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5: Terrestrial and Aquatic Communities

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    Learning Objectives
    • Define biogeography, the study of the geographic distribution of species and the abiotic factors that affect this distribution
    • Characterize Earth's terrestrial and aquatic biomes based on their abiotic characteristics
    • Differentiate the major driving abiotic factors in terrestrial versus aquatic habitats
    • Define climate change and the natural and anthropogenic factors that influence it

    • 5.1: Biogeography
      Many forces influence the communities of living organisms present in different parts of the biosphere (all of the parts of Earth inhabited by life). The biosphere extends into the atmosphere (several kilometers above Earth) and into the depths of the oceans. Despite its apparent vastness to an individual human, the biosphere occupies only a minute space when compared to the known universe. Many abiotic forces influence where life can exist and the types of organisms found in the biosphere.
    • 5.2: Terrestrial Biomes
      The Earth’s biomes are categorized into two major groups: terrestrial and aquatic. Terrestrial biomes are based on land, while aquatic biomes include both ocean and freshwater biomes. The eight major terrestrial biomes on Earth are each distinguished by characteristic temperatures and amount of precipitation. Comparing the annual totals of precipitation and fluctuations in precipitation from one biome to another provides clues as to the importance of abiotic factors in the distribution of biomes
    • 5.3: Aquatic Biomes
      Like terrestrial biomes, aquatic biomes are influenced by a series of abiotic factors. The aquatic medium—water— has different physical and chemical properties than air, however. Even if the water in a pond or other body of water is perfectly clear (there are no suspended particles), water, on its own, absorbs light. As one descends into a deep body of water, there will eventually be a depth which the sunlight cannot reach.
    • 5.4: Climate and the Effects of Global Climate Change
      All biomes are universally affected by global conditions, such as climate, that ultimately shape each biome’s environment. Scientists who study climate have noted a series of marked changes that have gradually become increasingly evident during the last sixty years. Global climate change is the term used to describe altered global weather patterns, including a worldwide increase in temperature, due largely to rising levels of atmospheric carbon dioxide.


    Earth is made up of terrestrial and aquatic biomes that can be defined based on their abiotic (non-living) and biotic (living) characteristics. Biogeographers study how species are geographically distributed and which abiotic factors determine these distributions. The eight major terrestrial biomes vary in abiotic characteristics like temperature, precipitation, and seasonality and, as a result, in primary productivity that they support. Aquatic biomes, which include freshwater and saltwater, vary in light availability and in water temperature and salinity. Earth has experienced natural, periodic cycles in temperature (e.g., through Milankovitch cycles), but humans have altered these natural cycles through the production of greenhouse gases, leading to unnaturally rapid changes in climate.

    Contributors and Attributions

    5: Terrestrial and Aquatic Communities is shared under a CC BY-NC-SA license and was authored, remixed, and/or curated by LibreTexts.

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