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One way of mapping terrestrial (land) biomes around the world Vegetation.png
One way of mapping terrestrial (land) biomes around the world

A biome ( /ˈb.m/ ) is a biogeographical unit consisting of a biological community that has formed in response to the physical environment [1] in which they are found and a shared regional climate. [2] [3] [4] Biomes may span more than one continent. Biome is a broader term than habitat and can comprise a variety of habitats.


While a biome can cover small areas, a microbiome is a mix of organisms that coexist in a defined space on a much smaller scale. For example, the human microbiome is the collection of bacteria, viruses, and other microorganisms that are present on or in a human body. [5]

A biota is the total collection of organisms of a geographic region or a time period, from local geographic scales and instantaneous temporal scales all the way up to whole-planet and whole-timescale spatiotemporal scales. The biotas of the Earth make up the biosphere.


The term was suggested in 1916 by Clements, originally as a synonym for biotic community of Möbius (1877). [6] Later, it gained its current definition, based on earlier concepts of phytophysiognomy, formation and vegetation (used in opposition to flora), with the inclusion of the animal element and the exclusion of the taxonomic element of species composition. [7] [8] In 1935, Tansley added the climatic and soil aspects to the idea, calling it ecosystem . [9] [10] The International Biological Program (1964–74) projects popularized the concept of biome. [11]

However, in some contexts, the term biome is used in a different manner. In German literature, particularly in the Walter terminology, the term is used similarly as biotope (a concrete geographical unit), while the biome definition used in this article is used as an international, non-regional, terminology—irrespectively of the continent in which an area is present, it takes the same biome name—and corresponds to his "zonobiome", "orobiome" and "pedobiome" (biomes determined by climate zone, altitude or soil). [12]

In Brazilian literature, the term "biome" is sometimes used as synonym of biogeographic province , an area based on species composition (the term floristic province being used when plant species are considered), or also as synonym of the "morphoclimatic and phytogeographical domain" of Ab'Sáber, a geographic space with subcontinental dimensions, with the predominance of similar geomorphologic and climatic characteristics, and of a certain vegetation form. Both include many biomes in fact. [7] [13] [14]


To divide the world into a few ecological zones is difficult, notably because of the small-scale variations that exist everywhere on earth and because of the gradual changeover from one biome to the other. Their boundaries must therefore be drawn arbitrarily and their characterization made according to the average conditions that predominate in them. [15]

A 1978 study on North American grasslands [16] found a positive logistic correlation between evapotranspiration in mm/yr and above-ground net primary production in g/m2/yr. The general results from the study were that precipitation and water use led to above-ground primary production, while solar irradiation and temperature lead to below-ground primary production (roots), and temperature and water lead to cool and warm season growth habit. [17] These findings help explain the categories used in Holdridge's bioclassification scheme (see below), which were then later simplified by Whittaker. The number of classification schemes and the variety of determinants used in those schemes, however, should be taken as strong indicators that biomes do not fit perfectly into the classification schemes created.

Holdridge (1947, 1964) life zones

Holdridge life zone classification scheme. Although conceived as three-dimensional by its originator, it is usually shown as a two-dimensional array of hexagons in a triangular frame. Lifezones Pengo.svg
Holdridge life zone classification scheme. Although conceived as three-dimensional by its originator, it is usually shown as a two-dimensional array of hexagons in a triangular frame.

In 1947, the American botanist and climatologist Leslie Holdridge classified climates based on the biological effects of temperature and rainfall on vegetation under the assumption that these two abiotic factors are the largest determinants of the types of vegetation found in a habitat. Holdridge uses the four axes to define 30 so-called "humidity provinces", which are clearly visible in his diagram. While this scheme largely ignores soil and sun exposure, Holdridge acknowledged that these were important.

Allee (1949) biome-types

The principal biome-types by Allee (1949): [18]

Kendeigh (1961) biomes

The principal biomes of the world by Kendeigh (1961): [19]

Whittaker (1962, 1970, 1975) biome-types

The distribution of vegetation types as a function of mean annual temperature and precipitation. Climate influence on terrestrial biome.svg
The distribution of vegetation types as a function of mean annual temperature and precipitation.

Whittaker classified biomes using two abiotic factors: precipitation and temperature. His scheme can be seen as a simplification of Holdridge's; more readily accessible, but missing Holdridge's greater specificity.

Whittaker based his approach on theoretical assertions and empirical sampling. He had previously compiled a review of biome classifications. [20]

Key definitions for understanding Whittaker's scheme

  • Physiognomy: sometimes referring to the plants' appearance; or the biome's apparent characteristics, outward features, or appearance of ecological communities or species - including plants.
  • Biome: a grouping of terrestrial ecosystems on a given continent that is similar in vegetation structure, physiognomy, features of the environment and characteristics of their animal communities.
  • Formation: a major kind of community of plants on a given continent.
  • Biome-type: grouping of convergent biomes or formations of different continents, defined by physiognomy.
  • Formation-type: a grouping of convergent formations.

Whittaker's distinction between biome and formation can be simplified: formation is used when applied to plant communities only, while biome is used when concerned with both plants and animals. Whittaker's convention of biome-type or formation-type is a broader method to categorize similar communities. [21]

Whittaker's parameters for classifying biome-types

Whittaker used what he called "gradient analysis" of ecocline patterns to relate communities to climate on a worldwide scale. Whittaker considered four main ecoclines in the terrestrial realm. [21]

  1. Intertidal levels: The wetness gradient of areas that are exposed to alternating water and dryness with intensities that vary by location from high to low tide
  2. Climatic moisture gradient
  3. Temperature gradient by altitude
  4. Temperature gradient by latitude

Along these gradients, Whittaker noted several trends that allowed him to qualitatively establish biome-types:

  • The gradient runs from favorable to the extreme, with corresponding changes in productivity.
  • Changes in physiognomic complexity vary with how favorable of an environment exists (decreasing community structure and reduction of stratal differentiation as the environment becomes less favorable).
  • Trends in the diversity of structure follow trends in species diversity; alpha and beta species diversities decrease from favorable to extreme environments.
  • Each growth-form (i.e. grasses, shrubs, etc.) has its characteristic place of maximum importance along the ecoclines.
  • The same growth forms may be dominant in similar environments in widely different parts of the world.

Whittaker summed the effects of gradients (3) and (4) to get an overall temperature gradient and combined this with a gradient (2), the moisture gradient, to express the above conclusions in what is known as the Whittaker classification scheme. The scheme graphs average annual precipitation (x-axis) versus average annual temperature (y-axis) to classify biome-types.


Goodall (1974–) ecosystem types

The multi-authored series Ecosystems of the World, edited by David W. Goodall, provides a comprehensive coverage of the major "ecosystem types or biomes" on Earth: [23]

  1. Terrestrial Ecosystems
    1. Natural Terrestrial Ecosystems
      1. Wet Coastal Ecosystems
      2. Dry Coastal Ecosystems
      3. Polar and Alpine Tundra
      4. Mires: Swamp, Bog, Fen, and Moor
      5. Temperate Deserts and Semi-Deserts
      6. Coniferous Forests
      7. Temperate Deciduous Forests
      8. Natural Grasslands
      9. Heathlands and Related Shrublands
      10. Temperate Broad-Leaved Evergreen Forests
      11. Mediterranean-Type Shrublands
      12. Hot Deserts and Arid Shrublands
      13. Tropical Savannas
      14. Tropical Rain Forest Ecosystems
      15. Wetland Forests
      16. Ecosystems of Disturbed Ground
    2. Managed Terrestrial Ecosystems
      1. Managed Grasslands
      2. Field Crop Ecosystems
      3. Tree Crop Ecosystems
      4. Greenhouse Ecosystems
      5. Bioindustrial Ecosystems
  2. Aquatic Ecosystems
    1. Inland Aquatic Ecosystems
      1. River and Stream Ecosystems
      2. Lakes and Reservoirs
    2. Marine Ecosystems
      1. Intertidal and Littoral Ecosystems
      2. Coral Reefs
      3. Estuaries and Enclosed Seas
      4. Ecosystems of the Continental Shelves
      5. Ecosystems of the Deep Ocean
    3. Managed Aquatic Ecosystems
      1. Managed Aquatic Ecosystems
  3. Underground Ecosystems
    1. Cave Ecosystems

Walter (1976, 2002) zonobiomes

The eponymously named Heinrich Walter classification scheme considers the seasonality of temperature and precipitation. The system, also assessing precipitation and temperature, finds nine major biome types, with the important climate traits and vegetation types. The boundaries of each biome correlate to the conditions of moisture and cold stress that are strong determinants of plant form, and therefore the vegetation that defines the region. Extreme conditions, such as flooding in a swamp, can create different kinds of communities within the same biome. [12] [24] [25]

ZonobiomeZonal soil typeZonal vegetation type
ZB I. Equatorial, always moist, little temperature seasonalityEquatorial brown claysEvergreen tropical rainforest
ZB II. Tropical, summer rainy season and cooler “winter” dry seasonRed clays or red earths Tropical seasonal forest, seasonal dry forest, scrub, or savanna
ZB III. Subtropical, highly seasonal, arid climateSerosemes, sierozemesDesert vegetation with considerable exposed surface
ZB IV. Mediterranean, winter rainy season and summer droughtMediterranean brown earths Sclerophyllous (drought-adapted), frost-sensitive shrublands and woodlands
ZB V. Warm temperate, occasional frost, often with summer rainfall maximumYellow or red forest soils, slightly podsolic soilsTemperate evergreen forest, somewhat frost-sensitive
ZB VI. Nemoral, moderate climate with winter freezingForest brown earths and grey forest soilsFrost-resistant, deciduous, temperate forest
ZB VII. Continental, arid, with warm or hot summers and cold wintersChernozems to serozemsGrasslands and temperate deserts
ZB VIII. Boreal, cold temperate with cool summers and long wintersPodsolsEvergreen, frost-hardy, needle-leaved forest (taiga)
ZB IX. Polar, short, cool summers and long, cold wintersTundra humus soils with solifluction (permafrost soils)Low, evergreen vegetation, without trees, growing over permanently frozen soils

Schultz (1988) eco-zones

Schultz (1988, 2005) defined nine ecozones (his concept of ecozone is more similar to the concept of biome than to the concept of ecozone of BBC): [26]

  1. polar/subpolar zone
  2. boreal zone
  3. humid mid-latitudes
  4. dry mid-latitudes
  5. subtropics with winter rain
  6. subtropics with year-round rain
  7. dry tropics and subtropics
  8. tropics with summer rain
  9. tropics with year-round rain

Bailey (1989) ecoregions

Robert G. Bailey nearly developed a biogeographical classification system of ecoregions for the United States in a map published in 1976. He subsequently expanded the system to include the rest of North America in 1981, and the world in 1989. The Bailey system, based on climate, is divided into four domains (polar, humid temperate, dry, and humid tropical), with further divisions based on other climate characteristics (subarctic, warm temperate, hot temperate, and subtropical; marine and continental; lowland and mountain). [27] [28]

Olson & Dinerstein (1998) biomes for WWF / Global 200

Terrestrial biomes of the world according to Olson et al. and used by the WWF and Global 200. Biomes of the world.svg
Terrestrial biomes of the world according to Olson et al. and used by the WWF and Global 200.

A team of biologists convened by the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) developed a scheme that divided the world's land area into biogeographic realms (called "ecozones" in a BBC scheme), and these into ecoregions (Olson & Dinerstein, 1998, etc.). Each ecoregion is characterized by a main biome (also called major habitat type). [29] [30]

This classification is used to define the Global 200 list of ecoregions identified by the WWF as priorities for conservation. [29]

For the terrestrial ecoregions, there is a specific EcoID, format XXnnNN (XX is the biogeographic realm, nn is the biome number, NN is the individual number).

Biogeographic realms (terrestrial and freshwater)

The applicability of the realms scheme above - based on Udvardy (1975)—to most freshwater taxa is unresolved. [31]

Biogeographic realms (marine)

Biomes (terrestrial)

  1. Tropical and subtropical moist broadleaf forests (tropical and subtropical, humid)
  2. Tropical and subtropical dry broadleaf forests (tropical and subtropical, semihumid)
  3. Tropical and subtropical coniferous forests (tropical and subtropical, semihumid)
  4. Temperate broadleaf and mixed forests (temperate, humid)
  5. Temperate coniferous forests (temperate, humid to semihumid)
  6. Boreal forests/taiga (subarctic, humid)
  7. Tropical and subtropical grasslands, savannas, and shrublands (tropical and subtropical, semiarid)
  8. Temperate grasslands, savannas, and shrublands (temperate, semiarid)
  9. Flooded grasslands and savannas (temperate to tropical, fresh or brackish water inundated)
  10. Montane grasslands and shrublands (alpine or montane climate)
  11. Tundra (Arctic)
  12. Mediterranean forests, woodlands, and scrub or sclerophyll forests (temperate warm, semihumid to semiarid with winter rainfall)
  13. Deserts and xeric shrublands (temperate to tropical, arid)
  14. Mangrove (subtropical and tropical, salt water inundated) [30]

Biomes (freshwater)

According to the WWF, the following are classified as freshwater biomes: [33]

Biomes (marine)

Biomes of the coastal and continental shelf areas (neritic zone):

Summary of the scheme


Other biomes

Marine biomes

Pruvot (1896) zones or "systems": [35]

Longhurst (1998) biomes: [36]

Other marine habitat types (not covered yet by the Global 200/WWF scheme):[ citation needed ]

Anthropogenic biomes

Humans have altered global patterns of biodiversity and ecosystem processes. As a result, vegetation forms predicted by conventional biome systems can no longer be observed across much of Earth's land surface as they have been replaced by crop and rangelands or cities. Anthropogenic biomes provide an alternative view of the terrestrial biosphere based on global patterns of sustained direct human interaction with ecosystems, including agriculture, human settlements, urbanization, forestry and other uses of land. Anthropogenic biomes offer a way to recognize the irreversible coupling of human and ecological systems at global scales and manage Earth's biosphere and anthropogenic biomes.

Major anthropogenic biomes:

Microbial biomes

Endolithic biomes

The endolithic biome, consisting entirely of microscopic life in rock pores and cracks, kilometers beneath the surface, has only recently been discovered, and does not fit well into most classification schemes. [38]

Effects of climate change

Anthropogenic climate change has the potential to greatly alter the distribution of Earth's biomes. [39] [40] Meaning, biomes around the world could change so much that they would be at risk of becoming new biomes entirely. [41] General frequency models have been a staple in finding out the impact climate change could have on biomes. [42] More specifically, 54% and 22% of global land area will experience climates that correspond to other biomes. [39] 3.6% of land area will experience climates that are completely new or unusual. [43] [44] Average temperatures have risen more than twice the usual amount in both arctic and mountainous biomes, [45] [46] [47] which leads to the conclusion that arctic and mountainous biomes are currently the most vulnerable to climate change. [45] The current reasoning surrounding as to why this is the case are based around the fact that colder environments tend to reflect more sunlight, as a result of the snow and ice covering the ground. Since the annual average temperatures are rising, ice and snow is melting. As a result, albedo is lowered. [48] [49] Keeping a keen eye on terrestrial biomes is important, as they play a crucial role in climate regulation. [50] [51] South American terrestrial biomes have been predicted to go through the same temperature trends as arctic and mountainous biomes. [50] [52] With its annual average temperature continuing to increase, the moisture currently located in forest biomes will dry up. [50] [51]

See also

Related Research Articles

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Ecoregion</span> Ecologically and geographically defined area that is smaller than a bioregion

An ecoregion is an ecologically and geographically defined area that is smaller than a bioregion, which in turn is smaller than a biogeographic realm. Ecoregions cover relatively large areas of land or water, and contain characteristic, geographically distinct assemblages of natural communities and species. The biodiversity of flora, fauna and ecosystems that characterise an ecoregion tends to be distinct from that of other ecoregions. In theory, biodiversity or conservation ecoregions are relatively large areas of land or water where the probability of encountering different species and communities at any given point remains relatively constant, within an acceptable range of variation . Ecoregions are also known as "ecozones", although that term may also refer to biogeographic realms.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Steppe</span> Ecoregion of plain grasslands without trees

In physical geography, a steppe is an ecoregion characterized by grassland plains without closed forests except near rivers and lakes. Steppe biomes may include:

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Temperate grasslands, savannas, and shrublands</span> Terrestrial biome

Temperate grasslands, savannas, and shrublands is a terrestrial biome defined by the World Wide Fund for Nature. The predominant vegetation in this biome consists of grass and/or shrubs. The climate is temperate and ranges from semi-arid to semi-humid. The habitat type differs from tropical grasslands in the annual temperature regime as well as the types of species found here.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Biogeographic realm</span> Broadest biogeographic division of Earths land surface

A biogeographic realm is the broadest biogeographic division of Earth's land surface, based on distributional patterns of terrestrial organisms. They are subdivided into bioregions, which are further subdivided into ecoregions. A biogeographic realm is also known as "ecozone", although that term may also refer to ecoregions.

The Global 200 is the list of ecoregions identified by the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF), the global conservation organization, as priorities for conservation. According to WWF, an ecoregion is defined as a "relatively large unit of land or water containing a characteristic set of natural communities that share a large majority of their species dynamics, and environmental conditions". For example, based on their levels of endemism, Madagascar gets multiple listings, ancient Lake Baikal gets one, and the North American Great Lakes get none.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Grassland</span> Area with vegetation dominated by grasses

A grassland is an area where the vegetation is dominated by grasses (Poaceae). However, sedge (Cyperaceae) and rush (Juncaceae) can also be found along with variable proportions of legumes, like clover, and other herbs. Grasslands occur naturally on all continents except Antarctica and are found in most ecoregions of the Earth. Furthermore, grasslands are one of the largest biomes on earth and dominate the landscape worldwide. There are different types of grasslands: natural grasslands, semi-natural grasslands, and agricultural grasslands. They cover 31–69% of the Earth's land area.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Savanna</span> Mixed woodland-grassland ecosystem

A savanna or savannah is a mixed woodland-grassland ecosystem characterised by the trees being sufficiently widely spaced so that the canopy does not close. The open canopy allows sufficient light to reach the ground to support an unbroken herbaceous layer consisting primarily of grasses. According to Britannica, there exists four savanna forms; savanna woodland where trees and shrubs form a light canopy, tree savanna with scattered trees and shrubs, shrub savanna with distributed shrubs, and grass savanna where trees and shrubs are mostly nonexistent.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Alpine tundra</span> Biome found at high altitudes

Alpine tundra is a type of natural region or biome that does not contain trees because it is at high elevation, with an associated harsh climate. As the latitude of a location approaches the poles, the threshold elevation for alpine tundra gets lower until it reaches sea level, and alpine tundra merges with polar tundra.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Tropical and subtropical moist broadleaf forests</span> Habitat type defined by the World Wide Fund for Nature

Tropical and subtropical moist broadleaf forests (TSMF), also known as tropical moist forest, is a subtropical and tropical forest habitat type defined by the World Wide Fund for Nature.

The life zone concept was developed by C. Hart Merriam in 1889 as a means of describing areas with similar plant and animal communities. Merriam observed that the changes in these communities with an increase in latitude at a constant elevation are similar to the changes seen with an increase in elevation at a constant latitude.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Life zones of Peru</span>

When the Spanish arrived, they divided Peru into three main regions: the coastal region, that is bounded by the Pacific Ocean; the highlands, that is located on the Andean Heights, and the jungle, that is located on the Amazonian Jungle. But Javier Pulgar Vidal, a geographer who studied the biogeographic reality of the Peruvian territory for a long time, proposed the creation of eight Natural Regions. In 1941, he presented his thesis "Las Ocho Regiones Naturales del Perú" at the III General Assembly of the Pan-American Institute of Geography and History.

The following outline is provided as an overview of and topical guide to ecology:

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Holdridge life zones</span> Global bioclimatic scheme for the classification of land areas

The Holdridge life zones system is a global bioclimatic scheme for the classification of land areas. It was first published by Leslie Holdridge in 1947, and updated in 1967. It is a relatively simple system based on few empirical data, giving objective criteria. A basic assumption of the system is that both soil and the climax vegetation can be mapped once the climate is known.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Montane ecosystems</span> Ecosystems found in mountains

Montane ecosystems are found on the slopes of mountains. The alpine climate in these regions strongly affects the ecosystem because temperatures fall as elevation increases, causing the ecosystem to stratify. This stratification is a crucial factor in shaping plant community, biodiversity, metabolic processes and ecosystem dynamics for montane ecosystems. Dense montane forests are common at moderate elevations, due to moderate temperatures and high rainfall. At higher elevations, the climate is harsher, with lower temperatures and higher winds, preventing the growth of trees and causing the plant community to transition to montane grasslands and shrublands or alpine tundra. Due to the unique climate conditions of montane ecosystems, they contain increased numbers of endemic species. Montane ecosystems also exhibit variation in ecosystem services, which include carbon storage and water supply.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Biogeographic classification of India</span>

Biogeographic classification of India is the division of India according to biogeographic characteristics. Biogeography is the study of the distribution of species (biology), organisms, and ecosystems in geographic space and through geological time. India has a rich heritage of natural diversity. India ranks fourth in Asia and tenth in the world amongst the top 17 mega-diverse countries in the world. India harbours nearly 11% of the world's floral diversity comprising over 17500 documented flowering plants, 6200 endemic species, 7500 medicinal plants and 246 globally threatened species in only 2.4% of world's land area. India is also home to four biodiversity hotspots—Andaman & Nicobar Islands, Eastern Himalaya, Indo-Burma region, and the Western Ghats. Hence the importance of biogeographical study of India's natural heritage.

Vegetation classification is the process of classifying and mapping the vegetation over an area of the earth's surface. Vegetation classification is often performed by state based agencies as part of land use, resource and environmental management. Many different methods of vegetation classification have been used. In general, there has been a shift from structural classification used by forestry for the mapping of timber resources, to floristic community mapping for biodiversity management. Whereas older forestry-based schemes considered factors such as height, species and density of the woody canopy, floristic community mapping shifts the emphasis onto ecological factors such as climate, soil type and floristic associations. Classification mapping is usually now done using geographic information systems (GIS) software.

The Biodiversity of South Africa is the variety of living organisms within the boundaries of South Africa and its exclusive economic zone. South Africa is a region of high biodiversity in the terrestrial and marine realms. The country is ranked sixth out of the world's seventeen megadiverse countries, and is rated among the top 10 for plant species diversity and third for marine endemism.


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