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Further information: Vegetation type
A map of different biomes around the world.

A biome /ˈbm/ is a formation of plants and animals that have common characteristics due to similar climates and can be found over a range of continents.[1] Biomes are distinct from habitats, because any biome can comprise a variety of habitats.

A biome contrasts with a microbiome. A microbiome is also a mix of organisms that coexist in a defined space, but on a much smaller scale. For example, the human microbiome is the collection of bacteria, viruses, and other microorganisms that are present on a human.


The term was suggested in 1916 by F. E. Clements, originally as a synonym for biotic community.[2] Later, it gained its current definition, based on earlier concepts of phytophysiognomy, formation and vegetation (used in opposition to flora), with the inclusion of the animal element and the exclusion of the taxonomic element of species composition.[3][4][5] In 1935, Tansley would add the climatic and soil aspects to the idea, calling it ecosystem.[6][7]

However, in some contexts, the term biome is used in different manners. In German literature, particularly in the Walter terminology, the term is used similarly as biotope (a concrete geographycal unit), while the biome definition used in this article corresponds to his "zonobiome", "orobiome" and "pedobiome" (biomes determinated by climate zone, altitude or soil).[8]

In Brazilian literature, the term "biome" is sometimes used as synonym of "morphoclimatic and phytogeographical domain" of Ab'Sáber, a geographic space with subcontinental dimensions, with the predominance of similar morphoclimatic characteristics and of a certain vegetation form, but which includes many biomes in fact.[9][3]


Biomes are defined by climate regimes and biogeography.

A 1978 study on North American grasslands[10] found a positive logistic correlation between evapotranspiration in mm/yr and above-ground net primary production in g/m2/yr. The general results from the study were that precipitation and water use led to above-ground primary production, while solar irradiation and temperature lead to below-ground primary production (roots), and temperature and water lead to cool and warm season growth habit.[11] These findings help explain the categories used in Holdridge’s bioclassification scheme (see below), which were then later simplified by Whittaker. The number of classification schemes and the variety of determinants used in those schemes, however, should be taken as strong indicators that biomes do not fit perfectly into the classification schemes created.

Holdridge (1947, 1964) life zones scheme[edit]

Main article: Holdridge life zones

Holdridge classified climates based on the biological effects of temperature and rainfall on vegetation under the assumption that these two abiotic factors are the largest determinants of the types of vegetation found in a habitat. Holdridge uses the four axes to define 30 so-called "humidity provinces", which are clearly visible in his diagram. While this scheme largely ignores soil and sun exposure, Holdridge acknowledged that these were important.

Whittaker (1962, 1975) biome-type classification scheme[edit]

The distribution of vegetation types as a function of mean annual temperature and precipitation.

Whittaker classified biomes using two abiotic factors: precipitation and temperature. His scheme can be seen as a simplification of Holdridge's; more readily accessible, but missing Holdridge's greater specificity.

Whittaker based his approach on theoretical assertions and empirical sampling. He was in a unique position to make such a holistic assertion because he had previously compiled a review of biome classifications.[12]

Key definitions for understanding Whittaker's scheme[edit]

The apparent characteristics, outward features, or appearance of ecological communities or species.
A grouping of terrestrial ecosystems on a given continent that are similar in vegetation structure, physiognomy, features of the environment and characteristics of their animal communities.
A major kind of community of plants on a given continent.
Grouping of convergent biomes or formations of different continents, defined by physiognomy.
A grouping of convergent formations.

Whittaker's distinction between biome and formation can be simplified: formation is used when applied to plant communities only, while biome is used when concerned with both plants and animals. Whittaker's convention of biome-type or formation-type is simply a broader method to categorize similar communities.[13]

Whittaker's parameters for classifying biome-types[edit]

Whittaker, seeing the need for a simpler way to express the relationship of community structure to the environment, used what he called "gradient analysis" of ecocline patterns to relate communities to climate on a worldwide scale. Whittaker considered four main ecoclines in the terrestrial realm.[13]

  1. Intertidal levels: The wetness gradient of areas that are exposed to alternating water and dryness with intensities that vary by location from high to low tide
  2. Climatic moisture gradient
  3. Temperature gradient by altitude
  4. Temperature gradient by latitude

Along these gradients, Whittaker noted several trends that allowed him to qualitatively establish biome-types:

  • The gradient runs from favorable to extreme, with corresponding changes in productivity.
  • Changes in physiognomic complexity vary with how favorable of an environment exists (decreasing community structure and reduction of stratal differentiation as the environment becomes less favorable).
  • Trends in diversity of structure follow trends in species diversity; alpha and beta species diversities decrease from favorable to extreme environments.
  • Each growth-form (i.e. grasses, shrubs, etc.) has its characteristic place of maximum importance along the ecoclines.
  • The same growth forms may be dominant in similar environments in widely different parts of the world.

Whittaker summed the effects of gradients (3) and (4) to get an overall temperature gradient, and combined this with gradient (2), the moisture gradient, to express the above conclusions in what is known as the Whittaker classification scheme. The scheme graphs average annual precipitation (x-axis) versus average annual temperature (y-axis) to classify biome-types.

Walter (1976, 1991) zonobiomes system[edit]

The eponymously-named Heinrich Walter classification scheme considers the seasonality of temperature and precipitation. The system, also assessing precipitation and temperature, finds nine major biome types, with the important climate traits and vegetation types. The boundaries of each biome correlate to the conditions of moisture and cold stress that are strong determinants of plant form, and therefore the vegetation that defines the region. Extreme conditions, such as flooding in a swamp, can create different kinds of communities within the same biome.[14][15]

I. Equatorial
II. Tropical
III. Subtropical
  • Highly seasonal, arid climate
  • Desert vegetation with considerable exposed surface
IV. Mediterranean
  • Winter rainy season and summer drought
  • Sclerophyllous (drought-adapted), frost-sensitive shrublands and woodlands
V. Warm temperate
  • Occasional frost, often with summer rainfall maximum
  • Temperate evergreen forest, somewhat frost-sensitive
VI. Nemoral
  • Moderate climate with winter freezing
  • Frost-resistant, deciduous, temperate forest
VII. Continental
  • Arid, with warm or hot summers and cold winters
  • Grasslands and temperate deserts
VIII. Boreal
  • Cold temperate with cool summers and long winters
  • Evergreen, frost-hardy, needle-leaved forest (taiga)
IX. Polar
  • Short, cool summers and long, cold winters
  • Low, evergreen vegetation, without trees, growing over permanently frozen soils

Bailey (1989) ecoregions system[edit]

Robert G. Bailey nearly developed a biogeographical classification system for the United States in a map published in 1976. He subsequently expanded the system to include the rest of North America in 1981, and the world in 1989. The Bailey system, based on climate, is divided into seven domains (polar, humid temperate, dry, humid, and humid tropical), with further divisions based on other climate characteristics (subarctic, warm temperate, hot temperate, and subtropical; marine and continental; lowland and mountain).[16][17]

  • 100 Polar Domain
    • 120 Tundra Division (Köppen: Ft)
    • M120 Tundra Division – Mountain Provinces
    • 130 Subarctic Division (Köppen: E)
    • M130 Subarctic Division – Mountain Provinces
  • 200 Humid Temperate Domain
    • 210 Warm Continental Division (Köppen: portion of Dcb)
    • M210 Warm Continental Division – Mountain Provinces
    • 220 Hot Continental Division (Köppen: portion of Dca)
    • M220 Hot Continental Division – Mountain Provinces
    • 230 Subtropical Division (Köppen: portion of Cf)
    • M230 Subtropical Division – Mountain Provinces
    • 240 Marine Division (Köppen: Do)
    • M240 Marine Division – Mountain Provinces
    • 250 Prairie Division (Köppen: arid portions of Cf, Dca, Dcb)
    • 260 Mediterranean Division (Köppen: Cs)
    • M260 Mediterranean Division – Mountain Provinces
  • 300 Dry Domain
    • 310 Tropical/Subtropical Steppe Division
    • M310 Tropical/Subtropical Steppe Division – Mountain Provinces
    • 320 Tropical/Subtropical Desert Division
    • 330 Temperate Steppe Division
    • 340 Temperate Desert Division
  • 400 Humid Tropical Domain
    • 410 Savanna Division
    • 420 Rainforest Division

Olson & Dinerstein (1998) system for Global 200 and WWF[edit]

Main article: Global 200

A team of biologists convened by the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) developed an ecological land classification system that identified fourteen biomes,[18][19] called major habitat types, and further divided the world's land area into 882 terrestrial ecoregions (includes new Antarctic ecoregions by Terrauds et al. 2012). Each terrestrial ecoregion has a specific EcoID, format XXnnNN (XX is the ecozone, nn is the biome number, NN is the individual number). This classification is used to define the Global 200 list of ecoregions identified by the WWF as priorities for conservation. The WWF major habitat types are:

Freshwater biomes[edit]

According to the WWF, the following are classified as freshwater biomes:[20]

  • Streams and rivers

Realms or ecozones (terrestrial and freshwater, WWF)[edit]

Marine biomes[edit]

Marine biomes (H) (major habitat types), Global 200 (WWF)[edit]

Biomes of the coastal and continental shelf areas (neritic zone – List of ecoregions (WWF))

Realms or ecozones (marine, WWF)[edit]
Other marine habitat types[edit]
Major habitats, nonglobal 200 (WWF)[edit]

Summary – ecological taxonomy (WWF)[edit]


Anthropogenic biomes[edit]

Humans have altered global patterns of biodiversity and ecosystem processes. As a result, vegetation forms predicted by conventional biome systems can no longer be observed across much of Earth's land surface as they have been replaced by crop and rangelands or cities. Anthropogenic biomes provide an alternative view of the terrestrial biosphere based on global patterns of sustained direct human interaction with ecosystems, including agriculture, human settlements, urbanization, forestry and other uses of land. Anthropogenic biomes offer a new way forward in ecology and conservation by recognizing the irreversible coupling of human and ecological systems at global scales and moving us toward an understanding of how best to live in and manage our biosphere and the anthropogenic biomes we live in.

Major anthropogenic biomes[edit]

Dermal biome[edit]

The dermal biome is the living ecosystem that animals (including humans) have evolved, that permits them to live symbiotically and in balance with the microbes on and in them (the microbiome). This ecosystem consists of skin, follicles, hair, sebaceous glands, sweat glands, arrector pili muscles, peptides, proteins, lipids and its associated microbiota. A healthy dermal biome has several functions: it resists infection of pathogens, protects against moisture loss and water damage, dynamically regulates body temperature and supports the healthy renewal of skin through the epidermal cell life cycle.

  • Infection Resistance: Commensal microbiota assist the dermal biome resist infection for pathogenic bacteria by i] out-competing pathogens for resources, ii] training or stimulating the host’s immune system to defeat the pathogen, or iii] expressing substances that are directly hostile to the pathogen.
  • Water-barrier regulation: The dermal biome regulates the water barrier – preventing moisture from escaping (except when expressed as sweat) and preventing environmental water from permeating the skin. Because environmental water can have a chilling effect to mammals and warm-blooded animals when kept in close proximity to the epidermis, the dermal biome also produces hydrophobic lipids that repel water.
  • Temperature regulation: The dermal biome is responsible for thermoregulation. To regulate excess heat, the dermal biome activates the sweat glands, allowing for evaporative cooling as sweat evaporates. To regulate cooler temperatures, the arrector pili muscles contract, causing hairs to “stand up” (goosebumps), and thereby trap an insulating blanket of air close to the skin.
  • Skin renewal: a healthy biome supports the replacement of skin through the life cycle of epidermal cells as they proliferate in the basal layers of the epidermis until they die and are shed (desquamation).

Other biomes[edit]

The endolithic biome, consisting entirely of microscopic life in rock pores and cracks, kilometers beneath the surface, has only recently been discovered, and does not fit well into most classification schemes.

Freshwater biomes[edit]

Major continental divides, showing drainage into the major oceans and seas of the world – grey areas are endorheic basins that do not drain to the ocean.

The drainage basins of the principal oceans and seas of the world are marked by continental divides. The grey areas are endorheic basins that do not drain to the ocean.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ The World's Biomes, Retrieved August 19, 2008, from University of California Museum of Paleontology
  2. ^ Clements, F. E. 1917. The development and structure of biotic communities. J. Ecology 5:120–121. Abstract of a talk in 1916, [1].
  3. ^ a b Coutinho, L. M. (2006). O conceito de bioma. Acta Bot. Bras. 20(1): 13-23, [2].
  4. ^ Box, E.O. & Fujiwara, K. (2005). Vegetation types and their broad-scale distribution. In: van der Maarel, E. (ed.). Vegetation ecology. Blackwell Scientific, Oxford. pp 106–128, [3].
  5. ^ Martins, F. R. & Batalha, M. A. (2011). Formas de vida, espectro biológico de Raunkiaer e fisionomia da vegetação. In: Felfili, J. M., Eisenlohr, P. V.; Fiuza de Melo, M. M. R.; Andrade, L. A.; Meira Neto, J. A. A. (Org.). Fitossociologia no Brasil: métodos e estudos de caso. Vol. 1. Viçosa: Editora UFV. p. 44-85. [4]. Earlier version, 2003, [5].
  6. ^ Cox, C. B., Moore, P.D. & Ladle, R. J. 2016. Biogeography: an ecological and evolutionary approach. 9th edition. John Wiley & Sons: Hoboken, p. 20, [6].
  7. ^ Tansley, A.G. (1935). The use and abuse of vegetational terms and concepts. Ecology 16 (3): 284–307.
  8. ^ Breckle, S.-W. (2002). Walter's Vegetation of the Earth: The Ecological Systems of the Geo-Biosphere. New York: Springer-Verlag, p. 86, [7].
  9. ^ Batalha, M.A. (2011). The Brazilian cerrado is not a biome. Biota Neotrop. 11:21–4, [8].
  10. ^ Sims, Phillip L.; Singh, J.S. (July 1978). "The Structure and Function of Ten Western North American Grasslands: III. Net Primary Production, Turnover and Efficiencies of Energy Capture and Water Use". Journal of Ecology. British Ecological Society. 66 (2): 573–597. doi:10.2307/2259152. 
  11. ^ Pomeroy, Lawrence R. and James J. Alberts, editors. Concepts of Ecosystem Ecology. New York: Springer-Verlag, 1988.
  12. ^ Whittaker, Robert H., Botanical Review, Classification of Natural Communities, Vol. 28, No. 1 (Jan–Mar 1962), pp. 1–239.
  13. ^ a b Whittaker, Robert H. Communities and Ecosystems. New York: MacMillan Publishing Company, Inc., 1975.
  14. ^ Walter, H. 1976. Die ökologischen Systeme der Kontinente (Biogeosphäre). Prinzipien ihrer Gliederung mit Beispielen. Stuttgart.
  15. ^ Walter, H. & Breckle, S-W. (1991). Ökologie der Erde, Band 1, Grundlagen. Stuttgart.
  16. ^ Bailey System, US Forest Service
  17. ^ Bailey, R. G. 1989. Explanatory supplement to ecoregions map of the continents. Environmental Conservation 16: 307-309. [With map of land-masses of the world, "Ecoregions of the Continents — Scale 1 : 30,000,000", published as a supplement.]
  18. ^ Olson, D. M. & E. Dinerstein (1998). The Global 200: A representation approach to conserving the Earth’s most biologically valuable ecoregions. Conservation Biol. 12:502–515.
  19. ^ Olson et al. (2001); Terrestrial Ecoregions of the World: A New Map of Life on Earth, BioScience, Vol. 51, No. 11., pp. 933–938.
  20. ^ "Freshwater Ecoregions of the World: Major Habitat Types" [9]. Accessed May 12, 2008.
  21. ^ WWF: Marine Ecoregions of the World
  22. ^ Zimmer, Carl (March 19, 2015). "The Next Frontier: The Great Indoors". New York Times. Retrieved March 2015.  Check date values in: |access-date= (help)

External links[edit]