Just like its climate, Earth’s land cover varies widely between regions. Some regions are characterized by deserts, while in others swamps predominate. Boreal forests, also called taiga, cover much of the planet’s northern latitudes, while tropical forests are a common feature in equatorial countries. These diverse types of land cover can be further broken down into “ecoregions”—large expanses of land, each with a distinct biological and environmental character.

Mapping land cover often involves defining a set of ecoregions and determining which part or parts of Earth’s surface match the criteria for each ecoregion. To define a set of ecoregions, scientists may supplement existing work, such as maps of species distribution and vegetation types, with new insights and data gathered from regional experts.

The land cover types included in this map layer are based on biogeographic research (sources listed here), a framework last updated in 2017 that defines more than 846 land-based ecoregions within about a dozen biomes or habitat types. This map layer represents those broader categories, like deserts and tropical forests. A couple of tips for navigating this layer: 1) If a region is shaded entirely in the color representing a particular biome, it indicates that that biome is the predominant one, but there may be characteristics of other biomes present as well. 2) The actual borders between biomes are often large regions unto themselves rather than precise lines. There’s even a name for these transition areas: ecotones!

This map layer from RESOLVE Biodiversity and Wildlife Solutions includes the following biomes:

Boreal Forests/Taiga: widespread in northern Russia and Canada, boreal forests are typically home to lots of conifers, mosses, and lichens

Deserts and Xeric Shrubland: the evaporation rate may be greater than the rate of precipitation in these dry regions exemplified by the Sahara and Gobi

Flooded Grasslands and Savannas: like mangroves, this biome is waterlogged land that may support grasses, shrubs, and trees; the Everglades of South Florida are an example

Mangroves: the mangrove tree dominates these coastal regions, which frequently lie within intertidal zones

Mediterranean Forests, Woodlands, and Scrub: these wooded regions are known for their hot, dry summers and cool, wet winters

Montane Grasslands and Shrublands: this biome, which features waxy, hairy plants, defines the Tibetan Plateau and parts of the Andes

Bare Earth: occurring largely in Earth’s polar regions, bare earth includes tundra, a type of cold desert with sparse vegetation

Temperate Broadleaf and Mixed Forests: this biome may include oak, beech, and maple trees; in contrast to tropical forests, biodiversity here is usually concentrated near the forest floor

Temperate Coniferous Forests: this biome has warm summers and cool winters with a wide variety of plant life including either needleleaf or broadleaf evergreen trees

Temperate Grasslands, Savannas, and Shrubland: trees are less common in this biome, which goes by many names—such as prairie, pampas, and veld

Tropical and Subtropical Coniferous Forests: located mostly in North and Central American regions with low precipitation and moderate temperature variability making it ideal for needleleaf conifers to grow

Tropical and Subtropical Dry Broadleaf Forests: this biome is characterized by year-round warm temperatures but seasonal precipitation that results in long dry periods and features drought-deciduous trees, for example, the forests of southern Mexico or central India

Tropical and Subtropical Grasslands, Savannas, and Shrublands: prominent in East Africa, these regions are often too dry to support much tree growth

Tropical and Subtropical Moist Broadleaf Forests: common in the region between the Tropics of Cancer and Capricorn, this biome has steady temperatures year-round and high precipitation allowing for evergreen and semi-evergreen trees

Tundra: found near the poles, this biome is characterized by a cold desert, dark winters, and sunny summers with low growing vegetation

 

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Noun

all the different kinds of living organisms within a given area.

biological
Adjective

having to do with the study of life and living organisms.

Noun

area of the planet which can be classified according to the plant and animal life in it.

boreal forest
Noun

land covered by evergreen trees in cool, northern latitudes. Also called taiga.

broadleaf forest
Noun

land covered by trees with wide, flat leaves.

characterize
Verb

to describe the characteristics of something.

climate
Noun

all weather conditions for a given location over a period of time.

coastal
Adjective

relating to the land near a shore.

conifer
Noun

plant that produces seeds in hard cones, such as pine. Also called a coniferous tree.

conifer
Noun

plant that produces seeds in hard cones, such as pine. Also called a coniferous tree.

coniferous forest
Noun

land covered by trees with thin needles instead of flat leaves.

deciduous
Adjective

type of plant that sheds its leaves once a year.

Noun

area of land that receives no more than 25 centimeters (10 inches) of precipitation a year.

diverse
Adjective

varied or having many different types.

Noun

period of greatly reduced precipitation.

ecoregion
Noun

interactions between living and nonliving things in a large area.

ecotone
Noun

transition zone between two or more ecosystems.

equatorial
Adjective

having to do with the equator or the area around the equator.

Noun

process by which liquid water becomes water vapor.

Everglades
Noun

vast swampy region flowing south of Lake Okeechobee in Florida.

evergreen
Noun

tree that does not lose its leaves.

flood
Verb

to overflow or cover in water or another liquid.

Gobi Desert
Noun

large desert in China and Mongolia.

grassland
Noun

ecosystem with large, flat areas of grasses.

Noun

environment where an organism lives throughout the year or for shorter periods of time.

Noun

region between the high and low tide of an area.

land cover
Noun

physical material at the very top surface of the Earth, such as grass.

Noun

distance north or south of the Equator, measured in degrees.

lichen
Noun

organism composed of a fungus or fungi and an alga or cyanobacterium.

mangrove
Noun

type of tree or shrub with long, thick roots that grows in salty water.

map layer
Noun

part of a map representing specific features of a place.

montane
Adjective

natural region defined by upland slopes and large conifers.

moss
Noun

tiny plant usually found in moist, shady areas.

Pampas
Noun

flat grasslands of South America.

polar
Adjective

having to do with the North and/or South Pole.

Noun

large grassland; usually associated with the Mississippi River Valley in the United States.

Noun

all forms in which water falls to Earth from the atmosphere.

Noun

any area on Earth with one or more common characteristics. Regions are the basic units of geography.

Sahara Desert
Noun

world's largest desert, in north Africa.

savanna
Noun

type of tropical grassland with scattered trees.

scrub
Noun

area of arid grassland covered with low-lying trees and bushes.

seasonal
Adjective

likely to change with the seasons.

sparse
Adjective

scattered and few in number.

species
Noun

group of similar organisms that can reproduce with each other.

Noun

land permanently saturated with water and sometimes covered with it.

Noun

evergreen forest in cool, northern latitudes. Also called boreal forest.

temperate
Adjective

moderate.

Tibetan Plateau
Noun

flat, elevated landform located in Tibet, China, and India. Also known as the "rooftop of the world."

tropical forest
Noun

woodland that features a canopy, tropical climate, and 254 or more centimeters (≥100 inches) of rainfall per year.

Tropic of Cancer
Noun

line of latitude 23.5 degrees north of the Equator.

Tropic of Capricorn
Noun

line of latitude 23.5 degrees south of the Equator.

tundra
Noun

cold, treeless region in Arctic and Antarctic climates.

vegetation
Noun

all the plant life of a specific place.

veldt
Noun

rural grasslands of southern Africa.

waterlogged
Adjective

flooded or overflowing with water.

Noun

land covered with trees, usually less dense than a forest.

xeric
Adjective

dry.