The methods for measurement of primary production vary depending on whether gross vs net production is the desired measure, and whether terrestrial or aquatic systems are the focus. Gross production is almost always harder to measure than net, because of respiration, which is a continuous and ongoing process that consumes some of the products of primary production (i.e. sugars) before they can be accurately measured. Also, terrestrial ecosystems are generally more difficult because a substantial proportion of total productivity is shunted to below-ground organs and tissues, where it is logistically difficult to measure. Shallow water aquatic systems can also face this problem.
Scale also greatly affects measurement techniques. The rate of carbon assimilation in plant tissues, organs, whole plants, or plankton samples can be quantified by biochemically based techniques, but these techniques are decidedly inappropriate for large scale terrestrial field situations. There, net primary production is almost always the desired variable, and estimation techniques involve various methods of estimating dry-weight biomass changes over time. Biomass estimates are often converted to an energy measure, such as kilocalories, by an empirically determined conversion factor.
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