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Originally published March 19 2014

Ecosystems in vastly different parts of the world may show striking similarities

by David Gutierrez, staff writer

(NaturalNews) What do prairies, pampas and steppes have in common? They are all regional names for a temperate habitat characterized by prolific grasses punctuated with shrubs and/or trees that do not form a canopy like that found in forests. These common characteristics produce similar adaptations in the plants, animals and other species found there, which in turn may produce similar relationships between those species. Because focusing on these similarities can be helpful to ecologists, they have divided all the world's diverse habitats into a few major categories known as biomes.

A biome describes a certain kind of habitat independent of which continent it is on or what particular species are found there. Although there is no one universal biome classification system in use, all the systems describe habitat types in just a few basic words. For example, biome types might include tropical rain forest, tropical seasonal, temperate rain forest, desert, coniferous forest and tundra, among others.

Ecologists define biomes by characteristics such as climate, dominant plant structure (e.g., grasses or trees), dominant leaf type (e.g., broad vs. needle) and plant spacing (which may distinguish, for example, a forest from a savanna). Biomes often exist in a type of semi-equilibrium, with certain types of successive plants springing up in response to regular disruptions (such as fires or falling trees) and eventually being displaced by a specific type of climax vegetation (like tall grasses or trees).

Climate is one of the major factors that determines biome type. The major factors influencing climate are latitude (often divided into arctic, boreal, temperate, subtropical and tropical), elevation (which has a similar effect as latitude) and humidity, including both total usable water and its seasonal distribution.

Thus, a temperate zone with a dry summer and a wet winter is likely to feature a Mediterranean biome (sometimes known as chaparral). In contrast, a temperate zone that receives little rainfall will be a desert, while one that receives steady, moderate rainfall year round will probably be a temperate broadleaf forest. A similar rainfall pattern a little farther from the equator or at a higher elevation is more likely to produce a coniferous forest, also known as a taiga in some cases.


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