Life On Earth: 5 Types of Habitats
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When we look at life on earth, we must consider various biomes—or large regions with climatic and geological conditions characteristic of a specific area. Within a biome are several ecosystems or habitats where animal and plant species have learned to adapt and survive.
There are many different habitats on earth, although only a handful is usually generalized for discussion. Regardless, by studying habitats, people can better understand the wildlife that comes from each natural environment and develop solutions for protecting the land and species that live there.
Examples of Habitats Across the Globe
The five primary biomes include forests, grasslands, mountain and polar regions, deserts, and aquatic ecosystems. Of those, several habitats are home to an abundance of plant and animal life. Here is a breakdown of each of the five main biomes and their habitats found across the globe.
According to the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), forests cover approximately 31% of land area and are a source of livelihood and employment for over 13.2 million people. These expansive ecosystems also support about three-quarters of life on earth.
The three types of forest habitats include:
- Temperate: These forests are multi-latitudinal and located anywhere between the tropics and polar regions. Home to giant maple and oak trees, they can also adapt and survive through four seasons: winter, spring, summer, and fall.
- Tropical: Also known as tropical rainforests, these hot, humid biomes are located close to the equator and are known for their dense, three-layered canopies of ferns, orchids, and draping vines.
- Boreal: Also called taiga, boreal forests cover 15.3 million square miles and can be found in cold climates, such as Russia, Scandinavia, China, Mongolia, Japan, and North America. These ecosystems usually see a lot of snowfall and are known for their evergreen, spruce and pine trees.
Forests are teeming with life, and certain animal and plant species thrive in each type of ecosystem. For example, you are likely to see moose, wolves, and deer in boreal forests. In tropical rainforests, it’s common to see toucans, jaguars, and various insects. You can also expect to see fox, black bear, and bald eagles in more temperate forests.
Found on every continent except Antarctica, grasslands may be called pampas, savannahs, rangelands, prairies, or steppes and are categorized as tropical or temperate. Regardless of their name, grassy vegetation is the dominant flora found there.
Rainfall usually varies from season to season; however, grasslands typically see between 20 to 35 inches of rain annually, which isn’t enough precipitation for promoting tree growth.
Grasslands are rich in biodiversity and support numerous grazing animals. For example, in African savannahs, you’ll find zebras, giraffes, and wildebeest. Prairie dogs, bison, and coyotes are common in North American grasslands.
Many people underestimate the importance of this particular type of ecosystem. A recent study advocated preserving grasslands for the following reasons:
- They capture water flow and decrease the risk of floods.
- The permanent vegetation prevents erosion, loss of topsoil, and decreases water runoff.
- They’re natural carbon sinks.
- Bees tend to thrive in grasslands and promote pollination.
- Many medicinal plants in South Africa derive from plant species found in grasslands.
3. Mountains and Polar Regions
In contrast to other terrestrial ecosystems, there isn’t a consensus on what actually characterizes mountain or alpine biomes—habitats set at higher elevations well above the treeline.
Due to fluctuating climatic conditions at more significant elevations, the animal and plant species found in mountainous environments change just as rapidly. At the peak of colder mountain ranges, it may seem like the only thing that exists is snow and ice; however, several species have adapted to the more frigid landscape.
Likewise, bitter cold and blustery winds can make life difficult for humans, animals, and plant species in polar regions. Nevertheless, these barren, icy tundras are home to rich biodiversity and micro-organisms that have evolved to survive above and beneath the ice.
Mountain habitats have a wealth of amphibians, fish, mammals, and birds, each of which has adapted to rocky terrains and harsh conditions. Otherwise, polar bears, penguins, Arctic foxes, wolves, and whales are typically found in polar regions.
Located between 15° and 35° latitude in North America, South America, Africa, the Middle East, and Asia, deserts only receive about 10 inches of rainfall per year.
Desert temperatures can fluctuate from over 100°F during the daytime to about 25°F at night. Under these conditions, you may be surprised to learn that many flora and fauna thrive here.
Desert plants, like cacti, absorb water and store it for an extended period, allowing them to sustain long durations of heat and drought. Similarly, animal species like reptiles, kangaroo rats, camels, Fennec foxes, and meerkats have evolved to get enough water and conserve it from eating plants.
5. Aquatic Ecosystems
Different aquatic habits are home to distinctive plant and animal species similar to forest ecosystems. Three types of aquatic habitats include:
- Freshwater: Lakes, rivers, streams, and ponds are examples of freshwater habitats. These ecosystems make up less than 0.01% of the earth yet support over 100,000 species.
- Marine: The open ocean is the water beyond coastal areas and is home to some of the biggest marine wildlife, such as whales, sharks, and dolphins.
- Coastal: Coastal habitats are where the land meets the sea and include mangrove ecosystems, coral reefs, salt marshes, estuaries, shorelines, and seagrass meadows. Coastal ecosystems are a nursery for numerous fish and a breeding ground for 85% of migratory birds in the United States.
Aquatic ecosystems are critical habitats, from mangroves shielding coastlines from rising sea levels to reefs and seagrass meadows boosting fish numbers for animal and human consumption.
These aquatic habitats are also carbon sinks. Studies have indicated that underwater grasses can capture and store 10% of the carbon in marine soils for long durations. This reduces the impacts of climate change.
Habitat Loss and Degradation
There is widespread concern about habitat degradation all around the world. Pollution, invasive species, illegal poaching and trading, and human activity have driven the destruction of natural environments and species rapidly.
According to the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s (IUCN) Red List, 85% of the world’s threatened and endangered species are most impacted by habitat loss.
The continued degradation of ecosystem functions and the flora and fauna that live there could potentially have grave consequences in the future, including economic, food security, medicinal and disease, erosion, climate change, and other weather implications.
For example, human activity such as forest clearing and timber exploitation has caused a decline of 20 to 35% of mangrove forests in the past 50 years. However, mangrove ecosystems matter for fish harvesting, preventing coastal impacts from extreme weather, and even providing rare medicinal ingredients.
Habitats Are Worth Saving
Each habitat serves a specific ecological purpose, and the species that live within them are part of a complex network—a chain reaction that eventually impacts humans. If you think about it, some animals and insects prey on pests that destroy crops. A loss of crops and agriculture means greater food insecurity for populations worldwide. The same goes for fish die-off during toxic algal blooms.
Conservation efforts are usually determined by how endangered a species or ecosystem is. However, even the driest, hottest, and coldest habitats are worth saving.
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About the author
Starting from an early age, Jane Marsh loved all animals and became a budding environmentalist. Now, Jane works as the Editor-in-Chief of Environment.co where she covers topics related to climate policy, renewable energy, the food industry, and more.