Ecosystem diversity refers to the diversity of a place at the level of ecosystems. Ecosystem
diversity can also refer to the variety of ecosystems present in a biosphere, the variety of species
and ecological processes that occur in different physical settings, variety of ecosystems in a
biosphere or the variety of species and ecological processes that occur in different physical
Biological diversity means
the variability among
living organisms from all
sources including inter alia,
marine, and other aquatic
ecosystems and the
ecological complexes of
which they are part’ this
includes diversity within
species, between species,
and of ecosystems. One
way to gain an appreciation of the world’s most widely accepted meaning is to consider its
evolution. In 1980, the term ecological diversity was used to describe the presumable ecological
Ecological diversity is the degree of variation of ecosystem present on the earth. It seems to be
the result of the warm climate and high primary productivity. Marine biodiversity tends to be
highest along coasts in the Western Pacific, where sea surface temperature is highest and in mid-
latitudinal band in all oceans.

It generally tends to cluster in hotspots, and has been increasing
through time but will be likely to slow in the future.

Rapid environmental changes typically
cause mass extinctions
The earliest evidences for life on Earth are graphite found
to be biogenic in 3.7 billion-year-old meta sedimentary
rocks discovered in Western Greenland and microbial
mat fossils found in 3.48 billion-year-old sand stone
discovered in Western Australia.
Ecosystems are the combination of communities of living
things with the physical environment in which they live.
There are many different kinds of ecosystems, from deserts
to mountain slopes, the ocean floor to the Antarctic, with coral reefs and rainforests being
amongst the richest of these systems.

Each ecosystem provides many different kinds of habitats or living places. The living things and
the non-living environment (earth forms, soil, rocks and water) interact constantly and in
complex ways that change over time, with no two ecosystems being the same.
Although ecosystems are ever-changing and complex, some universal principles apply. One of
these is that matter constantly cycles and recycles. Another principle is that energy moves
through the cycle, being used, absorbed and stored.
For example, forests act as filters for air, absorbing
carbon dioxide and releasing oxygen. Seas are the
great stabilizers of climates, with warm currents
moderating temperatures on the land masses they
pass. Mangroves and sea-grass beds are the
nurseries for marine creatures. While the sun is a
constant source of Earth's energy, energy is also
available from geothermal processes. So while each ecosystem generates its own relationships,
the Earth's environments are interrelated — they all rely on the sun and the Earth's oxygen and
water to survive.
You can begin to appreciate how the elements in each ecosystem are connected to each other and
the diversity that exists amongst Earth's ecosystems. Maintaining this ecological diversity
is important for the health of the planet.
Climate change and other human-driven (anthropogenic) environmental changes will continue to
cause biodiversity loss in the coming decades. In addition to the high rates of species extinctions
already occurring worldwide. Ecological diversity is a term that can be used to describe
ecological diversity at a variety of different scales, but in this context we will focus on the
description of ecosystem diversity. Species play essential roles in ecosystems, so local and global
species losses could threaten the stability of the ecosystem services on which humans depend.
For example, plant species harness the energy of
the sun to fix carbon through photosynthesis, and
this essential biological process provides the base
of the food chain for myriad animal consumers.
At the ecosystem level, the total growth of all
plant species is termed primary production, and as
we'll see in this article communities composed of
different numbers and combinations of plant
species can have very different rates of primary
production. This fundamental metric of ecosystem function has relevance for global food supply
and for rates of climate change because primary production reflects the rate at which carbon
dioxide (a greenhouse gas) is removed from the atmosphere. There is currently great concern

about the stability of both natural and human-managed ecosystems, particularly given the myriad
global changes already occurring. Stability can be defined in several ways, but the most intuitive
definition of a stable system is one having low variability (i.e., little deviation from its average
state) despite shifting environmental conditions. This is often termed the resistance of a system.
Resilience is a somewhat different aspect of stability indicating the ability of an ecosystem to
return to its original state following a disturbance or other perturbation. Most research on the
relationship between ecosystem diversity and stability has focused on species richness, it is
variation in species composition that provides the mechanistic basis to explain the relationship
between species richness and ecosystem functioning. Species differ from one another in their
resource use, environmental tolerances, and interactions with other species, such that species
composition has a major influence on ecosystem functioning and stability.
The traits that characterize the ecological function of a species are termed functional traits, and
species that share similar suites of traits are often categorized together into functional groups.
When species from different functional groups occur together, they can exhibit complementary
resource-use, meaning that they use different resources or use the
same resources at different times. For example, two animal
predators may consume different prey items, so they are less likely
to compete with one another, allowing higher total biomass of
predators in the system. In the case of plants, all species may
utilize the same suite of resources (space, light, water, soil
nutrients, etc.) but at different times during the growing season for
example, early- and late-season grasses in prairies. Increasing
species diversity can influence ecosystem functions such as
productivity by increasing the likelihood that species will use
complementary resources and can also increase the likelihood that
a particularly productive or efficient species is present in the
community. For example, high plant diversity can lead to
increased ecosystem productivity by more completely, and/or
efficiently, exploiting soil resources (e.g., nutrients, water). While primary production is the
ecosystem function most referred to in this article, other ecosystem functions, such as
decomposition and nutrient turnover, are also influenced by species diversity and particular
species traits.
Theoretical models suggest that there could be multiple relationships between diversity and
stability, depending on how we define stability. Stability can be defined at the ecosystem level
— for example, a rancher might be interested in the ability of a grassland ecosystem to maintain
primary production for cattle forage across several years that may vary in their average
temperature and precipitation. Plant community can stabilize ecosystem processes if species vary
in their responses to environmental fluctuations such that an increased abundance of one species
can compensate for the decreased abundance of another. Biologically diverse communities are

also more likely to contain species that confer resilience to that ecosystem because as a
community accumulates species, there is a higher chance of any one of them having traits that
enable them to adapt to a changing environment. Such species could buffer the system against
the loss of other species. In this situation, species identity and particular species traits are the
driving force stabilizing the system rather than species richness
A wealth of research into the relationships among diversity, stability, and ecosystem functioning
has been conducted in recent years. The first experiments to measure the relationship between
diversity and stability manipulated diversity in aquatic microcosm’s miniature experimental
ecosystems containing four or more trophic levels, including primary producers, primary and
secondary consumers, and decomposers. These experiments found that species diversity
conferred spatial and temporal stability on several ecosystem functions. Stability was conferred
by species richness, both within and among functional groups. When there is more than one
species with a similar ecological role in a system, they are sometimes considered "functionally
redundant." But these experiments show that having functionally redundant species may play an
important role in ensuring ecosystem stability when individual species are lost due to
environmental changes, such as climate change.
More recently, scientists have examined the importance of plant diversity for ecosystem stability
in terrestrial ecosystems, especially grasslands where the dominant vegetation lies low to the
ground and is easy to manipulate experimentally. In 1995, David Tilman and colleagues
established 168 experimental plots in the Cedar Creek Ecosystem Science Reserve, each 9 x 9 m
in size, and seeded them with 1, 2, 4, 8 or 16
species drawn randomly from a pool of 18 possible
perennial plant species. Plots were weeded to
prevent new species invasion and ecosystem
stability was measured as the stability of primary
production over time. Over the ten years that data
were collected, there was significant inter-annual
variation in climate, and the researchers found that
more diverse plots had more stable production over
time. In contrast, population stability declined in
more diverse plots. These experimental findings are consistent with the theory described in the
prior section, predicting that increasing species diversity would be positively correlated with
increasing stability at the ecosystem-level and negatively correlated with species-level stability
due to declining population sizes of individual species.
Experiments manipulating diversity have been criticized because of their small spatial and short
time scales. In a 24-year study of naturally assembled Inner Mongolia grassland vegetation,
scientists observed variation in the biomass of species, functional groups, and the whole
community in response to strong inter-annual variation in growing-season precipitation. They
found that while the abundance of individual species fluctuated, species within particular

functional groups tended to respond differently such that a decrease in the abundance of one
species was compensated for by an increase in the abundance of another. This compensation
stabilized the biomass productivity of the whole community in a fluctuating environment. These
findings demonstrate that local species richness — both within and among functional groups
confers stability on ecosystem processes in naturally assembled communities.
Experiments in aquatic ecosystems have also shown that large-scale processes play a significant
role in stabilizing ecosystems. A whole-lake acidification experiment in Canada found that
although species diversity declined as a result of acidification, species composition changed
significantly and ecosystem function was maintained. This suggests that given sufficient time
and appropriate dispersal mechanisms, new species can colonize communities from the regional
species pool and compensate for those species that are locally lost. This observation emphasizes
the importance of maintaining connectivity among natural habitats as they experience
environmental changes.
Evidence from multiple ecosystems at a variety of temporal and spatial scales, suggests that
biological diversity acts to stabilize ecosystem functioning in the face of environmental
fluctuation. Variation among species in their response to such fluctuation is an essential
requirement for ecosystem stability, as is the presence of species that can compensate for the
function of species that are lost. While much of the evidence presented here has focused on the
consequences of changes in species diversity on primary production in natural ecosystems,
recent research has found similar relationships between species diversity and ecosystem
productivity in human-managed ecosystems.

Some important type of Ecosystem diversity are discussed below:
An aquatic ecosystem is an ecosystem in a body of
water. Communities of organisms that are dependent
on each other and on their environment live in
aquatic ecosystems. The two main types of aquatic
ecosystems are marine ecosystems and freshwater


Marine ecosystems cover approximately 71%
of the Earth's surface and contain
approximately 97% of the planet's water. They
generate 32% of the world's net primary
They are distinguished from
freshwater ecosystems by the presence of
dissolved compounds, especially salts, in the
water. Approximately 85% of the dissolved
materials in seawater are sodium and chlorine. Seawater has an average salinity of 35 parts
per thousand (ppt) of water. Actual salinity varies among different marine ecosystems.
Marine ecosystems can be divided into many zones depending upon water depth and
shoreline features. The oceanic zone is the vast open part of the ocean where animals such as
whales, sharks, and tuna live. The benthic zone consists of substrates below water where
many invertebrates live. The intertidal zone is the area between high and low tides; in this
figure it is termed the littoral zone. Other near-shore (neritic) zones can include estuaries, salt
marshes, coral reefs, lagoons and mangrove swamps. In the deep water, hydrothermal
vents may occur where chemosynthetic sulfur bacteria form the base of the food web.
Classes of organisms found in marine ecosystems include brown
algae, dinoflagellates, corals, cephalopods, echinoderms, and sharks. Fishes caught in marine
ecosystems are the biggest source of commercial foods obtained from wild populations.

Environmental problems concerning marine ecosystems include unsustainable exploitation of
marine resources (for example overfishing of certain species), marine pollution, climate
change, and building on coastal areas.

Freshwater ecosystems cover 0.80% of the Earth's surface and inhabit 0.009% of its total
water. They generate nearly 3% of its net primary production.
Freshwater ecosystems
contain 41% of the world's known fish species.

There are three basic types of freshwater ecosystems:
 Lentic: slow moving water, including pools, ponds, and lakes.
 Lotic: faster moving water, for example streams and rivers.
 Wetlands: areas where the soil is saturated or inundated for at least part of the time.

Lake ecosystems can be divided into
zones. One common system divides lakes
into three zones. The first, the littoral zone,

is the shallow zone near the shore. This is where rooted wetland plants occur. The
offshore is divided into two further zones, an open water zone and a deep water zone. In
the open water zone (or photic zone) sunlight supports photosynthetic algae, and the
species that feed upon them. In the deep water zone, sunlight is not available and the food
web is based on detritus entering from the littoral and photic zones. Some systems use
other names. The off shore areas may be called the pelagic zone, and the aphotic zone
may be called the profundal zone. Inland from the littoral zone one can also frequently
identify a riparian zone which has plants still affected by the presence of the lake—this
can include effects from windfalls, spring flooding, and winter ice damage. The
production of the lake as a whole is the result of production from plants growing in the
littoral zone, combined with production from plankton growing in the open water.
Wetlands can be part of the lentic system, as they form naturally along most lakeshores,
the width of the wetland and littoral zone being dependent upon the slope of the shoreline
and the amount of natural change in water levels, within and among years. Often dead
trees accumulate in this zone, either from windfalls on the shore or logs transported to the
site during floods. This woody debris provides important habitat for fish and nesting
birds, as well as protecting shorelines from erosion,
Two important subclasses of lakes are ponds, which typically are small lakes that
intergrade with wetlands, and water reservoirs. Over long periods of time, lakes, or bays
within them, may gradually become enriched by nutrients and slowly fill in with organic
sediments, a process called succession. When humans use the watershed, the volumes of
sediment entering the lake can accelerate this process. The addition of sediments and
nutrients to a lake is known as eutrophication.
Ponds are small bodies of freshwater
with shallow and still water, marsh,
and aquatic plants.
They can be
further divided into four zones:
vegetation zone, open water, bottom
mud and surface film.
The size and
depth of ponds often varies greatly
with the time of year; many ponds are
produced by spring flooding from
rivers. Food webs are based both on free-floating algae and upon aquatic plants.
There is usually a diverse array of aquatic life, with a few examples including algae,
snails, fish, beetles, water bugs, frogs, turtles, otters and muskrats. Top predators
may include large fish, herons, or alligators. Since fish are a major predator upon
amphibian larvae, ponds that dry up each year, thereby killing resident fish, provide
important refugia for amphibian breeding.
Ponds that dry up completely each year

are often known as vernal pools. Some ponds are produced by animal activity,
including alligator holes and beaver ponds, and these add important diversity to

The major zones in river ecosystems are determined by
the river bed's gradient or by the velocity of the current.
Faster moving turbulent water typically contains greater
concentrations of dissolved oxygen, which supports
greater biodiversity than the slow moving water of pools.
These distinctions forms the basis for the division of
rivers into upland and lowland rivers. The food base of
streams within riparian forests is mostly derived from the
trees, but wider streams and those that lack
a canopy derive the majority of their food base from
algae. Anadromous fish are also an important source of
nutrients. Environmental threats to rivers include loss of
water, dams, chemical pollution and introduced
species. A dam produces negative effects that continue down the watershed. The most
important negative effects are the reduction of spring flooding, which damages wetlands,
and the retention of sediment, which leads to loss of deltaic wetlands.
Wetlands are dominated by vascular
plants that have adapted to saturated soil.
There are four main types of wetlands:
swamp, marsh, fen and bog (both fens and
bogs are types of mire). Wetlands are the
most productive natural ecosystems in the
world because of the proximity of water
and soil. Hence they support large numbers
of plant and animal species. Due to their
productivity, wetlands are often converted into dry land with dykes and drains and used
for agricultural purposes. The construction of dykes, and dams, has negative
consequences for individual wetlands and entire watersheds. Their closeness to lakes and
rivers means that they are often developed for human settlement. Once settlements are
constructed and protected by dykes, the settlements then become vulnerable to land
subsidence and ever increasing risk of flooding. The Louisiana coast around New Orleans
is a well-known example: the Danube Delta in Europe is another.

A terrestrial ecosystem is an ecosystem found
only on landforms. Six primary terrestrial
ecosystems exist: tundra, taiga, temperate
deciduous forest, tropical rain
forest, grassland and desert.
A community of organisms and their
environment that occurs on the land masses of
continents and islands. Terrestrial ecosystems
are distinguished from aquatic ecosystems by
the lower availability of water and the consequent importance of water as a limiting factor.
Terrestrial ecosystems are characterized by greater temperature fluctuations on both a diurnal
and seasonal basis than occur in aquatic ecosystems in similar climates. The availability of
light is greater in terrestrial ecosystems than in aquatic ecosystems because the atmosphere is
more transparent in land than in water. Gases are more available in terrestrial ecosystems
than in aquatic ecosystems. Those gases include carbon dioxide that serves as a substrate for
photosynthesis, oxygen that serves as a substrate in aerobic respiration, and nitrogen that
serves as a substrate for nitrogen fixation. Terrestrial environments are segmented into a
subterranean portion from which most water and ions are obtained, and an atmospheric
portion from which gases are obtained and where the physical energy of light is transformed
into the organic energy of carbon-carbon bonds through the process of photosynthesis.
Terrestrial ecosystems occupy 55,660,000 mi2 (144,150,000 km2), or 28.2%, of Earth's
surface. Although they are comparatively recent in the history of life (the first terrestrial
organisms appeared in the Silurian Period, about 425 million years ago) and occupy a much
smaller portion of Earth's surface than marine ecosystems, terrestrial ecosystems have been a
major site of adaptive radiation of both plants and animals. Major plant taxa in terrestrial
ecosystems are members of the division Magnoliophyta (flowering plants), of which there
are about 275,000 species, and the division Pinophyta (conifers), of which there are about
500 species. Members of the division Bryophyta (mosses and liverworts), of which there are
about 24,000 species, are also important in some terrestrial ecosystems. Major animal taxa in
terrestrial ecosystems include the classes Insecta (insects) with about 900,000 species, Aves
(birds) with 8500 species, and Mammalia (mammals) with approximately 4100 species.
Organisms in terrestrial ecosystems have adaptations that allow them to obtain water when
the entire body is no longer bathed in that fluid, means of transporting the water from limited
sites of acquisition to the rest of the body, and means of preventing the evaporation of water
from body surfaces. They also have traits that provide body support in the atmosphere, a
much less buoyant medium than water, and other traits that render them capable of

withstanding the extremes of temperature, wind, and humidity that characterize terrestrial
ecosystems. Finally, the organisms in terrestrial ecosystems have evolved many methods of
transporting gametes in environments where fluid flow is much less effective as a transport
The organisms in terrestrial ecosystems are integrated into a functional unit by specific,
dynamic relationships due to the coupled processes of energy and chemical flow. Those
relationships can be summarized by schematic diagrams of trophic webs, which place
organisms according to their feeding relationships. The base of the food web is occupied by
green plants, which are the only organisms capable of utilizing the energy of the Sun and
inorganic nutrients obtained from the soil to produce organic molecules. Terrestrial food
webs can be broken into two segments based on the status of the plant material that enters
them. Grazing food webs are associated with the consumption of living plant material by
herbivores. Detritus food webs are associated with the consumption of dead plant material by
detritivores. The relative importance of those two types of food webs varies considerably in
different types of terrestrial ecosystems. Grazing food webs are more important in grasslands,
where over half of net primary productivity may be consumed by herbivores. Detritus food
webs are more important in forests, where less than 5% of net primary productivity may be
consumed by herbivores.
There is one type of extensive terrestrial ecosystem due solely to human activities and eight
types that are natural ecosystems. Those natural ecosystems reflect the variation of
precipitation and temperature over Earth's surface. The smallest land areas are occupied by
tundra and temperate grassland ecosystems, and the largest land area is occupied by tropical
forest. The most productive ecosystems are temperate and tropical forests, and the least
productive are deserts and tundras. Cultivated lands, which together with grasslands and
savannas utilized for grazing are referred to as agroecosystems, are of intermediate extent
and productivity. Because of both their areal extent and their high average productivity,
tropical forests are the most productive of all terrestrial ecosystems, contributing 45% of total
estimated net primary productivity on land.
The primary types of terrestrial ecosystems have been described below
In physical geography, a tundra is
a biome where the tree growth is hindered by
low temperatures and short growing seasons.
The term tundra comes through, "treeless
mountain tract". There are three types of
tundra: arctic tundra, alpine tundra,
and Antarctic tundra. In a tundra,
the vegetation is composed of

dwarf shrubs, sedges and grasses, mosses, and lichens. Scattered trees grow in some
tundras. The ecotone (or ecological boundary region) between the tundra and the forest is
known as the tree line or timberline.
Arctic tundra occurs in the far Northern Hemisphere, north of the taiga belt. The word
"tundra" usually refers only to the areas where the
subsoil is permafrost, or permanently frozen soil. (It may
also refer to the treeless plain in general, so that
northern Sápmi would be included.) Permafrost tundra
includes vast areas of northern Russia and Canada. The
polar tundra is home to several peoples who are mostly
nomadic reindeer herders, such as
the Nganasan and Nenets in the permafrost area
The tundra is a very windy area, with winds often blowing upwards of 50–100 km/h (30–
60 mph). However, in terms of precipitation, it is desert-like, with only about 15–25 cm
(6–10 in) falling per year (the summer is typically the season of maximum precipitation).
Although precipitation is light, evaporation is also relatively minimal. During the
summer, the permafrost thaws just enough to let plants grow and reproduce, but because
the ground below this is frozen, the water cannot sink any lower, and so the water forms
the lakes and marshes found during the summer months. There is a natural pattern of
accumulation of fuel and wildfire which varies depending on the nature of vegetation and
terrain. Research in Alaska has shown fire-event return intervals, (FRIs) that typically
vary from 150 to 200 years with dryer lowland areas burning more frequently than wetter
highland areas.
The biodiversity of the tundras is low: 1,700 species of vascular plants and only 48
species of land mammals can be found, although millions of birds migrate there each year
for the marshes. There are also a few fish species such as the flatfish. There are few
species with large populations. Notable animals in the Arctic tundra
include caribou (reindeer), musk ox, arctic hare, arctic fox, snowy owl, lemmings,
and polar bears (only near ocean-fed bodies of water). Tundra is largely devoid
of poikilotherms such as frogs or lizards.
Due to the harsh climate of the Arctic tundra, regions of this kind have seen little human
activity, even though they are sometimes rich in natural resources such
as oil and uranium. In recent times this has begun to change in Alaska, Russia, and some
other parts of the world.


Antarctic tundra occurs on Antarctica and on
several Antarctic and Sub-Antarctic islands,
including South Georgia and the South Sandwich
Islands and the Kerguelen Islands. Most of
Antarctica is too cold and dry to support
vegetation, and most of the continent is covered
by ice fields. However, some portions of the
continent, particularly the Antarctic Peninsula,
have areas of rocky soil that support plant life. The flora presently consists of around
300–400 lichens, 100 mosses, 25 liverworts, and around 700 terrestrial and aquatic algae
species, which live on the areas of exposed rock and soil around the shore of the
continent. Antarctica's two flowering plant species, the Antarctic hair
grass (Deschampsia antarctica) and Antarctic pearlwort (Colobanthus quitensis), are
found on the northern and western parts of the Antarctic Peninsula.
In contrast with the Arctic tundra, the Antarctic tundra lacks a large mammal fauna,
mostly due to its physical isolation from the other continents. Sea mammals and sea
birds, including seals and penguins, inhabit areas near the shore, and some small
mammals, like rabbits and cats, have been introduced by humans to some of the sub
Antarctic islands. The Antipodes Sub Antarctic Islands tundra eco region includes
the Bounty Islands, Auckland Islands, Antipodes Islands, the Campbell Island group,
and Macquarie Island.
Species endemic to this eco region include Nematoceras
dienemum and Nematoceras sulcatum, the only Sub Antarctic orchids; the royal penguin;
and the Antipodean albatross.
The flora and fauna of Antarctica and the Antarctic Islands (south of 60° south latitude)
are protected by the Antarctic Treaty.
Alpine tundra does not contain trees because the
climate and soils at high altitude block tree growth.
Alpine tundra is distinguished from arctic tundra in
that alpine tundra typically does not have permafrost,
and alpine soils are generally better drained than arctic
soils. Alpine tundra transitions to subalpine forests
below the tree line; stunted forests occurring at the
forest-tundra ecotone are known as Krummholz.
Alpine tundra occurs in mountains worldwide. The flora of the alpine tundra is
characterized by dwarf shrubs close to the ground. The cold climate of the alpine tundra
is caused by the low air pressure, and is similar to polar climate.

Taiga, also known as boreal forest, is
a biome characterized
by coniferous forests consisting mostly
of pines, spruces and larches.
The taiga is the world's largest terrestrial biome.
In North America it covers most of
inland Canada and Alaska as well as parts of the
extreme northern continental United States (northern Minnesota through the Upper
Peninsula of Michigan to Upstate New York and northern New England) and is known as
the Northwoods. In Eurasia, it covers most of Sweden, Finland, much of Norway, some
lowland/coastal areas of Iceland, much of Russia from Karelia in the west to the Pacific
Ocean (including much of Siberia), and areas of northern Kazakhstan,
northern Mongolia, and northern Japan (on the island of Hokkaidō). However, the main
tree species, the length of the growing season and summer temperatures vary. For
example, the taiga of North America mostly consists of
spruces; Scandinavian and Finnish taiga consists of a mix of spruce, pines and birch;
Russian taiga has spruces, pines and larches depending on the region, the Eastern
Siberian taiga being a vast larch forest.
A different use of the term taiga is often encountered in the English language, with
"boreal forest" used in the United States and Canada to refer to only the more southerly
part of the biome, with taiga used to describe the more barren areas of the northernmost
part of the biome approaching the tree line and the tundra biome. Hoffman (1958)
discusses the origin of this differential use in North America and why it is an
inappropriate differentiation of the Russian term.
Temperate deciduous forests or temperate broad-leaf
forests are dominated by trees that lose their leaves
each year. They are found in areas with warm, moist
summer’s alternate and mild winters. The three major
areas of this forest type occur in the northern
hemisphere: eastern North America, eastern Asia,
and Europe. Smaller areas occur in Australasia and
southern South America. Examples of typical trees
include oak, maple, beech, and elm. The diversity of tree species is higher in regions
where the winter is milder, and also in mountainous regions that provide an array of soil
types and microclimates. One of the world's great protected examples of this forest type
is found in Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

Tropical rainforests can be characterized in two
words: warm and wet. Mean monthly
temperatures exceed 18 °C (64 °F) during all
months of the year. Average annual rainfall is no
less than 168 cm (66 in) and can exceed 1,000 cm
(390 in) although it typically lies between 175 cm
(69 in) and 200 cm (79 in). This high level of
precipitation often results in poor soils due to
leaching of soluble nutrients.
Tropical rainforests exhibit high levels of biodiversity. Around 40% to 75% of all
biotic species are indigenous to the rainforests. Rainforests are home to half of all the
living animal and plant species on the planet. Two-thirds of all flowering plants can be
found in rainforests.

A single hectare of rainforest may contain 42,000 different species of
insect, up to 807 trees of 313 species and 1,500 species of higher plants. Tropical
rainforests have been called the "world's largest pharmacy", because over one quarter of
natural medicines have been discovered within them. It is likely that there may be many
millions of species of plants, insects and microorganisms still undiscovered in tropical
Tropical rainforests are among the most threatened ecosystems globally due to large-
scale fragmentation due to human activity. Habitat fragmentation caused by geological
processes such as volcanism and climate change occurred in the past, and have been
identified as important drivers of speciation. However, fast human driven habitat
destruction is suspected to be one of the major causes of species extinction. Tropical rain
forests have been subjected to heavy logging and agricultural clearance throughout the
20th century, and the area covered by rainforests around the world is rapidly shrinking.
Grasslands are areas where the vegetation is dominated
by grasses (Poaceae), however sedge (Cyperaceae) and
rush (Juncaceae) families can also be found. Grasslands
occur naturally on all continents except Antarctica.
Grasslands are found in most eco-regions of the Earth.
For example there are five terrestrial eco-
region classifications (subdivisions) of the temperate
grasslands, savannas, and shrub lands biome ('ecosystem'), which is one of
eight terrestrial eco zones of the Earth's surface.

A desert is a barren area of land where
little precipitation occurs and consequently
living conditions are hostile for plant and
animal life. The lack of vegetation exposes the
unprotected surface of the ground to the
processes of denudation. About one third of the
land surface of the world is arid or semi-arid.
This includes much of the Polar Regions where
little precipitation occurs and which are sometimes called "cold deserts". Deserts can be
classified by the amount of precipitation that falls, by the temperature that prevails, by the
causes of desertification or by their geographical location.
Deserts are formed by weathering processes as large variations in temperature between
day and night put strains on the rocks which consequently break in pieces. Although rain
seldom occurs in deserts, there are occasional downpours that can result in flash floods.
Rain falling on hot rocks can cause them to shatter and the resulting fragments and rubble
strewn over the desert floor is further eroded by the wind. This picks up particles of sand
and dust and wafts them aloft in sand or dust storms. Wind-blown sand grains striking
any solid object in their path can abrade the surface. Rocks are smoothed down, and the
wind sorts sand into uniform deposits. The grains end up as level sheets of sand or are
piled high in billowing sand dunes. Other deserts are flat, stony plains where all the fine
material has been blown away and the surface consists of a mosaic of smooth stones.
These areas are known as desert pavements and little further erosion takes place. Other
desert features include rock outcrops, exposed bedrock and clays once deposited by
flowing water. Temporary lakes may form and salt pans may be left when waters
evaporate. There may be underground sources of water in the form of springs and from
aquifers. Where these are found, oases can occur.
Plants and animals living in the desert need special adaptations to survive in the harsh
environment. Plants tend to be tough and wiry with small or no leaves, water-
resistant cuticles and often spines to deterherbivory. Some annual plants germinate,
bloom and die in the course of a few weeks after rainfall while other long-lived plants
survive for years and have deep root systems able to tap underground moisture.


At the ecosystem level, biodiversity provides the conditions and drives the processes that sustain
the global economy – and our very survival as a species. The benefits and services provided by
ecosystems include:

The activities of microbial and animal species – including bacteria, algae, fungi, mites,
millipedes and worms – condition soils, break down organic matter, and release essential
nutrients to plants. These processes play a key role in the cycling of such crucial elements
as nitrogen, carbon and phosphorous between the living and non-living parts of the

Plant species purify the air and regulate the composition of the atmosphere, recycling
vital oxygen and filtering harmful particles resulting from industrial activities.

Wetland ecosystems (swamps, marshes, etc.) absorb and recycle essential nutrients, treat
sewage, and cleanse wastes. In estuaries, molluscs remove nutrients from the water,
helping to prevent nutrient over-enrichment and its attendant problems, such as
eutrophication arising from fertilizer run-off. Trees and forest soils purify water as it
flows through forest ecosystems. In preventing soils from being washed away, forests
also prevent the harmful siltation of rivers and reservoirs that may arise from erosion and

Around 99 per cent of potential crop pests are controlled by a variety of other organisms,
including insects, birds and fungi. These natural pesticides are in many ways superior to
their artificial equivalents, since pests can often develop resistance to chemical controls.


Some 130 billion metric tons of organic waste is processed every year by earth’s
decomposing organisms. Many industrial wastes, including detergents, oils, acids and
paper, are also detoxified and decomposed by the activities of living things. In soils, the
end product of these processes – a range of simple inorganic chemicals – is returned to
plants as nutrients. Higher (vascular) plants can themselves serve to remove harmful
substances from groundwater.

Many flowering plants rely on the activities of various animal species – bees, butterflies,
bats, birds, etc. – to help them reproduce through the transportation of pollen. More than
one-third of humanity’s food crops depend on this process of natural pollination. Many
animal species have evolved to perform an additional function in plant reproduction
through the dispersal of seeds.

Plant tissues and other organic materials within land and ocean ecosystems act as
repositories of carbon, helping to slow the build-up of atmospheric carbon dioxide, and
thus contributing to climate stabilization. Ecosystems also exert direct influences on
regional and local weather patterns. Moisture released into the atmosphere by rainforests,
for example, causes regular rainstorms, limiting water loss from the region and helping to
control the surface temperature. In cold climates, meanwhile, forests act as insulators and
as windbreaks, helping to mitigate the impacts of freezing temperatures.

Forests and grasslands protect landscapes against erosion, nutrient loss, and landslides
through the binding action of roots. Ecosystems bordering regularly flooding rivers
(floodplain forests and wetlands) help to absorb excess water and thus reduce the damage
caused by floods. Certain coastal ecosystems (salt marshes, mangrove forests, etc.)
prevent the erosion of coastlines.


Biodiversity provides the vast majority of our foodstuffs. The annual world fish catch, for
example (averaging 100 million metric tons), represents humanity’s most important
source of wild animal protein, with over 20 per cent of the population in Africa and Asia
dependent on fish as their primary source of protein. Terrestrial animals, meanwhile,
supply an array of food products: eggs, milk, meat, etc. Wild biodiversity provides a wide
variety of important foodstuffs, including fruits, game meats, nuts, mushrooms, honey,
spices and flavorings. These wild foods are especially important when agricultural
supplies fail. Indeed, wild biodiversity guards against the failure of even the most
advanced agricultural systems. For example, the productivity of many of the developed
world’s agricultural crops is maintained through the regular assimilation of new genes
from wild relatives of these crops. These wild genes offer resistance to the pests and
diseases that pose an ever-evolving threat to harvests.

The World Health Organization estimates that 80 per cent of people in the developing
world that rely on traditional medicines derived mainly from plants.