Biogeography: Definitions & Examples

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  • 0:01 Definition of Biogeography
  • 0:49 Examples of Biogeography
  • 3:50 Humanity's Role in…
  • 4:32 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Brekke Peterson Munks
Have you heard the term 'biogeography'? If you have and are not sure what it means, then you're in the right place! In this lesson you will learn the definition and common examples of biogeography.

Definition of Biogeography

Did you know that there is a study of how plants, animals and bacteria are distributed on the landscape through time and space? This is the study of biogeography. Biogeography is broken into two subcategories:

  • Phytogeography, the study of how plants are distributed on the earth
  • Zoogeography, the study of how animals are distributed on the earth (including bacteria)

Biogeography is very important in understanding how animals and plants have changed the landscape over time. This field utilizes knowledge from the study of rocks or geology, the study of ecosystems or ecology, and the study of the physical planet or physical geography to answer questions about how organisms react to changes in their environment.

Examples of Biogeography

Fossil Records

Have you ever found a fossil of a sea shell or a leaf, maybe even in your own back yard? Did you know that pieces of that same fossil could also be found on an entirely different continent? Fossil records can be traced back to when all the Earth's continents were one large land mass called Pangea. If fossils are dated and found on multiple continents with the same age, it is likely that those organisms lived on Pangea. When the continents split, those organisms were split up, too. This gives scientists an understanding of how the environment, over time, can change organisms.

Distribution of Plants and Animals

In modern uses of biogeography, scientists have identified plants and animals that live in certain ecosystems, or areas classified by their climate, vegetation, and the kinds of life that exist there. A prime example of animal biogeography is the study of primates, both old world (those that live in the eastern hemisphere) and new world (those that live in the western hemisphere). At one point these primates all lived on Pangea, but due to changes in the land they grew differently. These differences can be in their limb length, food needs, eye size and whether they are active at night or in the daytime.

Most people have heard about Charles Darwin, the famed biologist and father of the theory of evolution and natural selection. He studied biogeography and is most famous for the study of finches on the Galapagos Islands off the coast of South America. These finches were originally from the mainland and then found themselves on the islands, where different food was available. The finches had to adapt to eat the new foods to survive. Their heads got larger, some of their beaks got harder and larger, and their coloring changed. This is another classic example of how an animal changed due to a new environment.

Plants change due to alterations in their environments as well. In current events, we hear about climate change regularly. Plant breeders, or people who study and create new plants to better suit the environment, are working on edible plants that can survive better in drought, high heat, colder temperatures and harsh soil conditions. Plant breeders have studied winter wheat plants to make sure they can survive a cold winter under snow in dry regions of the United States and the world.

The Study of Climates

Climate can greatly alter the landscape, and it gives us a way to easily categorize a region. Biogeography has broken landscapes into temperature zones, such as arctic, tropical, sub-tropical, etc., that help to categorize the temperature and precipitation characteristics of the area.

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