What is a Terrestrial Ecosystem? - Definition, Examples & Types

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  • 0:02 Definition
  • 0:32 Types & Examples
  • 3:44 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Derrick Arrington

Derrick has taught biology and chemistry at both the high school and college level. He has a master's degree in science education.

Expert Contributor
Amanda Robb

Amanda holds a Masters in Science from Tufts Medical School in Cellular and Molecular Physiology. She has taught high school Biology and Physics for 8 years.

There are a variety of different ecosystems all over the world. In this lesson, we will examine terrestrial ecosystems. This will allow us to gain an understanding of the living and non-living factors that makeup these dynamic ecosystems.

Definition of Terrestrial Ecosystems

An ecosystem is a collection of communities of both living and non-living things that are interrelated. While many ecosystems exist on land and in the waters of the world, terrestrial ecosystems are those that are found only on land. The biotic, or living things found in an ecosystem, include various life forms, such as plants and animals. The abiotic, or non-living things found in an ecosystem, include the various land-forms and the climate.

Types and Examples of Terrestrial Ecosystems

While there have been many classification schemes developed over time, it is now generally accepted that there are six types of terrestrial ecosystems. These include taiga, tundra, deciduous forest, grasslands, tropical rain forests, and deserts.

Taigas are cold-climate forests found in the northern latitudes. Taigas are the world's largest terrestrial ecosystem and account for about 29% of the Earth's forests. The largest taiga ecosystems are found in Canada and Russia. Taigas are known for their sub-arctic climate with extremely cold winters and mild summers. They primarily consist of coniferous trees, such as pines, although there are some other deciduous trees, such as spruce and elm, that have adapted to live in these areas that receive little direct sunlight for much of the year. Taigas are home to large herbivores, such as moose, elk, and bison, as well as omnivores, such as bears.

The tundra ecosystems of the world are found primarily north of the Arctic Circle. They consist of short vegetation and essentially no trees. The soil is frozen and covered with permafrost for a large portion of the year. Caribou, polar bears, and musk ox are some of the notable species who call the tundra home.

Deciduous forest ecosystems make up the eastern half of North America and a large portion of Europe. They typically have an average yearly temperature of 50 degrees Fahrenheit, and they average about 30-60 inches of rain per year. These forests are inhabited by a variety of wildlife, including deer, bear, foxes, as well as numerous species of trees, shrubs, and flowers. If you live in or have ever traveled to the eastern United States, you have been to a deciduous forest.

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Additional Activities

Make Your Own Ecosystem

This activity will have students researching different types of ecosystems and creating a model of their own in a plastic bottle. To carry out this activity you will need:

  • A 2 liter plastic bottle
  • Sturdy scissors
  • Gravel
  • Activated Charcoal
  • Potting soil depending on the type of plants
  • Plants from the chosen ecosystem
  • Water

Before students get started, have them research what ecosystem they want to create a model of. Typically, succulent plants from the desert or chaparral do well, or small tropical plants from the deciduous forest or tropical rainforest.


Now that you are familiar with the type of terrestrial ecosystems, it's time to try your hand at making a model of one. In this activity, you will choose one type of terrestrial ecosystem and create a model of it in a terrarium. Most terrariums have a layer of gravel, activated charcoal, and soil with plants on top. The exact choice of soil type will depend on which type of terrestrial ecosystem you plan to model and the plants that live in it. The most common types to see in a terrarium are desert, chaparral, and deciduous forest.

  1. Research what type of plants live in your ecosystem, where you can get them, and what type of soil your plants will need. If you're using succulent plants from the desert, there are specific types of soil for these plants. If you're creating something from a deciduous forest or tropical rainforest, traditional potting soil will work. Use your researching skills to figure out what soil you'll need for what plants.
  2. Start by getting a two liter plastic container and cut it in half with sturdy scissors.
  3. Add a one inch layer of gravel to the bottom.
  4. Add a layer of activated charcoal, followed by about four inches of soil.
  5. Add your plants and water them until the soil is moist.
  6. Place the top of the bottle back on and watch your plants grow over time! Remember to keep them watered according to the type of ecosystem they normally live in.

Expected Results

Students should see plant growth over time if the greenhouses are constructed properly. A few things to look out for are over or under watering. It is important that students match the amount of water to what plants would experience in their natural habitat. Students should also consider the amount of sunlight that plants need. Some plants need partial sun, while others might need full sun to thrive.

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