Do You Know What Biomes Really Are?
As the environment and climate change are becoming a greater concern with each passing day, we see more and more relatively new terms. One of those terms is the word ‘biome.’
How many people really understand what that means?
I must admit that I wasn’t sure. I kind of knew but wasn’t sure if I could describe it to someone else.
Understanding biomes is much easier when you see how they fit into the grand scheme of things. As we all know, geography is the study of how cultures relate to their physical environment.
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One of those environments is the biosphere. The upper part of the Earth’s surface and its atmosphere is what makes up the biosphere. Perhaps an easier description would be seeing it as the layer of life that surrounds the world.
Our biosphere is made up of biomes. A biome is a way of describing large geographical regions where certain kinds of animals and plants live. Every biome is characterized by unique environmental conditions, along with the plants and animals that have learned to thrive in those conditions.
We know these regions under different but familiar names. The primary land biomes are grasslands, deserts, tropical rainforests, grasslands, deserts, temperate deciduous forests, tundra, and taiga (aka coniferous forests).
Biomes and climate
A biome’s classification is a direct result of its position relative to the Equator. The sun’s rays' angle determines temperatures across the globe as they shine on the Earth’s curved surface.
Since sunlight beams on the Earth at specific angles at different latitudes, each place in the world receives a different amount of heat and light.
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Biomes, like tundra and taiga that exist in higher latitudes, get the least sunlight. They are the farthest biomes from the Equator and have colder temperatures.
Grasslands, temperate deciduous forests, and cold deserts are located in the middle latitudes — or around halfway between the Equator and the Earth’s poles. They receive moderate sunlight, and of course, moderate temperatures.
Finally, the lowest latitudes are the tropical grasslands, tropical rainforests, and warm deserts. These biomes receive the most sun and have the highest temperatures.
Another significant factor among the different biomes is the amount of precipitation they receive. The low latitude biomes are subjected to both warm air and moisture. This is because of the higher temperatures and evaporation from warm sea waters. And the tropics receive over 200 inches of rain per year from the storms created by this combination.
Conversely, the tundra biome at higher latitudes receives only about ten inches per year.
Factors like the nutrients and moisture in the soil and the growing season's length will affect plants that can grow in a biome. They also affect the kinds of organisms that can be sustained.
Biodiversity is how scientists describe the various kinds and quantities of animals and plants that live in a region. Biomes that have a greater difference or a higher quantity of plants and animals have high biodiversity.
The grasslands and temperate deciduous forest biomes have good conditions for plant growth. But the sunlight, precipitation, and warmth of the tropical rainforests make it the biome with the highest biodiversity. It sustains a greater variety and quantity of plants and animals.
Lower biodiversity biomes
Biomes with extreme temperatures and low precipitation, poor soil, and short growing seasons have the lowest biodiversity. They have the fewest variety and quantity of plants and animals.
Of all the world’s forest biomes, the taiga has the lowest biodiversity. This biome suffers from cold temperatures throughout the entire year with harsh winters. And it has low animal diversity.
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The tundra has a growing season of only six to eight weeks. Therefore its plants are rare and small. Trees cannot grow at all in the permafrost — a condition where just a few inches of the ground can thaw during its brief summer.
Humans and biomes
Biomes with extreme biodiversity are inhospitable for humans — for the most part. Very few living creatures can survive in biomes having the lowest biodiversity. And biomes having the highest biodiversity are typically too harsh and dangerous for any human settlement.
Nonetheless, with technological advancements and determination, humans have proven time and time again that they can survive anywhere when inspired.
The question is, how would we humans affect the delicate balance of these extreme biomes?
At a glance, it would seem that we would find ways to increase the biodiversity of the tundra and taiga regions and likewise find ways to lower the biodiversity of the tropics. This can be either a good thing or a bad thing.
Let’s hope we know the difference.
Karla Moeller. What’s a Biome? https://askabiologist.asu.edu/explore/biomes.
Martin W. Miles, Victoria V. Miles, and Igor Esau. (July 12, 2019). Varying climate response across the tundra, forest-tundra and boreal forest biomes in northern West Siberia. https://iopscience.iop.org/article/10.1088/1748-9326/ab2364.
Damian Carrington. (March 12, 2018). What is biodiversity and why does it matter to us? https://www.theguardian.com/news/2018/mar/12/what-is-biodiversity-and-why-does-it-matter-to-us.