Ecological pyramids are graphical representations of trophic levels in an ecosystem. They are pyramidal in shape and they are of three types: The producers make the base of the pyramid and the subsequent tiers of the pyramid represent herbivore, carnivore and top carnivore levels.
Pyramid of number: This represents the number of organisms at each trophic level.For example in a grassland the number of grasses is more than the number of herbivores that feed on them and the number of herbivores is more than the number of carnivores. In some instances the pyramid of number may be inverted, i.e herbivores are more than primary producers for example , many caterpillars and insects feed on a single tree.
Pyramid of biomass: This represents the total standing crop biomass at each trophic level. Standing crop biomass is the amount of living matter at any given time. It is expressed as gm/unit area or kilo cal/unit area.
- In most of the terrestrial ecosystems the pyramid of biomass is upright. However, in the case of aquatic ecosystems the pyramid of biomass may be inverted e.g. in a pond phytoplankton are the main producers, they have very short life cycles and a rapid turnover rate (i.e. they are rapidly replaced by new plants). Therefore, their total biomass at any given time is less than the biomass of herbivores supported by them.
Pyramid of energy: This pyramid represents the total amount of energy at each trophic level. Energy is expressed in terms of rate such as kcal/unit area /unit time or cal/unit area/unit time.eg. in a lake autotroph energy is 20810 kcal/m/year. Energy pyramids are never inverted.