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Earth Systems Science Core
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Climate, the combination of water, winds, temperature and light, helps determine which organisms will live in any particular place on Earth. A dry environment will be home to species that can conserve water. These organisms are also often adapted to warmer temperatures and poor soil conditions.  A rocky environment also has a major effect. Organisms living in wet areas may have adaptations for surviving where root systems are constantly under water. The organisms that are best adapted to live in a particular environment will eventually form a stable community where the biodiversity does not change much over time. These stable communities are called climax communities.

Scientists group ecosystems that have similar climax communities into broad categories of organization called biomes. A biome is, simply put, a large grouping of ecosystems that share the same kinds of climax communities. Since approximately 75% of Earth's surface is covered by water, it is possible to describe biomes that exist in salty water or in fresh water. Some parts of the ocean are very deep, so we can describe biomes that exist in the cold, dark depths of the ocean.

Humans are land dwelling creatures, so we are generally much more familiar with biomes found on land. These terrestrial, or land, biomes are described based largely on their climates and the major organisms found in them. Here are the major terrestrial biomes:

  • Desert - The driest biome with very little plant or animal life; less than 25 cm of precipitation annually.
  • Grassland - A biome composed of large communities of grasses and other small plants; 25 to 75 cm of precipitation annually.
  • Taiga - This biome has forests of evergreens, such as pine, fir, hemlock and spruce. Soils are acidic and poor in minerals; 50 to 100 cm of precipitation annually.
  • Temperate Forest - This biome is composed of forests of broad-leafed hardwood trees that lose their leaves every year; 70 to150 cm of precipitation annually.
  • Tropical Forest - The tropical biome is found nearest to the equator, with warm temperatures and the most plant growth of any biome; over 200 cm of rain annually.
  • Tundra - The coldest land biome, found near Earth's North and South Poles. It has no trees but has low, slow-growing vegetation with permafrost below the topsoil; less than 25 cm of precipitation annually.

The following photographs will help you compare the diversity of life in various biomes. As you study each photograph, respond to the following questions in your laboratory journal:

  1. Which biome do you think this photograph represents?
  2. List the items you see in the photograph that make you think of a particular biome and tell why you think they belong in that biome.

Biome #1

Biome #2

Photo courtesy of Evan Whitaker

Biome #3

Biome #4

Photo courtesy of Lindsay Whitaker

Biome #5

Photo Credit: U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service

Photo 5 Credit: U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service

Biome #6

Photo Credit: U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service

Photo 6 Credit: U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service



  1. Rank each of the biomes in the photographs from the one that appears to have the greatest variety of species to the one with the least variety.
  2. Rank each of the biomes in the photographs from the one you think has the greatest biomass per acre to the one with the least. Biomass is the total amount of living material in a given area.
Visit PioneerLibraryand search e-Media for the video: “Biomes: The Adaptation of Organisms"


Earth is in serious jeopardy. Soon the only inhabitable place will be the biosphere which you design and build. It must be able to hold eight people. The materials you need for expansion must be nearby. All conditions to support and feed these people must be within the biosphere. You must plan for at least a five year stay. The people who stay in your biosphere will be the only ones who will be able to pass knowledge onto the next generations, so you will need to consider what kind of skills and knowledge these people will need to have. Also consider how you will repair and maintain the vital systems within the biosphere, what people will be needed to research and solve problems before they get too serious and who can maintain the systems and keep them operating.

Your report must include a list of plants, animals and other organisms you will have in the biosphere as well as how much of each you will bring in (be careful to get organisms from all the different types of producers, consumers and decomposers).  Include drawings which give the dimensions and approximate size of your biosphere, including a floor plan and an outside drawing. Remember to include how to keep your biosphere clear of waste, how to supply fresh water and air and how to maintain your food supply.

Questions to answer:

  1. What will you eat? Where will you get your food?
  2. How much will you eat each day?
  3. What do you need to bring in, such as food or clothing?
  4. What will you breathe?
  5. Where will you sleep?
  6. What skills do you have? What skills will other members possess?

Assessment Rubric:

  • Drawing (30%): Should be detailed and easy to understand, including dimensions and materials, with specific areas and rooms of the biodome illustrated.
  • List of needs (40%): What are you bringing into the biodome, such as food, water, plants and animals. 
  • Members (20%): What skills do you possess? What skills are needed from other members of your group?
  • Appearance (10%): Is your list neat and easy to read? Is your drawing neat? Can someone easily tell what is what?
Review science lab safety rules here.

Get the plug-ins: Get Adobe Acrobat Reader and Get Quicktime Player. (The QuickTime plug-in is needed to play sounds and movies correctly.)

Want to share photos of you or your friends doing this activity? Send it in an e-mail with the following information:

  1. The title of the activity
  2. The URL (Internet address)
  3. Your name.

Remember that no pictures can be used that show student faces or student names on it. 

Teachers should view the Teacher Site Map to relate Sci-ber text and the USOE Earth Systems Science core.


Updated October 24, 2008 by: Glen Westbroek

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