What Makes A Biome?

What Makes A Biome?

Biomes are typically characterized by the resident biota within them. Currently, there is a disagreement in the scientific community about what exactly makes a biome.


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Biology, Ecology, Conservation, Earth Science


Deciduous Forest Fall

Trees in a deciduous forest during the fall.

Photograph by Clarita Berger/National Geographic Creative
Trees in a deciduous forest during the fall.
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The Amazon rainforest in South America is very different from the Arctic tundra in northern parts of Russia and Canada. There are different plants and animals that live in these two places. Different weather patterns make up the climate of the areas. The life-forms and climate are characteristics that make biomes different from one another.

Biomes are sometimes confused with habitats and ecosystems. Habitats are the places plants and animals live. Ecosystems describe how plants and animals interact with their environments. For example, ecosystems track how nutrients flow between organisms. Biomes look at organisms and the environment on a much larger scale. There can be many ecosystems in a single biome.

Defining Biomes

The first person to use the word biome was Frederic E. Clements in 1916. He was an ecologist studying the way living things relate to one another and to their surroundings. He described a biome as the plants and animals in a given habitat. Later, Clements worked with Victor Shelford to expand the definition of biome. By 1963, Shelford labeled the tundra, coniferous forest, deciduous forest, grassland, and desert as different biomes. These biomes are defined by the organisms living there and the climate of the area.

Most scientists agree that the organisms in a certain climate region are parts of what make biomes different. The main types of biomes that come out of the different definitions are tundra, desert, grassland, coniferous forest, deciduous forest, tropical rainforest, and aquatic biomes.

Tundra Biomes

The tundra is at the northernmost parts of the globe. It has long, cold winters and cool summers. The animals here have evolved to survive in the cold. The mammals have thick fur. They hibernate, or go to sleep for months, to save their energy.

Desert Biomes

Deserts are dry, and can be found in both cold and warm climates. Life in deserts is adapted to a lack of water and nutrients.

Grassland Biomes

The grassland biome is found on every continent except Antarctica. It is flat and grassy, with few trees. Large grazing mammals and small mammals, birds, and predators live here.

Coniferous Forest Biomes

Coniferous forests are also known as taigas or boreal forests. They have long, cold winters and short summers. The areas have heavy rain and snow. Conifers and evergreen trees, such as pine and fir are the main types of trees in these areas. Sometimes this category is split into another category known as the temperate forest. These areas do not experience very cold temperatures. One example of this warmer forest is the western coast of North America, a humid forest system with redwoods and cedars.

Deciduous Forest Biomes

The deciduous forest biome has broad-leafed trees, such as maple and oak. They lose their leaves when temperatures drop. They are located in eastern North America, Western Europe, and northeastern Asia. These regions have mild temperatures, but still have a winter season.

Tropical Rainforest Biomes

Tropical rainforests are near the equator. They are warm and wet with a great variety of tall trees with spread out branches. Leaves that litter the ground create a layer of nutrients above the low-quality soil, which allows for a lot of biodiversity.

Aquatic Biomes

Aquatic biomes are areas that include bodies of water. Freshwater and saltwater biomes are defined separately. The depth, temperature, and saltiness of water are used to label them. Land biomes are easier to define because of vegetation. Aquatic biomes are harder to define because they do not have much visible plant life.

Biomes are not clearly separated from one another. They do not have exact boundaries. There are transition zones between biomes. They are called ecotones. They might be natural, or could be created by humans.

Many biome definitions do not include humans. However, some scientists think that it is important to consider human presence. Humans influence most biomes. These scientists say human activities, such as destroying habitats and climate change, will change how biomes are defined in the future.

Media Credits

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Tyson Brown, National Geographic Society
National Geographic Society
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Gina Borgia, National Geographic Society
Jeanna Sullivan, National Geographic Society
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Sarah Appleton, National Geographic Society, National Geographic Society
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Clint Parks
Roza Kavak
Last Updated

October 19, 2023

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