Hey there! Have you ever wondered what the different habitats around our planet are like? As a budding ecologist, understanding Earth‘s biomes will open your eyes to the amazing diversity of landscapes and lifeforms that call this planet home. Let‘s dive in and explore these unique ecosystems together!
What Exactly Is a Biome?
A biome is a large region of the world that has a certain climate, landscape, and species living there. The climate and geography of an area determine what type of biome can exist there.
Biomes are characterized by their temperature, rainfall, landscape features, and the kinds of plants and animals that have adapted to live in that environment. For example, cacti thrive in hot, dry deserts while moose are suited for cold, snowy tundra.
There are two main categories of biomes:
Found on land and include:
- Tropical rainforests
- Temperate forests
Found in water and include:
- Freshwater – ponds, lakes, rivers
- Marine – oceans, coral reefs
According to most scientists, there are around 8 major land biomes and 5 major aquatic biomes on planet Earth.* Let‘s explore some of the most important!
Major Land Biomes of the World
Land biomes are defined by their climate patterns, amounts of light and water, and types of plants and animals. Here are some of the most widespread:
Tropical rainforests are hot and wet all year round, with daily temperatures around 25°C (77°F) and heavy rainfall.** Lush, multi-layered rainforests are found near the equator in South America, Africa, and Asia.
With over 50% of Earth‘s biodiversity, rainforests are bursting with millions of unique species!*** Towering trees like mahoganies and canopy plants like orchids form the upper layer, while ferns and mosses cover the shaded forest floor.
Iconic rainforest animals include long-nosed monkeys, brilliantly colored parrots and toucans, giant ants, curious sloths, and stealthy jaguars. These organisms are specially adapted to survive in the hot, humid climate.
However, rainforests now cover only 6% of Earth‘s land and are threatened by logging and land clearing.**** Protecting these amazing ecosystems is crucial!
Belize‘s lush tropical rainforest. Image credit: James + Courtney Forte/Getty Images
As you probably guessed, deserts are extremely dry! They receive less than 25 cm (10 inches) of rainfall per year.* Hot deserts like the Sahara can reach scorching daily highs of 45°C (113°F).**
With little precipitation, deserts have few trees – mostly scrubby bushes, succulents like cacti, and short grasses. Hardy animals like camels, roadrunners, kangaroo rats, and desert tortoises are well-adapted to the dry conditions.
Vast deserts are found on every continent. The largest hot desert is actually the Arctic Desert, which covers much of the interior of Greenland!*** Cold deserts like the Gobi in Asia also exist.
Deserts may seem desolate, but they are fragile ecosystems that are threatened by mining, grazing, and climate change. Nearly a third of Earth‘s land is desert, so protecting these biomes is key!****
Endless sand dunes in Morocco‘s Sahara Desert. Image credit: David Santiago Garcia/Getty Images
Brrr…the tundra is the coldest biome on Earth! These treeless plains are found within the Arctic Circle near the North Pole and on mountaintops like the Himalayas.
During the short summer, average temperatures range from 3-12°C (37-54°F). But for most of the year, the tundra is plunged into darkness with frigid average temperatures around -28°C (-18°F)!*****
Instead of trees, small shrubs, mosses, and lichens grow in the rocky, frozen soil. Tundra is frozen solid for most of the year, but provides habitat for snowy owls, caribou, Arctic foxes, and the mighty polar bears!
However, rising temperatures are starting to thaw the permafrost soils that define this biome. Protecting the fragile tundra from climate change is an urgent priority.****
Reindeer grazing on the vast tundra plains. Image credit: Svetlana Makeyeva/Getty Images
Fascinating Aquatic Biomes
Earth‘s water biomes harbour an amazing array of lifeforms. Let‘s dive into two of the most important!
Found in warm, shallow tropical oceans near islands and continents, coral reefs teem with life. Sensitive corals provide food and shelter for brilliantly colored fish like clownfish, angelfish, tangs, and wrasses.
Although they cover less than 1% of the ocean floor, coral reefs contain 25% of all marine species!*****
Unfortunately, coral bleaching caused by ocean warming threatens the very existence of these fragile ecosystems.
A starfish resting on a coral reef. Image credit: ljo/Getty Images
Rivers, lakes, ponds, and wetlands contain fresh water, which is crucial for life on land!
Trees like willows and birch grow along riverbanks, while reeds and water lilies float in ponds. Freshwater fish include trout, bass, and catfish. Beavers, otters, and moose rely on these inland water ecosystems.
Pollution from agricultural runoff, factory discharges, and urban sewage threatens fragile freshwater biomes worldwide. Protecting water quality through conservation practices like shoreline buffers is essential.
The Colorado River winding through the southwestern United States. Image credit: Tom Grundy/Getty Images
Why Are Biomes So Important?
Now you know the basics about Earth‘s amazing biomes! Here are three key reasons why understanding and protecting them matters:
Biodiversity: Biomes contain millions of unique, specially adapted plant and animal species. Losing biomes means losing those species.
Climate regulation: Biomes like rainforests absorb huge amounts of carbon dioxide, slowing climate change.
Resources: Biomes provide ecosystem services like clean water, timber, medicines and more for human survival.
The more we appreciate Earth‘s varied biomes, the more motivated we‘ll be to conserve them for the future!
Biome Mapping Activity
Want to see where different biomes are found across the continents? Grab an atlas or world map, and try coloring and labeling the different biomes. How much of each continent is tropical rainforest versus tundra? Are there patches of desert on multiple continents? A biome map will help deepen your understanding of how climate shapes the living world!
Learn More with Hands-On Biome Projects
Exploring biomes through projects and experiments makes learning interactive and engaging:
- Build a model rainforest diorama out of paper, clay, and found objects from your backyard
- Grow a cactus garden with different succulent varieties to model a desert biome
- Calculate rainfall, temperature, and biodiversity for two different biomes and compare data
- Research an endangered species from a threatened biome and design a conservation brochure or poster to share facts
- Write a story from the perspective of an organism describing daily life in their biome habitat
Immerse yourself in Earth‘s wondrous biomes by getting your hands dirty with creative projects! Understanding and protecting the diversity of ecosystems across our planet is a key step on the path to becoming an ecologist or conservationist.
Thanks for learning with me today! I hope you feel inspired to keep exploring and protecting the amazing biomes that make planet Earth such a vibrant home.