By Laura Klappenbach, About.com Guide
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:
- Forests and Woodlands
- Grasslands and Savannas
- Lakes, Rivers and Wetlands
- Seas, Oceans and Islands
- Tundra and Polar Regions
Basic Habitat Facts
Habitats form an unbroken 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.
Alpine and Montane
Alpine, or montane, habitats occur in highlands and mountain ranges around the world. Mountains provide habitat for a wide range of terrestrial animals including mammals, birds, reptiles, invertebrates and amphibians. Mountain rivers, streams, and lakes also provide habitat for aquatic animals such as fish and invertebrates.
- What Are Mountain Habitats
- Appalachian Mountains
- Rocky Mountains
- What Is a Vegetation Zone
- What Is a Rainshadow
Beaches and Coasts
Beaches and coasts lie at the threshold between land and sea where wildlife adapts to a constantly changing coastline and sways to the rhythms of the tides. Where water meets land, a diverse array of animals and wildlife gather to feed, reproduce, and seek out shelter—birds, crustaceans, molluscs, fish, echinoderms, and many other organisms inhabit these dynamic habitats.
Coral reefs are among the world's most diverse habitats. Coral reefs are made up of millions of tiny coral polyps--animals that together form vast colonies and secrete the limestone deposits that over many generations builds a coral reef. Reefs form in shallow, warm-water seas around the world. There are several types of reef including barrier reefs, fringe reefs, and atolls.
Deserts and Scrublands
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
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.
- What Are Deciduous Forests
- Sumatran Rainforest to Receive Protection
- The Structure of a Forest
- Animals of the Amazon River Basin
Grasslands and Savannas
Grasslands and savannas are habitats characterized by the predominance of grass vegetation and the absence of forests or thick tree stands. Grasslands are located in temperate regions while savannas occur in tropical areas. Both habitats receive enough rainfall to support grass growth but they do not receive enough rainfall to support the growth of forests.
Lakes, Rivers and Wetlands
Aquatic habitats come in many forms: 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.
Seas, Oceans and Islands
Seas and oceans stretch from pole to pole and reach around the globe. They cover more than 70 percent of the Earth's surface and hold in excess of 300 million cubic miles of water. Scattered throughout these vast waters are oceaning islands, tiny and isolated patches of land where wayward species set root and over many generations develop into creatures found nowhere else on Earth.
Tundra and Polar Regions
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.