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Biomes are defined both climatically and geographically as areas with similar factors, such as plants and animals, soil quality, and growing seasons. In this lesson, we’ll learn about the five major categories of the Earth’s biomes.

What is a Biome?

Biomes are defined as major communities on Earth, classified by predominant vegetation and characterized by species’ adaptations to that particular environment. Latitude, or how far a place is from the equator, and annual rainfall are also used to classify biomes. Biodiversity increases towards the equator and away from the poles.There are five major categories of biomes on Earth:

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  • Aquatic
  • Desert
  • Forests
  • Grasslands
  • Tundra

Aquatic Biome

The Earth is covered mostly by water, so let’s start with the aquatic biome.

The aquatic regions of the world house many species of plants and animals, large and small. There are two subcategories of aquatic biomes: freshwater, which includes ponds and rivers, lakes and streams; and marine, which includes oceans, coral reefs, and estuaries.The freshwater regions have less than 1% salt concentration. Because freshwater features are often isolated from each other, fish may be endemic to particular locations. Marine regions cover about three-fourths of the Earth’s surface.

Coral reefs occur where sunlight can reach the ocean floor and are the most productive areas on Earth. Marine algae produce much of our oxygen, and take in enormous amounts of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. Seawater evaporating provides rain for land areas.

Desert Biome

Deserts are characterized by less than 12 inches of rainfall per year. They occur at all latitudes, and have a variety of soils, plant, and animal life.

Animal density is not high in deserts, but insects, arachnids, lizards, snakes, mammals, birds, and even some amphibians can be found there. Each species has its own adaptations for conserving water and using specific food sources in these areas of inhospitable conditions. The desert biomes can be further divided into hot and dry, such as the Mojave; semi-arid like The Great Basin of North America; coastal like the Atacama of Chile; and cold like the Antarctic.

Forest Biome

Forests are dominated by trees and other woody vegetation.

There are three types of forests: tropical, temperate, and boreal.Tropical forests occur near the equator and have the greatest diversity of species. They have two seasons: rainy and dry, and receive over 100 inches of rainfall per year.

Temperate forests are characterized by broad-leaved deciduous trees, and are found in eastern North America, northeastern Asia, and western and central Europe. They have well-defined seasons with a moderate climate and growing seasons of 140 to 200 days.Boreal, or taiga, forests are the largest terrestrial biome.

They are found in Eurasia and North America, Siberia, Scandinavia, Alaska, and Canada. Seasons are just two: short, wet, and somewhat warm summers, and long, cold, dry winters. The growing season is approximately 130 days.

Grassland Biome

Grasslands are dominated by grasses.

The two types of grasslands are savanna and temperate.Savannas are interspersed with trees and cover half the surface of Africa, as well as large areas of Australia, South America, and India. They are always warm or hot with six to eight months of rain followed by drought.Temperate grasslands have no trees or large shrubs. They have hot summers and cold winters with a moderate rainfall. Examples are the veldt of South Africa, pampas of South America, the steppes of Russia, and the plains and prairies of central North America.

Tundra Biome

Tundra is the coldest biome.

The word tundra comes from the Finnish ‘tunturia,’ meaning treeless plain. It has extremely low temperatures, very little precipitation, poor soil, and short growing seasons. There are two types, the Arctic and the alpine.The Arctic tundra is found in the northern hemisphere encircling the North Pole with cold, desert-like conditions.

Animals either hibernate or migrate during winter, causing constant shifts in populations.The alpine tundra is found on mountains at high elevations where trees cannot grow. The growing season is about 180 days, although nighttime temperatures are generally below freezing.

Lesson Summary

Regions of the Earth are divided into biomes based on the following:

  • Vegetation
  • Species’ adaptations
  • Latitude
  • Annual rainfall

The five major biomes are:

  • Aquatic – freshwater and marine
  • Desert – hot and dry, semi-arid, coastal, and cold
  • Forests – tropical, temperate, and boreal (taiga)
  • Grasslands – savanna and temperate
  • Tundra – Arctic and alpine

Lesson at a Glance

There are five major categories of biomes on Earth: aquatic, desert, forest, grassland, and tundra. These biomes are categorized based on vegetation, species’ adaptations to that particular environment, latitude in relation to the equator, and annual precipitation.

Forest biomes occur near the equator and have the greatest diversity of species.

Learning Outcomes

Upon completing this lesson, you should be able to:

  • Explain how a biome is classified
  • Describe the different biomes and the type of vegetation and animals that live within them

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