What is an ecosystem? The official definition of an ecosystem (according to Oxford Languages anyway) is a “biological community of interacting organisms and their physical environment.” Ecosystems are also called habitats, biomes, and biospheres.
Different types of ecosystems exist everywhere in the world, from the Eurasian steppes to the African grasslands. Each unique ecosystem supports its own biological life to create a chain where one organism is dependent on the next.
Table of Contents
Different types of Ecosystems in the world
There are many different types of ecosystems in the world, each with its own unique set of plants and animals. All these ecosystems are categorized into two main categories: Terrestrial and Aquatic Ecosystems.
1. Terrestrial Ecosystems
A Terrestrial ecosystem is a land-based ecosystem. They can be found on every continent on Earth, except for Antarctica. Terrestrial ecosystems are divided into two main categories: forests and grasslands. Forests are habitats dominated by trees, while grasslands are habitats dominated by grasses. Some of the most common animal species in terrestrial ecosystems include deer, squirrels, rabbits, and snakes.
Here are different types of Terrestrial Ecosystems:
2. Desert Ecosystems
A Desert ecosystem is a terrestrial ecosystem that makes up approximately 35% of the world’s total landmass, and comparatively, there are more deserts in the world than there is forest, tundra, or grassland.
Deserts are a dry, harsh type of habitat that might only get small amounts of rain throughout the year.
Heat is one characteristic that the majority of world deserts share. Temperatures reach the extremes, and some deserts will stay at a constant daily temperature of around 77 degrees Fahrenheit.
More than a third of the world is made up of deserts, though many of these areas would have been lush and green in the past.
Deserts can be found everywhere, including the Gobi (in China), the Namib and Sahara in Africa, and the Thar in India.
Of these, the Sahara is the world’s largest desert.
While they are warm during the day, deserts cool down at night as the wind picks up and the sun goes down. This allows unique nocturnal life in the desert to flourish.
Desert plants will hold their moisture, while many desert plants grow under the protective barrier of the sand instead. Animals are more active at night, and take advantage of the temperature drop to move and hunt.
See Related: Environmental Consequences of Fracking
3. Tropical Rain Forest Ecosystem
Forest ecosystems make up approximately 31% of the world’s total landmass and are further split into different categories depending on the type of forest (and its dominant characteristics).
Forests are dominated by trees and are usually high in humidity and rainfall due to the environmental conditions they create.
Unfortunately, forests are also lost at a rate of 1% per year. Forests are one of the most threatened biomes thanks to factors like deforestation.
The world’s forests can be split into 3 categories – Tropical, temperate, and arboreal. The elevation is one of the factors that define a forest, as are the majority of tree types that prefer to grow in it.
OurWorldData.org estimates that the world has lost one-third of its forest biome in all. Further online statistics reveal that only about 5% of original redwoods are left in nature.
Forests everywhere need our help.
With forests under threat and in constant decline, there is not much time left to act in order to save the world’s forests.
See Related: Best Erosion Control Products
4. Grassland Ecosystem
The grassland ecosystem is defined by large, open plains and the biological life that calls this biosphere it’s home. Vegetation (e.g. wild grasses) is the most of what you will find here, but of course, not all by far.
The grassland ecosystem is one of the world’s largest and makeup as much as 20% to 40% of the world’s land surface. Forests make up approximately 31% by direct comparison.
The North American prairies and African Savannah describe just two examples of grassland environments.
Grassland ecosystems are dominated by different grass varieties, but don’t let the size of this ecosystem fool you into thinking it is not under threat right now.
The world’s grasslands are disappearing at such a rate that only about 10% of total grasslands are left. Damage to this particular habitat occurs just as much as in others.
Drought and water scarcity are two natural dangers that face the future of the grasslands.
Where temperatures rise further due to global warming, nature finds it even more difficult to support itself.
See Related: Conservation vs Preservation: The Differences
5. Tundra Ecosystem
Tundras make up as much as 10% of the world’s total land surface and are dominated by the presence of ice. Tundras are also referred to as ice deserts and can be found throughout colder parts of the world (like Alaska and Canada).
Officially, the tundra is one of the harshest biomes for life to survive in.
Tundras are considered the coldest of the world’s environments, with temperatures only bested by the most extremes. While it’s covered in ice, tundras are as dry as deserts – and just as harsh for most varieties of life.
The tundra ecosystem is not too harsh to support life. Humans might find conditions uncomfortable at times, but it is perfect for the biological organisms adapted to them.
Labrador tea, Arctic poppy, Cottongrass, and Caribou moss are just some of the plant types that flourish in the extreme tundra biosphere.
As for animals, the tundra is home to Polar bears, Arctic foxes, Arctic hares, reindeer, elk, and snowy owls. Like plants, the animals of the tundra have adapted to suit their harsh environment.
See Related: Solar vs Wind Energy: What’s the Difference?
6. Mountain Ranges
Mountain ranges are chains of linked-together mountain peaks, and they exist everywhere in the world. The Himalayas and the Andes ranges are just two examples that almost everyone knows – but unfortunately, also some of the most threatened biomes in the world.
Each mountain is measured by its peak, but each mountain range is measured by its highest summit. Mountaineers dedicate their sport to reaching the top – and that’s challenging for anyone.
Conditions are harsh atop the average mountain range and get less ideal for humans the higher up they are measured.
Changes in pressure make moving and breathing, basic tasks on the ground, much more difficult. Harsh for most people, mountain ranges can surprisingly still support ample life as their own unique habitat.
Pines, spruce, and juniper trees are some of the biological life that prefer higher altitudes and mountainous soil.
Snow leopards, cougars, yaks, and llamas are just some of the animals that flourish in the world’s mountain ranges.
7. Steppes Ecosystem
Steppes are a type of grassland, covered in grass, though located between polar and tropic regions instead of inland where you would find most types of grassland biospheres.
Other types of grassland biospheres include the Savannah and prairies, also categorized by large open plains dominated by grass (though with more trees than the steppes).
The Eurasian steppes are perhaps the most famous mentions of this habitat in the world – and in fact, they are so well-known that they are just referred to as the steppes in most resources.
The conditions found within steppes can be extremely harsh and mountainous. They are not ideal for human exploration, but perfect for the animals that have adapted to them.
Eagles, prairie dogs, bison, antelopes, and marmots are all animals that you might find on the steppes. Unfortunately, many of these species are on the endangered species list (or fast on the way there).
Just like most of the world’s habitats, the steppes themselves are also considered to be under severe threat. Climate change has caused the severe decline of the world’s grasslands in general, and the steppes are just as hard hit.
Remember that the steppes require just as much protection due to the effects of our carbon footprint, deforestation, and pollution.
See Related: Best Books on Sustainable Living
8. Coastal Ecosystem
Coastal Ecosystems make up approximately 7% of the world’s total land surface, though support an incredible amount of its overall biological life.
Coastal habitats are the meeting point between ocean and land, where terrestrial environments meet aquatic and marine ones. The coast is one of the richest biomes you might ever encounter.
Estuaries, beaches, rock pools, sand dunes, and coastal forests are all different types of coastal habitats. Coral reef ecosystems and marshes are other types of coastal habitat, though reefs might also be considered aquatic depending on their depth!
Coastal areas are high in humidity, with moderate to high rainfall. Some coasts are near coastal forests, while other coasts of the world are rocky and mountainous. Still, these are all coastal habitats!
Erosion, weather, deforestation, pollution, mining, industry, and illegal dumping are just some of the negative impacts that this biosphere might face.
Without a healthy coastal biosphere, the industries around it would almost certainly collapse.
See Related: Best Products to Help Climate Change
9. Temperate Forest Ecosystem
Temperate forest ecosystems are rich and diverse habitats characterized by an abundance of plant and animal life. Found in regions with longer, colder winters, temperate forests are home to a wide range of tree species, including deciduous trees like oaks and maples as well as coniferous trees such as spruce and cedar. They are frequently surrounded by temperate grasslands.
They also contain a broad spectrum of smaller plants, including ferns, mosses, and wildflowers. In addition to vegetation, temperate forests are home to a variety of fascinating wildlife.
Small mammals such as squirrels, chipmunks, and foxes inhabit these forests alongside larger mammals like deer and wild boars. Birds like owls and songbirds thrive in the diverse tree canopy above as well as on the forest floor below.
This ecosystem is primarily defined by its climate rather than geographic location or physical characteristics. Unlike tropical rainforests or arid deserts, temperate forests can thrive in many different locations around the world.
However, the defining characteristics of temperate ecosystems―longer winters with cold snowy periods―result in flora and fauna that differ from other ecosystems in subtle ways.
See Related: Types of Terrain You Need to Know
10. Aquatic Ecosystems
An Aquatic ecosystem is a habitat that is dominated by water. They can be found in both freshwater (lakes and rivers) and saltwater (the ocean).
Water covers more than 70% of the Earth’s total surface, and the world’s water coverage can be divided into two categories after this: aquatic and marine.
Aquatic habitats are dominated by the presence of water, though they are not as large (or as high in salt content) as the world’s oceans. This ecosystem includes marine ecosystems, oceanic ecosystems, and freshwater ecosystems.
Aquatic ecosystems are home to a wide variety of plant and animal life, including fish, birds, whales, sharks, and turtles. Some of the most well-known aquatic ecosystems are coral reefs, which are found in warm tropical waters around the world.
While each ecosystem is unique and has its own distinct features and challenges, all ecosystems depend on one another to maintain a balanced and healthy environment. Whether you’re exploring a terrestrial or aquatic ecosystem, remember to respect and conserve the natural resources and habitats you find there.
See Related: What Is The Hunter’s Role In Wildlife Conservation?
11. The Arctic Ecosystem
The Arctic circle is one of the world’s utmost polar circles, located in the Northernmost part of the globe.
While the Arctic is huge, it only makes up about 4% of the Earth’s surface. Nine countries make up the Arctic, including Canada, Greenland, Iceland, Norway, Sweden, Finland, Russia, and parts of the United States.
The Arctic ecosystem is a type of oceanic ecosystem with harsh conditions. But these conditions are not too extreme for people or other living organisms not to survive. Temperatures are low, and the Arctic is covered in ice for most of the year.
The Arctic might measure as low as -30 degrees Fahrenheit. Its extreme position means that summers are shorter when you’re in the Arctic. Winters, of course, are longer.
The Arctic ocean flanks the region though creates its own different ecosystems (e.g. marine and coastal). This ocean is the world’s smallest at only 5.4 million miles.
Heightened temperatures, pollution, and weather events threaten the livelihood of everything dependent on the Arctic region for their survival.
The impact of melting ice affects not only the Arctic region itself but also surrounding ecologies that depend on it. Damage to one ecosystem always causes damage to another: it is a horrible environmental Domino effect.
Initiatives and organizations like PAME stand in to support the protection of sustainable living in the Arctic region.
12. Wetlands Ecosystem
Wetlands make up about 7% of the world’s total land area. By comparison to others like tundra (10%) or forest (35%), wetlands are one of the world’s smallest biomes when measured by their total land coverage.
Wetlands are called “wet” due to the fact that the soil is waterlogged, and remains in this state for most of the year. Swamps and marshes create heat and humidity, but also an ideal supportive environment for life.
Waterbirds, beavers, muskrats, alligators, and egrets are just some of the animals you might find around the wetland ecosystem.
Even though the world’s wetlands don’t makeup as much as the grasslands or forests, wetlands are essential for the world’s other habitats to function.
Wetlands act as a natural filtration system for the water that passes through, guaranteeing cleaner lakes and rivers.
If wetlands aren’t at their full capacity, it can (and will) affect the water quality on the other side. A lot of environmental damage filters through just from the world’s damaged wetlands.
It’s not only about their role as a filtration system for other environments.
Wetlands also protect the natural environment against excessive harm during storms. A healthy wetland can provide a long-term barrier against erosion that might damage the surrounding habitats.
Worldwide projects (including ones launched by the World Wildlife Fund) are in place to protect and restore the world’s wetlands.
See Related: Most Ethical Gemstones: Is Mining Ethically Possible
13. Marine Ecosystems
This ecosystem is the most diverse habitat on Earth. They vary greatly in terms of size, location, and climate, but all contain a complex web of life. The term “marine ecosystem” refers to any system that includes both plant and animal life forms living in an aquatic environment.
Marine ecosystems can be found in both saltwater and freshwater habitats. The biggest difference between marine and other types of ecosystems is the salinity of the water.
A Marine ecosystem is home to a wide variety of plant and animal life, including both microscopic organisms and large mammals such as whales. The interaction between these different species is what makes this ecosystem so unique.
For example, one way that marine plants provide food for animals is by producing oxygen through photosynthesis. This oxygen is then used by animals to respire or breathe.
In return, animals help to aerate the water through their movements and waste products. These interactions create a delicate balance that is essential for the health of a marine ecosystem.
What are the topmost fascinating ecosystems?
The Amazon rainforest, the Great Barrier Reef, and the Serengeti are some of the most fascinating ecosystems in the world.
How many ecosystems are there in the world?
Most people are familiar with the major ecosystems on Earth, such as forests, deserts, and oceans. However, there is still much debate among biologists about how many distinct ecosystems there actually are.
One reason for this disagreement is that there is no agreed-upon definition of an ecosystem. For some scientists, an ecosystem must be self-contained, with no exchange of matter or energy with the surrounding environment.
Others believe that an ecosystem can be open to exchange, as long as it maintains its internal integrity.