A biome /ˈbaɪoʊm/ is a community of plants and animals that have common characteristics for the environment they exist in, and can be found over a range of continents. Spanning continents, biomes are distinct biological communities that have formed in response to a shared physical climate. "Biome" is a broader term than "habitat"; any biome can comprise a variety of habitats.
While a biome can cover large areas, a microbiome is a mix of organisms that coexist in a defined space as well, 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.
A 'biota' is the total collection of organisms of a geographic region or a time period, from local geographic scales and instantaneous temporal scales all the way up to whole-planet and whole-timescale spatiotemporal scales. The biotas of the Earth make up the biosphere.
The term was suggested in 1916 by Clements, originally as a synonym for biotic community of Möbius (1877). 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. In 1935, Tansley added the climatic and soil aspects to the idea, calling it ecosystem. The International Biological Program (1964–74) projects popularized the concept of biome.
However, in some contexts, the term biome is used in a different manner. In German literature, particularly in the Walter terminology, the term is used similarly as biotope (a concrete geographical unit), while the biome definition used in this article is used as a international, non-regional, terminology - irrespectively of the continent in which an area is present, it takes the same biome name - and corresponds to his "zonobiome", "orobiome" and "pedobiome" (biomes determinated by climate zone, altitude or soil).
In Brazilian literature, the term "biome" is sometimes used as synonym of "biogeographic province", an area based on species composition (the term "floristic province" being used when plant species are considered), or also as synonym of the "morphoclimatic and phytogeographical domain" of Ab'Sáber, a geographic space with subcontinental dimensions, with the predominance of similar geomorphologic and climatic characteristics, and of a certain vegetation form. Both includes many biomes in fact.
To divide the world in a few ecological zones is a difficult attempt, notably because of the small-scale variations that exist everywhere on earth and because of the gradual changeover from one biome to the other. Their boundaries must therefore be drawn arbitrarily and their characterization made according to the average conditions that predominate in them.
A 1978 study on North American grasslands 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. 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 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.
The principal biome-types by Allee (1949):
The principal biomes of the world by Kendeigh (1961):
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.
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.
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.
Along these gradients, Whittaker noted several trends that allowed him to qualitatively establish biome-types:
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.
The multiauthored series Ecosystems of the world, edited by David W. Goodall, provides a comprehensive coverage of the major "ecosystem types or biomes" on earth:
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