Description of Terrestrial and Aquatic Biomes


Temperate - That region of the Earth between 23.5 degrees North and 60 degrees North (between the Tropic of Cancer and the Arctic Circle) and between 23.5 degrees South and 60 degrees South (between the Tropic of Capricorn and the Antarctic Circle).

Tropical - The region of the earth that surrounds the equator, from 23.5 degrees north to 23.5 degrees south.

Polar - The regions of the earth that surround the north and south poles, from the north pole to 60 degrees north and from the south pole to 60 degrees south.

Broad Habitat Types

Terrestrial - Living mainly on land, such as continental land masses or islands.

Saltwater or marine - Living mainly in oceans, seas, or other bodies of salt water.

Freshwater - Mainly lives in water that is not salty.

Terrestrial Biomes

Tundra - A terrestrial biome with low, shrubby or mat-like vegetation found at extremely high latitudes or elevations, near the limit of plant growth. Soils usually subject to permafrost. Plant diversity is typically low and the growing season is short.

Taiga - Coniferous or boreal forest, located in a band across northern North America, Europe, and Asia. This terrestrial biome also occurs at high elevations. Long, cold winters and short, wet summers. Few species of trees are present; these are primarily conifers that grow in dense stands with little undergrowth. Some deciduous trees also may be present.

Desert or dunes - In deserts low (less than 30 cm per year) and unpredictable rainfall results in landscapes dominated by plants and animals adapted to aridity. Vegetation is typically sparse, though spectacular blooms may occur following rain. Deserts can be cold or warm and daily temperates typically fluctuate. In dune areas vegetation is also sparse and conditions are dry. This is because sand does not hold water well so little is available to plants. In dunes near seas and oceans this is compounded by the influence of salt in the air and soil. Salt limits the ability of plants to take up water through their roots.

Savanna - A grassland with scattered trees or scattered clumps of trees, a type of community intermediate between grassland and forest.

Grassland - An area dominated by grasses, such as a prairie or meadow.

Temperate grassland - A terrestrial biome found in temperate latitudes (>23.5? N or S latitude). Vegetation is made up mostly of grasses, the height and species diversity of which depend largely on the amount of moisture available. Fire and grazing are important in the long-term maintenance of grasslands.

Tropical savanna and grassland - Savannas are grasslands with scattered individual trees that do not form a closed canopy. Extensive savannas are found in parts of subtropical and tropical Africa and South America, and in Australia.

Chaparral - Found in coastal areas between 30 and 40 degrees latitude, in areas with a Mediterranean climate. Vegetation is dominated by stands of dense, spiny shrubs with tough (hard or waxy) evergreen leaves. May be maintained by periodic fire. In South America it includes the scrub ecotone between forest and paramo.

Forest - Forest biomes are dominated by trees, otherwise forest biomes can vary widely in amount of precipitation and seasonality.

Temperate forest - Forests occuring at temperate latitudes (>23.5 degrees N or S latitude). This terrestrial biome is characterized by moderate to large seasonal changes in temperature; rainfall, however, is usually more evenly distributed. Leaves of deciduous trees drop during autumn and winter.

Tropical deciduous forest - A terrestrial biome similar to tropical rainforest and found at the same latitudes, but rainy and dry seasons are more distinct and the total amount of rainfall is usually less. Most trees are deciduous and drop their leaves during the dry season. Thorny vegetation is sometimes prominent.

Rainforest - Rainforests, both temperate and tropical, are dominated by trees often forming a closed canopy with little light reaching the ground. Epiphytes and climbing plants are also abundant. Precipitation is typically not limiting, but may be somewhat seasonal.

Temperate forest and rainforest - Forests occuring at temperate latitudes (>23.5 degrees N or S latitude). This terrestrial biome is characterized by moderate to large seasonal changes in temperature; rainfall, however, is usually more evenly distributed. Leaves of deciduous trees drop during autumn and winter. Temperate rainforests may experience less seasonal change in temperature.

Tropical rainforest - A terrestrial biome found within 23.5? of the equator in areas where rainfall is abundant (more than 250 cm/year) and the dry season, if any, is brief. Forests are very diverse floristically and structurally; trees sometimes reach great heights. Most trees are evergreen; deciduous species, if present, do not all lose their leaves at the same time of year.

Scrub forest - Scrub forests develop in areas that experience dry seasons.

Tropical scrub forest - A terrestrial biome similar to tropical deciduous forest, but most trees are small, the dry season is prolonged, and many plant species bear thorns.

Temperate scrub forest - A terrestrial biome similar to temperate deciduous forests, but most vegetation is smaller and more adapted to arid conditions, with thorns and waxy cuticles on the leaves. The dry season is prolonged.

Mountains - This terrestrial biome includes summits of high mountains, either without vegetation or covered by low, tundra-like vegetation.

Ice cap - A large body of land ice that forms when large snowfalls and low temperatures encourage the transformation of snow into ice, often persisting throughout many years. Ice caps are typically less than 50,000 km2 in area but are large enough to submerge the underlying topography.

Aquatic Biomes

Pelagic - An aquatic biome consisting of the open ocean, far from land, does not include sea bottom (benthic zone).

Benthic - Referring to an animal that lives on or near the bottom of a body of water. Also, an aquatic biome consisting of the ocean bottom below the pelagic and coastal zones. Bottom habitats in the very deepest oceans (below 9000 m) are sometimes referred to as the abyssal zone. see also oceanic vent.

Reef - Structure produced by the calcium carbonate skeletons of coral polyps (Class Anthozoa). Coral reefs are found in warm, shallow oceans with low nutrient availability. They form the basis for rich communities of other invertebrates, plants, fish, and protists. The polyps live only on the reef surface. Because they depend on symbiotic photosynthetic algae, zooxanthellae, they cannot live where light does not penetrate.

Oceanic vent - Areas of the deep sea floor where continental plates are being pushed apart. Oceanic vents are places where hot sulfur-rich water is released from the ocean floor. An aquatic biome.

Lakes And Ponds - Inland bodies of standing water, typically freshwater. Lakes are usually larger than ponds.

Rivers And Streams - Natural bodies of moving water that empty into an ocean, lake, or other body of water and are usually fed by converging tributaries along their length. Rivers are typically larger than streams.

Temporary Pools - Small bodies of standing water which are present for only part of the year, becoming dry for the remainder of the year. For example, a vernal pool is one which is present in the spring.

Coastal - The land near a coast, or shoreline.

Temperate coastal - An aquatic biome including the ocean bottom in coastal areas of temperate regions, to about 1000 m depth.

Tropical coastal - An aquatic biome including the ocean bottom in coastal areas of tropical regions, to about 1000 m depth.

Abyssal - On or near the ocean floor in the deep ocean. Abyssal regions are characterized by complete lack of light, extremely high water pressure, low nutrient availability, and continuous cold (3 degrees C).

Brackish water - Areas with salty water, usually in coastal marshes and estuaries.

Wetlands - Lowland areas satured with water, characterized by low soil oxygen.

Marsh - Marshes are wetland areas often dominated by grasses and reeds.

Swamp - A wetland area that may be permanently or intermittently covered in water, often dominated by woody vegetation.

Bog - A wetland area rich in accumulated plant material and with acidic soils surrounding a body of open water. Bogs have a flora dominated by sedges, heaths, and sphagnum.


Urban - Living in cities and large towns, landscapes dominated by human structures and activity.

Suburban - Living in residential areas on the outskirts of large cities or towns.

Agricultural - Living in landscapes dominated by human agriculture.

Riparian - Referring to something living or located adjacent to a waterbody (usually, but not always, a river or stream).

Estuarine - An area where a freshwater river meets the ocean and tidal influences result in fluctuations in salinity.

Intertidal or littoral - The area of shoreline influenced mainly by the tides, between the highest and lowest reaches of the tide. An aquatic habitat.