On a political map of the world, Earth is divided into countries, of which there are almost 200. But nature, of course, knows no national boundaries, and therefore the natural divisions of the planet are quite different from those agreed upon by humans. While continents are a useful concept to geographers and earth scientists, in the worlds of biology, ecology, and biogeography, the concept of a biome makes much more sense. There are more than a dozen basic terrestrial and aquatic biomes or ecosystems, including boreal coniferous forests, deserts, tundra, and underwater environments. Each is a distinct "world" unto itself, with characteristic forms of plant life as well as animal species that congregate around the plants for food or shelter or both. Combined with these features of the biological community are aspects of the inorganic realm that likewise define a biome, for instance, climate and the availability of water.

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