What Is a Biome? - Definition & Types

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  • 0:01 Definition of a Biome
  • 0:37 Terrestrial Biomes
  • 4:01 Aquatic Biomes
  • 5:32 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Angela Lynn Swafford

Lynn has a BS and MS in biology and has taught many college biology courses.

If you travel around the world, you can visit dry deserts with lots of cacti, the cold arctic with little plant life, or humid tropical rainforests. These different regions on Earth are all called biomes. Continue reading to learn about different types of biomes.

Definition of a Biome

Biomes are large areas on Earth with similar conditions, such as similar climates and similar living organisms. There are two main categories of biomes. Terrestrial biomes are usually defined by the type of vegetation that is present. The major climatic factors contributing to the vegetation types in these biomes are temperature and precipitation. Aquatic biomes are defined by the type of water they contain.

There are many different classification systems used to determine biomes, each resulting in different numbers of biomes. Here we will just be covering some of the major biomes (9 terrestrial and 4 aquatic).

Terrestrial Biomes

Let's take a look at the terrestrial biomes.

The coldest biome is called the tundra. It is located at the North (Arctic) and South (Antarctic) Poles. An alpine tundra is also found on top of mountains at very high elevations. The vegetation is very low to the ground and includes short shrubs, grasses, and lichens. A layer of permafrost, or permanently frozen soil, is usually present.

The taiga or boreal forest, is found south of the Arctic tundra. Here, it is cold and snowy. The vegetation consists mostly of coniferous evergreen trees. Coniferous trees are those that have needle-like leaves. This biome is also sometimes called the northern coniferous forest.

The temperate deciduous forests have hot summers and cold winters. Vegetation includes shrubs, mosses, and broadleaf trees. Broadleaf trees, such as oaks and maples, are deciduous (lose their leaves during the winter). This is the natural biome for much of the eastern United States.

Temperate rainforests have mild temperatures and rain all year long. They receive over 60 inches of rain a year and are home to many trees, mosses, and ferns. They occupy very small areas on all continents except Antarctica. In the United States, temperate rainforests can be found in Washington and Oregon.

The prairies in the Midwestern United States are considered temperate grasslands. These areas consist mostly of grasses and can be found on all continents except Antarctica. There are usually no large shrubs or trees in temperate grasslands. While temperatures are similar to those in temperate deciduous forests, there is usually less precipitation.

The chaparral, or shrubland, biome is found in only a few small areas, including part of Australia, around the Mediterranean Sea, and in most of California. This biome contains mostly shrubs and is hot and dry in the summer. In winter, it is cool and moist. Fires occur frequently in chaparral areas, so many plants have thick waxy coatings to resist fire damage. Additionally, many plants rely on fires for proper germination of their seeds.

Deserts are very dry areas with generally less than 10 inches of rain a year. Deserts can be either hot, like those in Africa, or cold, such as in Antarctica. Temperatures usually change dramatically between night and day. The only plants that live in deserts are those that are adapted to conserve water. These include cacti and some shrubs and grasses.

Savannas are also sometimes called tropical grasslands because they are found in the warm tropics and consist mostly of grasses. Savannas have both a rainy season and a dry season. During droughts, fires commonly kill any trees that may have started growing. You are probably most familiar with African savannas that are home to elephants, giraffes, and zebras.

Tropical rainforests are found near the equator. Temperatures are warm all year long. Tropical rainforests are very humid, and anywhere from 60 to almost 400 inches of rain can fall in a single year. Plant life is very abundant and includes tall broadleaf trees, vines, ferns, palms, and small plants. This biome is home to more than half of all terrestrial species!

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