Habitats and biomes
Habitats and biomes describe a particular set of environmental factors and the life forms who live in them.The Earth has many different environments, varying in temperature, moisture, light, and many other factors. Each of these habitats has distinct life forms living in it, forming complex communities of interdependent organisms. A complex community of plants and animals in a region and a climate is called a biome. What Are Habitats?A habitat is the immediate environment in which a living organism (an animal or plant), exists. A habitat can also be as small as a rock pool or a log that is decaying on the forest floor but the word habitat generally refers to the grouping of animals and plants, together with their surroundings. Habitats contain both living organisms and non-living objects and can contain anywhere from just a few species to thousands of them, all coexisting in a very small space.Factors That Shape HabitatsGeology has the most basic influence on the creating of habitats, along with climate. Mountain ranges, deserts and rainforests are all shaped by the changes beneath the surface of the earth and then rely on the climate to make them come alive. Habitats can vary from enormous wet oceans and vast dry deserts to tiny microscopic ecosystems. Temperature and rainfall are two of the biggest climatic factors that help to shape habitats, and changes in these factors can have devastating effects on habitats and animals all around the world, such as the ice melting in the polar regions.Habitat Chemical CyclesIn every habitat on earth, constant chemical cycles are taking place, as chemicals are transferred from one organism to another. Out of the 25 elements that are critical to the making of living organisms, only four (hydrogen, oxygen, nitrogen and carbon) make up the bulk of all living things. Carbon, in particular, is passed between organisms. It is taken from the air by plants, which use it in photosynthesis (the process used by plants in order to create energy from the sun). The carbon is then moved directly into the ground through the plant's roots, or eaten by an animal, which then moves it into the ground after passing it through the digestive tract. The main release of carbon into the atmosphere comes from the burning of fossil fuels.Habitat BiodiversityThe incredible variety of species (and the variety within species, referred to as sub-species,) has fascinated scientists for all of recorded history. It has been noted that the greatest levels of species richness is found in the regions surrounding the equator, while the lowest levels of biodiversity are found in the habitats surrounding the poles. No one is really sure why the earth is filled with such an incredible number of animal species, but more and more people are slowly becoming concerned about the effects that climate change, pollution, and deforestation will have on habitats that are rich in species such as coral reefs and rainforests.Habitat and Animal DistributionSome habitats are spread across enormous areas of the world, such as the Amazon Rainforest, which covers 3,417,540 square miles(5,500,000 km2), and the Sahara Desert, which covers 5,343,792 square miles,(8,600,000 km2), while other habitats are tiny microsystems that can't even be seen with the human eye. Animals, however, are not spread out across the earth so evenly. Many animals are still inhabiting the same regions where they first evolved millions of years ago. The colder parts of the world, such as the polar regions, have little in the way of species variation as animals inhabiting these areas must be specially adapted to the cold. However, what the polar regions lack in biodiversity, they make up for in population numbers. The Antarctic Ocean is home to millions and millions of crab-eater seals, which are the most numerous large mammals on the planet. Some animals are also distributed around the world, in accordance with the plants that grow there, as certain species of animals must eat certain species of plants (like a giant panda needing to inhabit areas where bamboo grows). A group of animals and plants, and the habitat they live in are known collectively as a biome.Changing HabitatsHabitats are constantly changing due to bursting rivers, fires, storms and changes in climate. Animal species are often capable of adapting to their altered surroundings although some species of animal require very specific conditions in order to survive. Ice ages come and go, taking life with them and forcing animals into areas which they previously would not have inhabited. Animals and plants that cannot adapt to changing climate conditions become extinct. In the modern world, natural climate change is assisted by the levels of pollution that are produced from the burning of fossil fuels, which is speeding up the naturally occurring climatic changes. The biosphere is made up of many biomesNo matter where an animal lives in the world, it is always surrounded by other animals that live together in the same habitat, whether they are from the same species or from different ones. These interactions between different species of animals and plants, produce a range of different ecological levels called biomes. An individual is an animal that is independent in finding food, who is part of a population (animals from the same species living in the same area), which is part of a community (different species inhabiting the same area that depend on each other to survive). A community, along with the habitat or ecosystem they live in, are called biomes. A biome makes up a small part of the biosphere (the collection of all environments on earth).
In a holiday season marked by world events, those looking for a unique approach to the season can turn to a new “Green for the Holidays” guide available from the California Department of Conservation.
While lumbering herds of elephants and stalking Bengal tigers capture the imagination of most animal lovers, we often neglect the nature closest to us. Sometimes we need a reminder that we are part of a habitat, and that the miracle of life exists under our very noses.
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