Picture yourself riding across the desert in the 1800s, heading for California. You’re wearing a Stetson hat and it’s blazing hot outside. You step out of your covered wagon onto the sand and look around, blinking in the bright sun. What do you see?
If you’re like most people, it probably doesn’t look like much to you. Just low trees and scraggly shrubs for miles around.
But that’s where you’d be wrong. Because if you’re seeing these kinds of plants, what you’re looking at is probably chaparral: an area with mild winters, harsh, hot, and dry summers, and lots and lots of shrubs, or low trees. And while it might look like there’s nothing much there, what you’re looking at is actually a teeming, thriving community — even if you can’t see it all at first glance.
Communities in Nature
Humans can live in almost any part of the world. We can build houses and invent heating, or air conditioning, to make our lives more comfortable. We’re also omnivores, which means we can eat almost any type of food we find. These things make us different from most creatures on Earth.
Most plants and animals can only live in specific conditions — a certain temperature range, moisture level, variety of plant life, and more. Some plants and animals prefer to live in swamps; others thrive in the desert. If you take a desert creature and put it in the tundra, it’s not going to survive outside of its own “neighborhood.”
Scientists refer to these neighborhoods as biomes (pronounced “by-ome” or plural “by-omes”).
Biomes are geographic areas that contain a specific ecosystem. An ecosystem is an interconnected system of plants and animals living in a specific environment.
Think of a biome as a fish tank standing on your dresser. Inside the fish tank are fish, plants, and maybe some algae growing on the sides. Those are the ecosystem, all living and interacting inside the “fish tank biome.” The biggest difference is that you probably add food to the fish tank. In a real ecosystem, every single plant and animal finds what it needs entirely within its own biome.
You’ve probably heard of some biomes already. If you’re in a place with lakes, rivers, streams, and trees that lose their leaves in the winter, that’s a deciduous forest biome. If you’re in a place that’s mainly sandy and dry, with very few plants, you’re in a desert biome. (Deserts don’t have to be hot; in fact, part of Antarctica is considered a desert because it has few plants and low rainfall.)
You may not have heard of the biome called chaparral. One reason many people have never heard of it is that chaparral usually borders desert areas, and they share some plants and animals, including a variety of cacti and reptiles, like snakes, so people don’t realize it’s a unique ecosystem of its own.
(Excerpted from Mishpacha Jr., Issue 740)
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