A biome is a major type of ecological community and on planet Earth there are 12 different major biomes. A biome consists of distinct plants and animals in one large geographical area; however, even within a biome there exists varieties of ecosystems. These ecosystems are the result of adaptations to small changes within the ecological environment inside the biome. A biome is formed as the result of the climate interacting with the ecological environment through a process call succession. The survival of the biome, however, is interdependent upon the climate of the entire planet with changes in distant regions sometimes impacting and changing the biome.
The Importance of Climate
Robert Whitaker, an American ecologist, is credited with first dividing the world in the current 12 different biomes. He accomplished this by measuring the precipitation and temperature from points all over the planet and plotting them on a graph. Through careful study of existing biomes at those different points on earth, he was able to successfully indentify the major biomes and link climate as an important contributing factor to a biome's development. The climate in a region to a large degree determines the biome that will emerge. Knowing the average temperature and precipitation of an area will allow you to determine its biome.
Earth's Different Biomes
The Earth has 12 different biomes if you include the ocean and the polar caps as separate biomes, which some ecologists do. The other biomes are tropical seasonal forest and savanna, tropical rain forest, temperate rain forest, temperate deciduous forest, taiga (boreal forest), temperate grassland and desert, subtropical desert, woodland shrub, alpine and tundra. It is important to remember these biomes are not always fixed and within the biome various sub-categories anomalies often arise, such as deserts appearing in grasslands. Climate plays such an important role that even just the timing of rainfall can impact a biome.
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The Process of Succession
Succession is process that forms the biome due to the interaction of climate and the ecological environment. The process of succession happens over the course of years if the climate and environment is left undisturbed. For example, if in West Virginia a coal mine is abandoned, time will allow nature to reclaim the land. First weeds and grasses will begin taking over without human intervention. Over time, the wind will bring in other seedlings and small shrubs and trees will begin cropping up. After some time larger trees will begin taking root as well. Without human intervention, eventually oak or maple trees may take over the entire area and meld with the surrounding temperate deciduous forest, which marks the biome of West Virginia and much of the eastern United States.
Impact of Distant Changes
Biomes are quite sensitive to changes in the climate or environment, regardless of where the change might occur. For example, a major volcano eruption in Indonesia might plunge the earth’s temperature for several years, not only altering the immediate biome, but other major biomes all over the planet. The well-being of a biome and the adaptability of the biomes organisms are highly dependent on the interactions of the world climate as a whole, just as much as the immediate climate within the biome.