - Excretion). The efficiency of this process of
assimilation varies in animals, ranging from 15-50% if the food is plant material, and from 6090% if the food is animal material.
The hare uses a significant fraction of the assimilated energy just being a hare -- maintaining a
high, constant body temperature, synthesizing proteins, and hopping about. This energy used
(lost) is attributed to cellular respiration. The remainder goes into making more hare biomass by
growth and reproduction (that is, increasing the overall biomass of hares by creating offspring).
The conversion of assimilated energy into new tissue is termed secondary production in
consumers, and it is conceptually the same as the primary production or NPP of plants. In our
example, the secondary production of the hare is the energy available to foxes who eat the hares
for their needs. Clearly, because of all of the energy costs of hares engaged in normal metabolic
activities, the energy available to foxes is much less than the energy available to hares.
1. Use the equations above to determine the Gross Carbon fixed in each bottle. (Column 4)
2. In which bottle is the most carbon available to the next trophic level? Explain why this is.
In bottle D there is the most carbon available as it has a gross fixed of 3.7. This is due to
the amount of oxygen available for assimilation process.
3. Use your calculations and your understanding of primary and secondary production to
explain why a tropical rainforest can support a larger food web than the arctic tundra.
In the tropical rain forest we have more biodiversity than in the arctic tundra. This allows for
more plants to be present in the area, as a result plants consume more CO2 for
photosynthesis. This process needs sunlight, and water to be able to function, as a result in
the tundra there is little sunlight and low to no water available. Therefore this causes for little
photosynthesis to occur, this makes the primary consumers have more food. This primary
consumers (plant) are the main source of energy to all other organisms (secondary
consumers). Hereby we can say that because primary producers have more food available
secondary will receive more energy; making the tropical rainforest support a larger food web
than the arctic tundra.

Manuel Tzul

Manuel Tzul
Refer to the following diagram for #4 and 5 (POGIL Ecological Pyramids)

4. Why can most ecosystems support no more than 4 levels in a trophic pyramid?
If we look at the pyramid above we can notice that as the energy is assimilated most of
the energy not passed on to the next trophic level. Therefore this causes that at the 4th
trophic level the organisms at that level receive low amounts of energy.
5. Explain why a vegetarian diet is said to be more energy efficient for humans than one
based on meat.
Based on the pyramid producers pass on 4,000 kcal to the herbivore. On the other hand
Carnivores just receive 24 kcal upon omnivores. Therefore humans diet would be more
energy efficient if they consumed food directly from plants because of the higher amount
of energy available.