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Terrestrial Ecosystem - Examples & Types

Neel Solanki, Derrick Arrington, Amanda Robb
  • Author
    Neel Solanki

    Neel Solanki a Bachelors degree in Biology and a Bachelors degree in Horticulture from Iowa State University. They have also served as a co-instructor for a college course and have over 3 years of experience as a scientific researcher.

  • Instructor
    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 has taught high school science for over 10 years. She has a Master's Degree in Cellular and Molecular Physiology from Tufts Medical School and a Master's of Teaching from Simmons College. She is also certified in secondary special education, biology, and physics in Massachusetts.

Explore terrestrial ecosystems and terrestrial ecology. Learn the definition of a terrestrial ecosystem and understand its types. Discover examples of terrestrial ecosystems Updated: 10/22/2021

Table of Contents


What is a Terrestrial Ecosystem?

An ecosystem in biology is defined as a system that consists of biotic or living things that interact with each other as well as with abiotic or non-living things (the physical environment.) The terrestial ecosystem definition can therefore be said to describe land ecosystems or those ecosystems that are land-based. In contrast, marine ecosystems, which are the second category of ecosystems, describe those ecosystems that are based in water bodies, like the ocean. Terrestrial ecosystems can be found on all seven continents. They are important habitats for many species of living things. Human society also depends heavily on these terrestrial ecosystems for services like food, fuel, fiber, and even their role in weather and nutrient cycles.

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Terrestrial Organisms

Terrestrial ecology is the study of terrestrial ecosystems and the biotic and abiotic things that occupy them. Biotic things found in terrestrial ecosystems refer to living organisms. These living organisms are often referred to as terrestrial organisms because they are land-based. Terrestrial ecosystems are described and categorized based on the organisms found in them, as well as the way these organisms interact with each other and with abiotic factors found in their environment. Different terrestrial organisms that belong to different terrestrial ecosystems bear specific physical and genetic traits that are based on the climate, abiotic factors, and biotic factors. These traits are called adaptations, as they help the organism survive in its ecosystem. These adaptations also help determine the niche of the organism, which is the role the organism plays in its ecosystem.

Terrestrial Ecosystem Types

Terrestrial ecosystems on our planet can be further divided into six major types, namely taigas, tundra, deciduous forests, grasslands, desert, and tropical rainforest ecosystems. These classifications of distinct ecosystems are based on common features, such as their geographical characteristics (e.g., temperature, precipitation, soil, etc.) and the type of vegetation and other living organisms found in them.


The Taiga ecosystem can be found directly below the arctic circle, in the northern regions of North America, Europe, and Asian continents, primarily in the countries of Canada and Russia. This ecosystem covers over 17% of the total land on Earth and is characterized by the presence of coniferous, evergreen trees. Other distinct features of the taiga terrestrial ecosystem include its long and cold winters and high amount of yearly precipitation. The animal species of the taiga are often either able to change fur color, hibernate or migrate, which are all strategies that can help them survive the harsh winter season. Some examples of well-known taiga animals include lynx (Lynx canadensis) and moose (Alces alces). The dominant plant species of this ecosystem are the tall, coniferous trees (e.g., pine, aspen, and spruce), and the forest floor is often covered with species of fungi, such as lichens and mosses.


The Tundra ecosystem is primarily found in the arctic circles around the north and south poles of the earth. However, it can also occur at very high altitudes, such as on top of tall mountains. Tundra ecosystems are described as being cold and windy and are largely blanketed in a permanent layer of snow, except during summer months. They are primarily found in the state of Alaska (USA) and the countries of Greenland, Russia, Canada, and Scandinavian countries. Tundras are characteristically devoid of trees and are often considered deserts because of their low rainfall rates. Instead, vegetation found in tundra includes mostly moss, lichens, and small plants. Tundra soils are frozen for a major part of the year and permafrost - the phenomenon of permanently frozen soil - is common in these regions. Animal life found in tundra ecosystems includes polar bears (Ursus maritimus), Arctic hare (Lepus arcticus), reindeer (Rangifer tarandus), and ptarmigan (Lagopus genus)

Tundra ecosystems are characterized by low vegetation like small herbs, moss and lichens.

Tundra ecosystem

Deciduous Forest

Deciduous forest ecosystems, or temperate deciduous forest ecosystems, are described as forest ecosystems consisting of primarily deciduous tree species or tree species that shed all their leaves once a year. Deciduous forests are characteristic of regions with year-round rainfall (30-60mm) and cold winters (below freezing) and are generally found in the mid-latitude regions, between the polar and tropical regions of Earth. They are especially common in countries like Canada, the USA, Japan, China, and Russia as well as many European countries. Vegetation found in deciduous forests includes broadleaf, deciduous tree species like oak (Quercus genus) and maple (Acer Genus), as well as small plants, moss, and lichen. Animals found in this ecosystem include white-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus), Bison (Bison genus), and the Asian black bear (Ursus thibetanus.)

Trees in deciduous forest ecosystems lose their leaves for one season a year

Deciduous forest ecosystem


Grassland ecosystems, as the name suggests, are terrestrial ecosystems where the predominant vegetation is grass and herbs (non-woody plants). Grasslands occur in regions where the growth of woody plants is restricted (for various possible reasons, such as the grazing of large animals). The prairies of North America and the savannas of Africa are examples of grassland ecosystems. Animals that live in grassland ecosystems include wildebeest, bison, and zebras

Grasses and herbs are the primary vegetation in grassland ecosystems

Grassland Ecosystem

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  • Activities
  • FAQs

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.

How many terrestrial ecosystems are there?

There six key types of terrestrial ecosystems. They are:

  • Taiga ecosystems
  • Tundra ecosystems
  • Deciduous forest ecosystems
  • Desert ecosystems
  • Grassland ecosystems
  • Tropical rainforest ecosystems

What is meant by terrestrial ecosystem?

Terrestrial ecosystem is a term for those ecosystems that are land-based. They are different from the second type of ecosystem, marine ecosystems.

Why is terrestrial ecosystem important?

Terrestrial ecosystems are important because they house a large number of the worlds living organisms. They also provide valuable products to humans such as food, fuel and fibres.

What organisms are in the terrestrial ecosystem?

Terrestrial ecosystems provide habitat to all the world terrestrial or land-based organisms. This includes plant and animal species that are adapted to their specific ecosystem.

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