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Habitat descriptions


Trees are generally absent from tundra but mosses, lichens and grasses are abundant. Large areas of permafrost (permanent ice) lie under this vegetation encouraging water logging. Tundra has a low annual rainfall and snow is prominent through the intense winter. During the short summer plant life grows very quickly, and migratory birds arrive to breed.

Northern coniferous forest (Boreal, Taiga) e.g. Canada and N.Russia

This habitat is dominated by conifer trees, especially spruce and firs but also contains bogs, marshes and lakes. The winters are long and temperatures can get as low as -25oC. Many resident animals hibernate during this harsh period and migratory birds head south.

Mountains e.g. South American Andes, and Virungas, Rwanda

Within many of the world’s habitats conditions don’t vary much. The exceptions to this are mountainous habitats where temperatures drop 1 oC for every 200m ascended. The air also becomes thinner and less oxygen is available. As a result of this, mountain habitats contain levels that have differing plant and animal life. Temperate mountains have tundra-like conditions at high altitudes, yet may have temperate grasslands or forests at low altitudes.

Desert e.g. Sahara, N.Africa

A desert is defined by its lack of water and will typically receive up to 15cm of rainfall a year, with semi-desert receiving up to 40cm. There is sparse vegetation with only the hardy water-storing plants such as cacti thriving. Many desert animals burrow to escape the intense heat of the sun, and most are nocturnal in their habits as it is generally a lot cooler at night. Deserts can be stony, rocky or sandy.

Tropical rainforest e.g. Congo Basin, C.Africa

Tropical rainforests are found in areas on or around the equator. This type of habitat has been around for a very long time, which is the reason why rainforests contain a huge range of species (rainforests surpass all other land habitats when it comes to species diversity). Most of the plants are evergreen and the trees are usually tall, blocking a lot of light out from the forest floor. There is a high amount of rainfall (125cm-660cm) that occurs all year round. The temperature range for rainforests is between 25 oC and 35 oC and the humidity levels are high.

Tropical grassland (plains) e.g. Masai Mara, E.Africa

This habitat is sparsely covered by trees and shrubs with the dominant vegetation being grasses. The temperature is generally mild all year round and 50cm of rain falls in the short wet season. This encourages the rapid growth of grasses, which provide grazing animals with a good supply of food, but little shelter.

Temperate rainforest e.g. Olympic Peninsular, N.America

These habitats are present where high annual rainfall is combined with a temperate climate. This is not a common habitat and although it doesn’t have the level of diversity that tropical rainforests have, many different species live here. They occur where west-facing mountains intercept moist air coming from the sea. These rainforests are not as old as tropical rainforests.

Temperate grassland (Prairies)

These areas are usually located inland, away from moist sea winds. The summers can be warm but the winters can be long and cold. Grasses are the dominant vegetation in this habitat. This type of grassland can survive fire, grazing and drought as they recover quickly using the reserves in a vast underground root system. Animals time their births to coincide with the spring so there is plenty of food available.

Coasts e.g. Slapton Sands, U.K

This is a constantly changing habitat with different factors affecting it. The waves break up rock and stone into smaller pieces. The coastal currents move sand and silt up or down the coastline. The tides gradually mould the seascape with a twice-daily tide. Many animals that live in the ocean may use the coast at different times in their life. Coasts have different zones with differing wildlife. Coral reefs and mangroves are types of coastal habitat.

Ocean e.g. Atlantic Ocean

This is the largest continuous habitat on the planet, covering three quarters of the earth’s surface. Away from the coasts, the open ocean can reach depths of seven miles. There are underwater mountains, cliffs and volcanoes. Light can only penetrate 250m, so little plant life grows below this depth.

Fresh water e.g. Pantanal, Brazil

Of all the water on the planet just one percent is fresh water. It can be found in a variety of areas from lakes, ponds and rivers to reed beds, marshes and swamps. This habitat can be found in all of the world’s habitats and all life needs fresh water to survive. Some areas of fresh water are seasonal and are only created during wet seasons.

Mangrove e.g. Langkawi, Malaysia

Found in and around the tropics, mangroves occur in coastal areas where rivers meet the sea. The roots of mangrove vegetation are huge and they are seen above the mud in which they are anchored. The roots draw oxygen straight from the air because the mud is oxygen deficient.

Coral reef e.g. Great Barrier Reef, Australia

This is a special type of coastal habitat. Coral reefs are often referred to as the tropical forests of the sea as they contain and support a huge range of species. They require warm water and year-round sun to survive, and as such they are generally found in the tropics.

Urban e.g. Bangkok, Thailand

Fifty percent of the human population live in the areas that can be classed as urban. Urban areas are characterised by buildings, roads and other artificial structures. The growth in urban areas has altered many different naturally occurring habitats and has created artificial habitats where some animals thrive. Basements in houses for example can provide homes for countless invertebrates, reptiles and mammals in some parts of the world.

Scrub forest (Chapparal) e.g. Cape region, South Africa

Generally found in warm coastal regions that receive cold ocean currents of the world, scrub forest is characterised by having mild and wet winters and dry summers. Much of the vegetation in scrub forests is drought-resistant and become dormant in the summer. Scrub forests are a mosaic of shrubs and woodland.

Tropical dry forest e.g. Western Madagascar

Not all tropical forests are rainforests. Tropical dry forests experience seasons in which the deciduous trees are lush and green in the wet season and shed their leaves in the dry season. Most animals are born to coincide with the start of the wet season so that there is plenty for them to eat.

Temperate forest e.g. Carpathian Mountains, Slovakia

Many temperate forests are made up of deciduous trees which shed their leaves each autumn and grow new ones in the spring. Winters can be harsh but the summers are usually quite mild. The trees are not as tall as trees from tropical rainforests, but they allow lots of light through to the forest floor. Leaves rot slower in the cooler climate so a temperate forest often has a deep leaf litter in which lots of invertebrate live, which in turn encourages lots of birds.

Are you a teacher? If you would like your group to find out more then come to Bristol Zoo Gardens for education sessions on habitats for Key Stage 1 or 2, adaptation for Key Stage 3 or 4, or adaptation for post-16 .