Our planet is an extraordinary mosaic of land, sea, weather, and life forms. No two places are identical in time or space—we live in a complex and dynamic tapestry of habitats. Despite the vast variability that may exist from one place to the next, there are some general habitat types that can be described based on shared climate characteristics, vegetation structure, or animal species. These habitat types help us to understand the wildlife that inhabits them and better protect both the land and the species that depends on it.
Select from the links below for facts about each habitat type:
Basic Habitat Facts
Habitats form a vast tapestry of life across the Earth's surface and are as varied as the animals that inhabit them. Habitats can be classified into many genres—grasslands, deserts, tundra, woodlands, mountains, ponds, streams, marshlands, coastal wetlands, shores, oceans—but there are general principles that apply to all habitats regardless of its location.
Aquatic habitats include seas, oceans, lakes, rivers, wetlands, marshes, lagoons, streams, rivers, and swamps. Where freshwater mixes with saltwater you'll find mangroves, salt marshes, and mud flats. All of these habitats are home to a diverse assortment of wildlife including virtually every group of animals—amphibians, mammals, reptiles, invertebrates, and birds.
Deserts and scrublands are landscapes that have scarce precipitation. Deserts are diverse habitats—some are sun-baked lands that experience high daytime temperatures while others are cool and go through chilly winter seasons. Scrublands are semi-arid habitats that are dominated by scrub vegetation such as grasses, shrubs, and herbs.
Forests and woodlands are habitats dominated by trees. Forests extend over about one-third of the world's land surface and can be found in many regions around the globe. There are many different types of forests—temperate, tropical, cloud, coniferous, boreal—and each has a different assortment of climate characteristics, species compositions, and wildlife communities.
- Deciduous Forests
- Boreal Forests
- The Structure of a Forest
- Animals of the Amazon River Basin
- Sumatran Rainforest to Receive Protection
Grasslands are habitats that are dominated by grasses and have few large trees or shrubs. There are two types of grasslands, tropical grasslands (also known as savannas) and temperate grasslands. Grasslands experience dry and rainy seasons and are susceptable to seasonal fires.
- New Species Discovered in Brazil's Cerrado Savanna
- Grassland Birds Threatened by Pesticides
- Savannah Sparrows Change Their Tune
Tundra is a cold habitat characterized by low temperatures, short vegetation, long winters, brief growing seasons, and limited drainage. Arctic tundra is located near the North Pole and extends southward to the point where coniferous forests grow. Alpine tundra is located on mountains around the world at elevations that are above the tree line.