EarthLabs > Climate and the Biosphere > Lab 4: Climate Patterns and Life > 4A: Introduction to Biomes

Climate and Biomes

Part A: Introduction to Biomes

Biomes are both climatically and geographically defined. Biomes are regions of Earth that have similar climates and other abiotic abiotic: physical factors or conditions that influence plant and animal life. (non-living) factors such as elevation, humidity, and soil type. No matter where they occur on the planet, biomes have similar types of vegetation and animal life, or ecological communities. In this lab, you will study the major types of terrestrial (land) biomes around the world and present one biome type to your classmates. You will also become familiar with a simple way to organize biomes by precipitation and temperature.

Biomes and climate patterns

Begin this lab by connecting biomes biomes: communities of plants and animals that are defined geographically and climatically. with climate patterns. Examine the interactive rollover map shown below and look for climate and biome patterns. While investigating the map, rollover the titles in the legend to to select regions, or groups of regions, one at a time. Look for patterns such as:

  • Do certain zones appear along coasts?
  • Are they in the interior of a continent?
  • Are they located north or south of the equator?

Use the map and legend to answer these questions and Checking In questions below the map.

This content is available in flash format only

Map Source: Produced by the COMET Program, UCAR. Used with Permission.

Checking In

  • In what general latitude bands, or sections of the map, are the deserts located?
    Generally the deserts are in the areas around just north and south of the equator. For example, there are significant deserts in Australia and Africa.
  • Where are the moist tropical climates located; do they seem to have a particular region within which they occur?
    They are more common in South America and Africa. Like the deserts, tropical climates form a band around the Earth. They are often found next to deserts.
  • Where do you find the severe winter (extremely cold) climates?
    They are located in the northern hemisphere, just south of the Polar regions. Both Canada and Russia have large regions that are cold and severe.
  • What climate zone do you live in? Where else does it occur?
    Answers will vary.
  • What other observations can you make about geographic climate distribution?
    Answers will vary.

Be sure to check out each of the following climate zones types on the map above. Relate them to the biome types, listed in parenthesis, below. (Note that some biome types exist in more than one climate zone. The alternatives are indicated by the parenthesis.)

  • Tropical Rainforest (Monsoon)
  • Arid Desert
  • Semi-arid desert (Savanna, Tropical Grassland)
  • Humid Sub-tropical (Temperate Forest)
  • Highland (Prairie, Steppe, Temperate Grassland)
  • Mediterranean (Chaparral, Shrubland)
  • Polar Tundra
  • Polar Ice Cap
  • Moist with Severe Winter, Sub Polar (Taiga, Boreal Forest)
  • Humid Continental (Coniferous Forest)

Become a biome expert

Now that you have an overview of the locations of the world's biomes, become an expert on one type of biome. Choose one type of biome from the list above. Research the detailed characteristics of the biome using the links below. As you are researching, locate the following information about your biome. Use the information to prepare a short (3-minute) report, video, or informational poster to share with the class.
  • Temperature: average (annual) and range
  • Precipitation: average (annual) and range
  • Vegetation type
  • Typical animals found in the biome
  • Climatograph of region
  • Geographic location of biome, give an example of a city, county, or state in the biome
  • Image of biome type

Biome Reference Links

Stop and Think

Prepare a chart on which you will record your data for your presentation. Then, as you observe your classmates presentations, take notes to complete the chart. Sample Biome Worksheet (Acrobat (PDF) 35kB Oct2 11) in PDF. (right-click or ctrl-click (Mac) to download the file to your desktop or documents folder)

Characterize biomes by temperature and precipitation

A simple way to organize biomes is by their climate (temperature and precipitation). A scientist by the name of Robert Harding Whittaker was the first to propose the scheme pictured to the left. This is one type of classification scheme that you will see in this lab. Carefully examine the graphic, left, especially note the temperature and precipitation scales. The temperature scale, given in degrees Celsius, is the average temperature for a typical year. The precipitation scale, in centimeters per year, is the average of the total precipitation for a typical year. For example, Phoenix, Arizona, a subtropical desert, has an average temperature of 29.2˚ C (84.6 ˚F) and receives an average of 21 cm (8.3 in) of rain per year. Click on the image for a larger view. Consider the advantages of organizing biome types in this manner.

Stop and Think

  1. Determine your home biome using the maps, graphics, and other resources listed here. List the name of the biome that you live in and then, using the Whittaker diagram, give the range of average annual temperature and precipitation that you would expect to find in your biome.
  2. Given a temperature and rainfall can you predict which biome type will be found? Use the graphic above, which characterizes biomes by climate patterns. Here are several examples to try:
    Average Annual Temperature: 15˚C / Average Annual Precipitation: 100 cm
    Average Annual Temperature: -10˚C / Average Annual Precipitation: 50 cm


Maps and graphics help to organize biome and climate characteristics, allowing us to see patterns in data. Using the Whittaker diagram, above, choose one biome and predict what you think would happen if:
  • Average temperature increased 5˚ C
  • Average precipitation decreased, or increased, 25 cm per year
Once you have considered the changes, share your thoughts and ideas with your class.

In the next lesson, you will put the biomes on a Google Earth globe and compare their general locations with observed temperature and precipitation data. As you are viewing the globe, keep in mind the ideas that you generated in this discussion.