The word habitat comes from the Latin term “habitare”, which translates into “to dwell”. Habitats describe different environments around the world, from a small pool of water to a massive icy tundra.
Habitat is defined as a specific area with unique conditions that support its own forms of biological life – plants, animals, insects, and microorganisms that all live in unison and share the same environment.
Mainstream resources say that there are four main types of habitat, though the list extends to include far more – arctic, aquatic, coastal, desert, wetlands, and even the depths of the deep ocean all count as different types of habitats.
A natural habitat might be small, but can also be larger. Something as small as a pool of water or the underside of a leaf might contain its own microhabitat – the place where these organisms can not only survive, but flourish.
Habitats are important to define in order to protect them. Definitions help us to set the borderlines for habitats, and seek out sustainable solutions against habitat destruction.
Statistical estimates say that as much as 40% of world habitats have been damaged by human inference, deforestation, pollution, and other factors.
It becomes almost immediately apparent why the habitats of the world are in dire need of protection. Without protection, we would have many endangered species becoming extinct.
Organizations like the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) encourage sustainability and protection of world habitats – though worldwide, many other smaller groups do the same.
Did you know that each habitat is categorized by its own specific definition – that is, the conditions that set it apart from another habitat close to it?
Aquatic and marine habitats, for example, are similar. Both contain water, but they are not the same – and marine habitats contain a higher salt concentration than aquatic habitats to set them apart by definition.
16 different types of habitats around the world
The Arctic circle comprises a massive area, though the total size of the circle is only about 4% of the Earth’s total surface area – and much more of the planet is comparatively covered in grasslands (up to 20% to 40%) instead.
The Arctic habitat is characterized by intensely low temperatures, and the area often gets covered in ice for some (or sometimes most) of the year.
The temperature drop experienced in the Arctic habitat makes it a much different place than grassland or desert: Arctic temperatures measure up to -30 degrees Fahrenheit.
Summers are shorter in the Arctic, and winters are much longer – and colder – due to the position of this habitat on the globe.
Canada and some parts of Alaska are amongst the areas which make up the Arctic stretch. Not too far from this, you’ll find the Arctic ocean – at 5.4 million miles, it’s the world’s smallest.
The arctic is unfortunately under severe threat due to global warming and increased worldwide pollution. The higher the world’s carbon footprint climbs, the higher temperatures in the Arctic.
As the ice continues to melt in the Arctic region, more of its life is threatened. The impact can be felt worldwide, and changing temperature is not the only consequence of melted ice – but every single part of nature is affected by it.
Worldwide initiatives exist to aid environmental sustainability and the continuation of life in these regions. Organizations like PAME support the protection of the arctic marine environment.
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Aquatic habitats are ones that are dominated by the presence of water, though not as much as bodies of the ocean which would fall into their own category. This includes freshwater habitat, marine habitat, and coastal habitat.
Freshwater habitat consists of freshwater bodies such as rivers, lakes, ponds, and wetlands are some different types of freshwater habitats.
Marine habitat is mainly made up of the oceans, which consist of salty water. When freshwater and marine habitats meet they can form salt marshes, mangroves, and mudflats.
Water covers more than 70% of the world’s surface and supports the majority of the life we see on earth. Millions of microorganisms, animals, and water-based life call an aquatic habitat their home.
According to statistics, aquatic habitats are unfortunately also one of the worst affected environments on Earth.
While natural disasters account for some of the damage that aquatic environments see, most of its damage comes from pollution and the consequences of an irresponsible industry.
As much as 35% of the world’s natural coral reefs have been totally destroyed and turned into what’s called “dead zones” through environmentally irresponsible behavior.
Worldwide, more than 500 of these “dead zones” exist within aquatic habitats.
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The coastal habitat makes up approximately 7& of the world’s total land surface. It doesn’t seem like much compared to other habitats (like grassland) that make up as much as 20% to 40% of the planet’s land, but it’s an absolutely essential biome.
The coastal habitat is the meeting point between sea and land, where terrestrial meets aquatic.
Estuaries, beaches, rock pools, sand dunes, and coastal forests are all different types of coastal habitats all over the world that you might encounter.
Coral reefs and marshes are other types of coastal habitat, though reefs might also be considered aquatic depending on their depth!
Despite its small size in comparison to other habitats, the coastal biomes contain more than a total of 20% of the world’s biodiversity as a whole.
Coasts are ever-changing: erosion and weather do their part to move the lines of the coast over time. Weather is ever-evolving, and tropical/subtropical weather systems are often to be found near the world’s coasts.
Unfortunately, coasts are also one of the world’s worst-affected habitats. While home to 20% of total biodiversity, they take the brunt of the impact from industry, pollution, and heightened temperatures.
Nature also causes its own problems to the coast; while shoreline erosion is a natural phenomenon, human intervention is necessary to stop the damage that natural erosion might cause.
The coast is one of the most important biomes to protect.
Without it, countless industries would collapse on the spot.
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Deserts are one of the land habitats that get their definition from the dry, arid conditions you’ll find in them.
It’s almost the exact opposite of what you would expect from a comparative coastal habitat. Deserts are not rainy and humid but are known for their extreme conditions.
Approximately 35% of the world’s land is covered in different deserts: the Gobi desert in China, the Namib and Sahara in Africa, and the Thar Desert in India are just some of the world’s deserts.
The Sahara is the world’s officially largest desert, home to a particular species of animals and plants that you’ll only find in this particular habitat.
Deserts are known for their intense heat, which makes the average desert a specific habitat where everything cannot survive. Temperatures reach the extremes, and some deserts will stay at a constant daily temperature of around 77 degrees Fahrenheit. Regardless of the conditions, you will still find plant life and other living organisms here.
At night, deserts are not as warm as you might think. When winds pick up, temperatures are known to drop to a more comfortable cold that allows nighttime life to flourish.
Plants and animals that thrive in the desert have their own adaptations. This ensures they are adapted to survive such a harsh, arid climate.
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.
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5. Desert (Manmade)
Deserts are not always a type of habitat which occurs naturally but are also ones that can be created through decades of ecological disaster.
The world’s forests, savannas, and wetlands are all under severe threat.
It is when all the resources in this area have been depleted by pollution and ecological damage that the landscape and habitat might start to look a little different.
Deforestation also contributes to massive habitat changes.
Over time, areas that are today lush and green could become manmade deserts.
Manmade deserts are their own habitat by definition but are also defined as a form of ecological interference that the rest of the planet can do without.
Worldwide projects exist to restore the longevity and lushness of deserts we have created ourselves. With balance and time, it is entirely possible to restore a desert to its former glory.
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A forest is defined as a habitat that is dominated by trees and lush growth. Forests make up approximately 31% of the world’s total landmass, and the world’s forests are split up into different varieties – coniferous forests, coastal forests, boreal forests, and tropical rain forests.
- A coniferous forest is a habitat that is dominated by evergreen trees. These forests are found in areas where there is significant rainfall and makeup approximately 23% of the world’s forests.
- A coastal forest is a habitat that is found in close proximity to a body of water, typically in a moist climate. Coastal forests make up around 6% of the world’s forests and are home to many different types of trees, shrubs, and other plants.
- A boreal forest is a habitat that is found in cold, wet climates. These forests make up around 28% of the world’s forests and are home to many different types of trees, shrubs, and other plants.
- A tropical rain forest is a habitat that is found near the equator and receives a significant amount of rainfall each year. These forests make up around 10% of the world’s forests and are home to many different types of trees, shrubs, and other plants.
Forests’ conditions are often warm and humid, but also extremely rich and diverse.
Forests are home to many microhabitats: small biomes that provide life for creatures on the underside of a rock or leaf.
Depending on which resource you ask, there are 3 main types of forests – though some will expand this list to six. Tropical rainforests, temperate and boreal.
What defines a forest by these three different types?
Their elevation: boreal forests and tropical forests are located at different heights. This is part of what contributes to their vastly different environmental conditions.
Forests are particularly hard hit by human influence and deforestation. Statistics from ourworldddata.org say that the internet has lost one-third of its forest biome in total.
Wildlife statistics say that only about 5% of redwoods are left in nature. Deforestation is one of the largest problems facing the world’s forest habitats.
Forests everywhere are in dire need of protection.
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The grassland habitat is one of the world’s largest habitat types, and mixes moderate to warm weather with a diverse collection of creatures that would be too much for a single article to list.
Grasslands get their definition from large, open plains of grass – ideal for grazing animals, and a wide variety of insects.
According to the National Geographic Society, as much as 20% to 40% of the world’s surface is estimated to be covered in grassland.
Why is there such a large difference in the estimation? Unfortunately, the world’s grass is disappearing at such a rate that a total, accurate estimation of how much is left would be difficult – and ever-changing.
PopSci.com says that only 10% of the world’s grassland remains “completely intact” today. Damage to the world’s grassland habitat is far more than most people think.
It’s not just the melting ice that should be an immediate environmental concern, but also grasslands that are disappearing at a fast rate.
Grasslands can be found everywhere in the world. The Eurasian Steppes is one of the world’s largest grasslands, and it stretches all the way from Hungary through to China.
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Tundra is one of the world’s specific ice-dominated habitats that make up approximately 10% of the world’s total land surface.
Of course, you might have guessed that tundras are covered in ice – but did you know that they are also referred to as the ice deserts of the world?
Tundra can be found in places like Alaska and Canada, though many others exist in the world.
Tundra is characterized by extremely cold temperatures which people might find uncomfortable, but which make an ideal environment for the animals found here.
Special adaptations protect everything which calls the unique tundra their habitat. Penguins and whales are just two of the animals that have been perfectly adapted for life here.
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9. Mountain Ranges
A mountain range is defined as a continual series of mountains that are chained together, and several of them exist in the world. The Himalayas and the Andes are two of the most famous mountain ranges in the world – and unfortunately, also some of the most under threat.
Mountain ranges are defined by their peaks, and a mountain range will have its own highest summit.
Mountaineering is called an “extreme sport” for good reason: conditions are harsh and become harder for humans to deal with as you go higher up the mountain.
As one rises up a mountain range, pressure and oxygen levels change – and for people who are not used to this environment through long-term exposure, simple actions like moving or breathing will become difficult.
Harsh for people, mountain ranges can surprisingly still support ample life as their own unique habitat.
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The steppes are a type of habitat that crosses over with another but also exists as its own habitat due to its elevation level.
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.
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.
Just like most of the world’s habitats, the steppes are also considered to be under severe threat – and need just as much protection due to the effects of our carbon footprint.
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Wetlands make up approximately 7% of the world’s total land area, making them one of the smaller habitats when measured by total coverage – but might also be one of the most important biomes we have on the planet.
Wetlands are defined by their ability to hold water; the soil contained in the average marsh, bog, and wetland is waterlogged for either a partial or full section of the year.
Even though the world’s wetlands don’t make up 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.
It’s not only about their role as a filter. Wetlands also protect the natural environment against harm during storms and provide a long-term barrier against erosion that might damage the surrounding habitats.
Worldwide projects (including from the World Wildlife Fund) are in place to protect and restore the world’s wetlands.
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Habitats don’t always have to describe large stretches of Earth that take up more than 10% to 20% of its landmass, but can also be much smaller than this.
Many microhabitats exist in the world, too small for human habitation but perfect to create an environment in which the adapted biological life can survive.
Microhabitats can be found within other habitats, where they support specific forms of life that would not survive conditions anywhere else.
Examples of microhabitats are the underside of leaves, where bugs and bacteria might flourish – or a pool of water, ideal for microorganisms that would (again) only survive under these specific conditions.
The world’s microhabitats are under just as much serious an ecological threat as larger habitats. Changes like global warming and deforestation don’t just harm big habitats, but also damage very small ones.
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13. Extreme Habitats
Extreme habitats are ones that would not be ideal for human life at all, and they are categorized as extreme habitats according to certain set scientific conditions.
Extreme habitat conditions would be too harsh for humans to survive in the long term, though rare organisms can survive under these conditions just fine.
Hypersalinity (e.g. large concentrations of salt), heightened or lowered air pressure, and extreme dryness can put a habitat in this special category.
The extreme habitats of the world have taken us longer to explore and catalog than some others, especially due to the unfavorable conditions for humans.
Technology like drones and live streaming feeds have made access to the world’s extreme habitats a much easier task.
The deep ocean, deserts, volcanoes, and outer space are some examples of what can be called extreme habitats.
Humans cannot survive these conditions without preparation or gear, but there are many adapted organisms that will.
Organisms that can survive in these extreme conditions are called extremophiles. More is known about extremophiles in modern times – and some species are still being discovered or described!
How exciting is that?
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14. Deep Ocean
The deep ocean is one type of extreme habitat that exists within aquatic environments. The deep ocean is made an extreme habitat due to its varied pressure and temperature changes – conditions that you would not see higher up.
While human beings are not made to explore the deep ocean, we have managed to do so with the help of technology and diving equipment.
Creatures like the anglerfish wouldn’t survive under normal oceanic conditions, but they cope just fine in the deep ocean.
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Volcanoes describe a special type of environment that can be split into two categories: active or dormant. Some of the world’s volcanoes are in very real danger of eruption, while others have not been considered active for thousands of years – and today, provide an entire ecosystem of their own.
Volcanic soil is rich in carbon and ideal for lush growth.
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16. Outer Space
While it is not mentioned as a habitat all too often, outer space is the perfect example of an extreme habitat.
Space pushes conditions to the extreme, but not so much that it cannot support life – there are many organisms (including tardigrades) that function just fine in these harsh conditions.
Which habitat has the most invasive species?
The habitat with the most invasive species is the deep ocean. Creatures like the anglerfish wouldn’t survive under normal oceanic conditions, but they cope just fine in the deep ocean – and they can prey on smaller fish and organisms.
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