McNaughton, Samuel J. Department of Biology, Syracuse University, Syracuse, New York.
Last reviewed:September 2021
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- Principal organisms
- Energy and chemical flow
- Biome types
- Related Primary Literature
- Additional Reading
A community of organisms and their environment that occurs on the land masses of continents and islands. Terrestrial ecosystems are land-based communities of organisms interacting with biotic and abiotic elements in a given environment or area. When terrestrial ecosystems cover large areas with similar life forms or morphological features under similar environmental conditions, the ecosystems are often termed biomes or major life zones (see illustration). Terrestrial ecosystems are distinguished from aquatic ecosystems by the lower availability of water and the consequent importance of water as a limiting factor. In contrast to aquatic ecosystems, terrestrial ecosystems in similar climates are characterized by greater temperature fluctuations on both a diurnal basis and a seasonal basis because water (in comparison to the atmosphere) has a high specific heat, a high heat of vaporization, and a high heat of fusion, which are features that tend to ameliorate thermal fluctuations. The availability of light is greater in terrestrial ecosystems than in aquatic ecosystems because the atmosphere is more transparent than water. Gases are more available in terrestrial ecosystems than in aquatic ecosystems. Those gases include carbon dioxide that serves as a substrate for photosynthesis, oxygen that serves as a substrate in aerobic respiration, and nitrogen that serves as a substrate for nitrogen fixation. Terrestrial environments are segmented into a subterranean portion from which most water and ions can be obtained and an atmospheric portion from which gases can be obtained and where the physical energy of light can be transformed into the organic energy of carbon-carbon bonds through the process of photosynthesis. See also: Biome; Carbon dioxide; Ecological community; Ecology; Ecosystem; Environment; Life zones; Nitrogen; Nitrogen fixation; Oxygen; Photosynthesis; Respiration; Water
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