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11.2.2. Terrestrial ecosystems

Terrestrial ecosystems

Terrestrial ecosystems are those whose biotope is not covered by water. Plants and animals live in the soil and in the air, where they find everything they need to live.

The terrestrial ecosystems are very varied, since the environmental conditions, such as the climate, the relief, the type of soil of each territory are different.

To organize the study of the biosphere, it is divided into large ecosystems or bioclimatic zones, called biomes.

biome is a set of terrestrial ecosystems, characterized by similar climatic conditions and a type of vegetation that defines them.

The main biomes are:

  • Jungle.
  • Savannah.
  • The desert.
  • The Mediterranean forest.
  • The deciduous forest.
  • The steppe
  • The taiga
  • The tundra.
  • High mountain.
  • Polar zone.


The jungle is a characteristic biome of equatorial and tropical zones, with a high average temperature, and abundant rainfall throughout the year.

  • Vegetation: large trees (mahogany, for example), very tall and varied, with wide leaves stand out. Epiphytic plants (orchids, lianas, etc.) and climbers abound on them  . Shrubs and herbs also abound.
  • Fauna: great biodiversity of animals, such as gorillas, chimpanzees, sloths, leopards, etc.

Selva en Isla Tioman (Malasia)

Gregorik at English Wikipedia [CC BY 3.0 ], from Wikimedia Commons


Savannahs are found in intertropical zones, with a warm climate and alternating wet and dry seasons. The dry season is very dry, which favors the spread of fires and favors the growth of grasses and harms the growth of trees.

  • Vegetation: tall herbs abound (legumes and grasses), shrubs, and thorny trees (acacias, for example) that are scattered.
  • Fauna: herbivores (zebras, gazelles, giraffes, etc.), carnivores (lions, cheetahs, etc.) and scavengers (hyenas, for example) abound.

La Gran Sabana

By Inti [CC BY 2.0 ], via Wikimedia Commons

The desert

It is in areas where rainfall is very scarce and with large variations in temperature between day and night, with very hot days and extremely cold nights. Living beings have had to adapt to these harsh conditions:

  • Vegetation: very scarce, with adaptations to prevent water loss , such as cacti, palm trees, etc.
  • Fauna: presents adaptations to avoid heat, such as having nocturnal habits, such as the coyote, puma, etc. or to prevent water loss, like the camel.

The mediterranean forest

Ecosystem characteristic of regions with a Mediterranean climate, with irregular rainfall, hot and dry summers and mild winters with little rain.

  • Vegetation: trees (holm oak, cork oak, olive tree, etc.) with thick epidermis to prevent water loss, bushes (kermes oak, bramble, broom, etc.) and aromatic plants (rosemary, thyme, etc.) stand out.
  • Fauna: adapted to this climate, such as rabbits, wild boars, foxes, lizards, birds, etc.

The deciduous forest

This ecosystem is characteristic of regions with abundant and very regular rainfall, with hot summers and cold winters.

  • Vegetation: deciduous trees (beech, oak, chestnut, etc.) and shrubs abound.
  • Fauna: squirrels, mice, deer, wild boar, wolves, eagles, etc.

The steppe

Characteristic of the interior of the continents, with hot summers with irregular rainfall and cold, dry winters.

  • Vegetation: herbs predominate (grasses, for example), scattered bushes and some trees.
  • Fauna: Rodents, rabbits, snakes, etc. and a great variety of birds, such as cranes, bustards, etc.

Estepa del oeste de Kazakhstan

By The original uploader was Carole a at English Wikipedia. [GFDL or CC-BY-SA-3.0], from Wikimedia Commons

The taiga

The taiga is typical of regions with cold winters and temperate and humid summers, in areas south of the tundra in northern Europe, Asia and North America.

  • Vegetation: dense coniferous forests (fir, pine, cedar, for example), with trees growing very close to each other to protect themselves from the cold. They are dark forests to have a low albedo and absorb solar energy more easily. They are evergreen trees, although there are some deciduous (birch, poplar, etc.).
  • Fauna: in summer there are more animals than in winter. Many species of migratory birds go to the taiga in the summer, although there are others that live all year. Among the mammalsmice, hares, and some carnivores such as lynxes and wolves stand out.

The tundra

Characteristic of areas near the poles, with extremely cold weather. There is little light, winters are cold and the ground is frozen for much of the year, thawing superficially in summer. It rains little, so the presence of life is scarce.

  • Vegetation: small plant, such as mosseslichens, some herbs (grasses), and some shrubs.
  • Fauna: reindeer, moose, arctic foxes, partridges, rodents, etc.

High mountain

These ecosystems are found on the tops of mountainous areas, with cold temperatures, snow and strong winds throughout the year.

  • Vegetation: very scarce, adapted to withstand the wind and with resistant roots, such as broombroom or heather.
  • Fauna: rodents such as the vole or the marmot and some birds, such as the ptarmigan.

Polar zone

The polar areas are characterized by very extreme cold, in which the presence of ice is permanent.

Answer in your notebook

Choose a terrestrial ecosystem and explain what its biotope is like, its biocenosis, and some examples of the relationships that occur between the elements of the ecosystem.