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Habitat vs Ecosystem vs Biome: What’s the Difference?

The natural world around us features incomparable beauty. When you take a second to just take it all in, it’s easy to become overwhelmed by the glorious sight in front of you.

What’s arguably even more incredible is the fact that there are thriving communities of animals and plants all around us. The diversity of those communities is similarly remarkable.

Even in a specific, you can find a wide array of animals and plants existing in varied living conditions.

Our goal with this article is to learn more about the living areas that exist in the natural world.

To do that, we will seek to carve out clear definitions for habitats, ecosystems, and biomes. We will examine how those terms differ from one another while also identifying specific examples of them that are found on Planet Earth.

Join us as we explore the world and the places within it that serve as homes for the beings we share this planet with. 

Biome Definition

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To get things started, let’s first take a closer look at the biome. It’s a term that likely rings familiar in your ears. That could be because it’s a remnant of your elementary school days.

For those who could use a refresher, the term biome refers to a large area occupied by a variety of plants and animals. The particular species of plants and animals that reside within a specific biome are its defining characteristics.

Basically, you can tell those biomes apart from one another by getting to know the plants and animals that live within them.

It’s important to understand just how large a single biome can be. We’re talking about a place here that can cover miles and miles of the Earth’s surface.

Even wide swaths of a continent can be classified as a single biome.

According to National Geographic, five major biomes exist on Planet Earth.

Let’s get to know each of them better. 

Aquatic Environment 

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The first of the major biomes we need to learn more about is the aquatic variant. If there is water, there is definitely an aquatic biome in it.

The aquatic biomes take up a considerable amount of the Earth’s surface. You may have heard that they cover roughly 75 percent of the planet. And it is correct in every way and form.

As the aquatic biome is massive, it’s not unusual to know that has a category all by itself. And when there is an abroad category, there will be a lot of subcategories under it.

Within the broad category of the aquatic environment, there are two major subcategories. These are the freshwater biome and marine biome.

The first of which is known as the freshwater biome. Examples of that include ponds, lakes, and rivers.

There is a large amount of diversity in the freshwater environment. Within this biome, you’ll find aquatic creatures big and small. You can also see more variety of creatures depending on the area’s climate.

Different types of plants can also survive in areas near freshwater.

While creatures in the freshwater biomes are plentiful, it pales in comparison to the amount of ground covered by the marine biomes. Marine or ocean biomes account for areas covered in saltwater.

Remember the four big oceans? Yup, they are all marine biomes.

Just think for a second of how large the Pacific Ocean and it’s just technically one ocean biome. That’s a good idea of how much life is inside a single aquatic environment

See Related: Organic vs Natural Foods


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When you think of a desert, what’s the first thing that comes to mind?

The vast, never-ending vision of sand? Extreme hot and dry temperatures? Oasis and camels?

Hot temperatures are not the desert’s defining quality. Instead, the one defining trait of deserts is their dryness. Deserts typically receive no more than 10 inches of rain in a year.

Deserts also make up 33% percent of the Earth’s landmass.

Many of us are unaware of that fact because the desert environment is not exactly one that we find to be accommodating.

It is usual to find deserts to have water and food scarcity. Those sandy areas experience extreme temperatures that many would find unbearable. Deserts might not be a good home for humans, but some animals and plants do call it home.

Cacti and saguaros are prime examples of plants that survive in this environment. They adapted to the hot dry climate and the little rain they receive.

They have deep roots that can absorb from far sources. They also have excellent water storage that allows them to survive without water for long periods.

They are also some animals that call it home.

Like their plant counterparts, they have incredible resilience and they can store water efficiently or subsist on the water they get from their food. 

See Related: Is Water a Renewable or Nonrenewable Resource?


Forest with a trail

The third major type of biome in the forest. If the area is covered by trees, then it qualifies as a forest.

Rainfall is one factor that makes a forest different from a desert. Those sandy stretches of land are routinely starved for any kind of moisture.

That’s not the case for forests as they usually receive plenty of precipitation. But they are equal in terms of their coverage of the Earth’s surface. Forests also cover around 33 percent of our planet’s landmass.

The forest biome has three subcategories. They are the boreal forests, temperate forests, and tropical forests.

Let’s start with the boreal forest or taiga.

Boreal forests are found near Eurasia and North America. They are known for being on the cooler side even though they don’t get as much precipitation as the other types of forests. Temperatures there are even known to plunge below freezing.

Meanwhile, temperate forests and will find them in most parts of Asia, Europe, and North America. The climate in temperate forests can vary significantly throughout the year. The changing and evolving climate in this type of forest help nourish and play host to such a diverse collection of flora and fauna.

According to the University of California Berkeley’s Museum of Paleontology, tropical forests feature the greatest diversity of species. Even if you just focus on the trees, you will still observe a remarkable amount of diversity.

Tropical forests are commonly found near the equator. The Amazon rain forest is the best-known example of a tropical forest. 

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Continuing with our rundown of the major biomes, we can now turn our attention to the grasslands. You can think of grasslands as a kind of midpoint between deserts and forests in terms of how much precipitation they get throughout the year.

Temperatures are also generally milder for grasslands.

However, they also experience seasonal weather. Because of that, certain times of the year are warmer or colder for grasslands. The amount of precipitation is also affected by the changing seasons.

You can also divide the grassland biomes into two distinct subcategories. Those subcategories are the savanna grasslands and the temperate grasslands.

Visit a savanna grassland and you’ll find some trees here and there. They dot the landscape as opposed to completely covering the area.

Savannas are commonly found in Africa and almost half of the area. They can also be found in Australia and South America.

Meanwhile, temperate grasslands feature no trees. You can only see sheets of grass growing everywhere.

Temperate grasslands are found in Africa, Europe, North America, and South America. The flora and fauna in this biome are diverse, rich, and varied.

See Related: Endangered vs Threatened vs Extinct


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Lastly, we have the tundras.

Tundra biomes are cold and most animals and plants hardly survive. It has a lower amount of diversity than deserts and is only hospitable for short periods.

There are two types of tundra: alpine and arctic.

If you’re in the mountains or rocky areas, the alpine tundra is the one you will see. Alpine tundras are along with the highest areas of mountains with patches of grass and shrubs. It’s also rare that many animals live in alpine tundras. Some animals that live here are mountain goats with few bugs and birds.

Arctic tundra is not diversity-rich, but they have more wildlife and plant life. You can find polar bears, wolves, and arctic hares. Salmon and trout also live here. Arctic tundra has more grasses, mosses, and flowers. 

Like many biomes, tundras are being threatened by climate change. We must take action now if we want to preserve them. These are the different types of tundra plants out there.

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Ecosystem Definition

We caught up with all the five major biomes. Now, we’re into ecosystems.

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The term “ecosystem” is any geographic area with the living and nonliving things constantly interacting with one another. Within an ecosystem, animals may feed on plants while the plants absorb water from the pouring rain.

The living and non-living beings within an ecosystem influence how that area exists. For instance, more animals in a particular ecosystem can lead to the decimation of plant life.

Meanwhile, heavy flooding can lead to dying animals.

Ecosystems can vary wildly in terms of size. It’s one distinction compared to biomes that always account for large geographical areas. Just imagine this: multiple ecosystems can exist within a single biome.

For a better example, a garden. A garden qualifies as an ecosystem. The bugs, plants, and the type of soil you have there already represent an interesting collection of living beings and nonliving things.

On the other end of the spectrum, vast swamplands can also be considered ecosystems. The interactions taking place between the biotic and abiotic elements of those swamps contribute to creating a distinct type of ecosystem.

Many ecosystems exist in the world and they are all well-connected.

Witnessing how those varied ecosystems interact with each other is part of what makes living on this planet such an amazing experience.

Habitat Defintion

Now, let’s talk about habitats.

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Habitat means any place where a plant or animal can live because it provides adequate amounts of food, water, and shelter. It also provides ample space because that is crucial to the animal’s comfort and plant growth.

Keep in mind: a place that previously served as a good habitat for a specific plant or animal may become less accommodating over time. Let’s say that a herd of deer has relocated the forest’s northern portion.

At first, they’re comfortable because the trees provide enough shelter, they have more than enough food and water, and they can roam. It may change if natural predators of deer arrive.

Suddenly, the space and shelter may become too dangerous. The herd of deer will have no other choice than to change their habitat. That’s because the alternative is being hunted down by the nearby predators.

Also, animals can have more than one habitat if they can get comfortable in different environments.

Amphibians can live on land and water so they can choose; the majority of animals can only live in one type of habitat. 

See Related: Conservation vs Preservation

What Is the Difference Between Ecosystem and Biome?

The distinction between an ecosystem and a biome is mostly area size.

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We covered biome types and subtypes here. Biomes are always large areas. An ecosystem is often not. Ecosystems can cover very small or vast areas. Multiple ecosystems can exist in just one biome. 

What Is the Difference between Habitat and Biome? 

Distinguishing between a biome and habitat is easy.

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A habitat is a small sliver of a biome that organisms call home. Within a forest biome, different animal groups are occupying specific segments. For a community of monkeys, their habitat is a small cluster of trees.

The land hosting the trees is also a habitat itself. 

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What Is the Difference Between Ecosystem and Habitat? 

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Habitats are smaller than ecosystems. When you explore an ecosystem, you can find varied habitats.

A cave is an example of an ecosystem with multiple habitats. In the cave, there are puddles for breeding insects. Corners may also serve as homes for bats.

The animals within that cave have adapted incredibly well to their surroundings.

We hope that this article has helped you understand the distinct differences between biomes, ecosystems, and habitats.

Life is teeming all around us and we can find examples of it in the habitat vs ecosystem vs biome!