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7 Types of Ecosystems (Terrestrial & Aquatic)

An ecosystem is a community of different species of living organisms and their physical environment. Different types of ecosystems can be found in all areas of the world, including terrestrial, freshwater, and marine environments.

Living organisms in an ecosystem interact with each other and with their physical environment to create balanced relationship. Everything living in the ecosystem plays a role in maintaining the balance.

Keep reading to learn more about types of ecosystems.

Types of Ecosystems

Ecosystems can be divided into two main categories: terrestrial and aquatic or land and water. Within those, there are a lot of different ecosystems.  Follow along and let’s explore different types of ecosystems.

Terrestrial Ecosystems

Terrestrial ecosystems exist on land and have many unique characteristics. Depending on their climate and environment, these different kinds of terrestrial ecosystems support a variety of life.

 1. Forest ecosystem

Black river state forest
Black river state forest | image by Joshua Mayer via Flickr | CC BY-SA 2.0

A forest ecosystem is typically made up of trees, shrubs, and other plants. The trees provide shelter and homes for animals, while the shrubs and other plants provide food.

The forest ecosystem is also home to many different types of insects, amphibians, reptiles, and mammals. All of these creatures receive and contribute something different from the forest ecosystem.

The climate of a forest ecosystem can vary depending on the location. In general, forests are found in areas with cool temperatures and high rainfall. However, there are some forests that are found in very hot or dry climates.

The soil in a forest ecosystem is also very important. The roots of the trees help to hold the soil in place and prevent erosion. The leaves of the trees also help to add nutrients to the soil as they decompose.

2. Desert ecosystem

Sahara desert
Sahara desert | image by Richard Allaway via Flickr | CC BY 2.0

Desert ecosystems are characterized by very little precipitation, high temperatures, and a lack of vegetation. Despite these harsh conditions, many plants and animals have adapted to life in the desert.

Deserts are dry, barren landscapes where only the hardiest of plants can survive. Animals that live in deserts must be able to withstand extreme heat and scarce resources.

Common desert plants include cacti, mesquite trees, and creosote bushes. These plants are able to store water for long periods of time and can withstand high temperatures.

Animals that live in desert ecosystems must be able to conserve water and find food and shelter. Some common desert animals include snakes, lizards, rats, kangaroo rats, bobcats, coyotes, and foxes.

Desert ecosystems are often threatened by human activity. Overgrazing by livestock can damage or destroy vegetation cover leaving the soil exposed to erosion from wind and rain.

3. Grassland ecosystem

Grassland landscape
A grassland landscape | image by Justin Meissen via Flickr | CC BY-SA 2.0

Grassland ecosystems are characterized by their dominant vegetation: grasses. Grasslands are found in locations where there is enough sunlight and rainfall to support the growth of grasses, but not enough to support the growth of trees.

There are two types of grassland ecosystems: temperate and tropical. Temperate grasslands are found in locations with cool summers and cold winters, while tropical grasslands are found in locations with warm summers and mild winters.

Grassland ecosystems are home to a variety of animals, including rabbits, deer, and bison. The grasses in these ecosystems provide food and shelter for these animals.

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Grassland ecosystems are threatened by a number of human activities, including agriculture, development, and pollution. These activities can result in the destruction of grassland habitats and the loss of biodiversity.

4. Tundra ecosystem

Mountains covered with snow
Mountains covered with snow | image by Calmuziclover via Flickr | CC BY 2.0

Tundra ecosystems are characterized by a unique combination of abiotic factors, including low temperatures, high winds, and very little precipitation. These harsh conditions result in an ecosystem that is home to a limited number of hardy species of plants and animals.

The tundra is divided into two main types: arctic tundra and alpine tundra. Arctic tundra is found in the northernmost regions of the world, near the Arctic Circle.

This type of tundra has permanently frozen ground (permafrost), which limits the growth of trees. Alpine tundra is found at high elevations in mountain ranges around the world.

Unlike arctic tundra, alpine tundra does not have permafrost; however, it shares many other characteristics with arctic tundra, including low temperatures and little precipitation.

Despite the harsh conditions of the tundra, it is teeming with life. Plants such as mosses, lichens, shrubs, and grasses grow in the tundra. These plants are well-adapted to the cold and dry conditions of the tundra.

For example, many plants have shallow root systems that help them anchor to the ground in high winds. Animals such as caribou, musk oxen, Arctic hares, and foxes are adapted to the tundra.

Aquatic Ecosystems

There are two main types of aquatic ecosystem: freshwater and saltwater, also called marine. Freshwater ecosystems are found in rivers, lakes, ponds and wetlands. Saltwater ecosystems are found in the ocean.

5. Saltwater ecosystem

Everglades national park
Everglades national park | image by Matthew Dillon via Flickr | CC BY 2.0

Saltwater ecosystems are home to a wide variety of plants and animals. The salt content in the water can vary from very salty (like the ocean) to only slightly salty (like a brackish estuary).

Some common plants that live in saltwater ecosystems include seagrasses, mangroves, and kelp. Animals that call these ecosystems home include fish, crabs, shrimp, and lobsters.

The physical conditions in saltwater ecosystems can be quite variable. For example, some areas may be very deep while others are shallow. The amount of sunlight that penetrates the water can also vary depending on the depth and clarity of the water.

The temperature in saltwater ecosystems can also range from very cold like in polar regions to quite warm like in tropical coral reefs. Coral reefs are an excellent example of a lively saltwater ecosystem.

6. Freshwater ecosystems

Lake with conifers
Lake with conifers | Image by David Mark from Pixabay

Freshwater ecosystems include rivers, ponds, and lakes. They are home to many different types of plants and animals. Fish, amphibians, reptiles, and mammals all live in freshwater ecosystems.

Freshwater ecosystems are important for the planet because they help to purify water and provide homes for many different species of plants and animals. Wetland ecosystems are habitats where the land is covered by water. Swamps, bogs, and marshes are all examples of these freshwater ecosystems.

Estuaries also form unique ecosystems where freshwater and saltwater meet. Plants and animals adapted to this kind of ecosystem can survive the harsh water conditions.

7. Brackish water ecosystems

Brackish water is a mixture of salt water and fresh water. This type of aquatic ecosystem occurs in estuaries and inlets where the ocean meets a river or other body of fresh water. This unique environment attracts a variety of life.

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In these ecosystems a number of species can be found. Some examples are manatees, crocodiles, alligators, marsh birds, an assortment of crustaceans, and more. Some shark species enjoying this salty mix of water. There have been reports of bull sharks that have been reported swimming hundreds of miles up the Mississippi River into the continental United States.

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