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12.13: Terrestrial Biomes

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    Where could this picture have been taken?

    This is an example of chaparral. This biome is usually characterized by dwarf trees and tangled shrubs. Although this is a picture along a Colorado road, you can also find this biome in southern California, the Mediterranean region in Europe, and many other places.

    Terrestrial Biomes

    A terrestrial biome is an area of land with a similar climate that includes similar communities of plants and animals. Different terrestrial biomes are usually defined in terms of their plants, such as trees, shrubs, and grasses.

    Factors such as latitudehumidity, and elevation affect biome type:

    • Latitude means how far a biome is from the equator. Moving from the poles to the equator, you will find (in order) Arctic, boreal, temperate, subtropical, and tropical biomes.
    • Humidity is the amount of water in the air. Air with a high concentration of water will be called humid. Moving away from the most humid climate, biomes will be called semi-humid, semi-arid, or arid (the driest).
    • Elevation measures how high land is above sea level. It gets colder as you go higher above sea level, which is why you see snow-capped mountains.

    Terrestrial biomes include grasslands, forests, deserts, and tundra. Grasslands are characterized as lands dominated by grasses rather than large shrubs or trees and include the savanna and temperate grasslands. Forests are dominated by trees and other woody vegetation and are classified based on their latitude. Forests include tropicaltemperate, and boreal forests (taiga). Deserts cover about one fifth of the Earth’s surface and occur where rainfall is less than 50 cm (about 20 inches) each year. Tundra is the coldest of all the biomes. The tundra is characterized for its frost-molded landscapes, extremely low temperatures, little precipitation, poor nutrients, and short growing seasons. There are two main types of tundra, Arctic and Alpine tundras. Terrestrial biomes (Figure below) lying within the Arctic and Antarctic Circles do not have very much plant or animal life. Biomes with the highest amount of biodiversity, that is the most variation in plant and animal life, are near the equator (Figure below).

    Taiga is characterized by evergreen forests in the subarctic regions, and covers large areas of northern North America and Eurasia
    Figure \(\PageIndex{1}\): One of the terrestrial biomes, taiga, is an evergreen forest of the subarctic, covering extensive areas of northern North America and Eurasia. This taiga is along the Denali Highway in Alaska.
    Tropical rainforests are a humid terrestrial biome
    Figure \(\PageIndex{2}\): Another terrestrial biome is tropical rainforest. The one pictured here is located in Costa Rica.

    Science Friday: Superbloom: How Death Valley Springs to Life

    A massive seed bank of desert wildflowers lies beneath Death Valley. This video by Science Friday shows that when heavy winter rains soak deep into the soil, these hidden wonders spring to life, in an event called a “superbloom”.


    • Factors affecting biome type include latitude, humidity, and elevation.
    • Terrestrial biomes include the tropical rainforest, chaparral, and taiga.

    Explore More

    Use the resources below to answer the questions that follow.

    Explore More I

    1. Where are two locations at which tropical rainforests occur?
    2. What four physical characteristics are necessary for life to persist? Of these four, which two explain the pattern of terrestrial biomes?
    3. What adaptations do all desert plants share regardless of the specific desert they inhabit?

    Explore More II

    1. How much precipitation do savannas receive annually? Over what period of time do they receive this precipitation? How does this affect the animals living in this biome?
    2. How do the physical characteristics of savannas lead to their dominance by grasses?


    1. How are terrestrial biomes defined?
    2. Give four examples of terrestrial biomes.
    3. What defines a desert?
    4. Where is biodiversity the highest?

    12.13: Terrestrial Biomes is shared under a CC BY-NC license and was authored, remixed, and/or curated by CK-12 Foundation via source content that was edited to conform to the style and standards of the LibreTexts platform; a detailed edit history is available upon request.

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