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Ecosystems and Biological Communities

In what eco-region is your backyard situated?
What members of that region's biological community currently live in your yard?
Which are missing?
What ecosystems are represented in your backyard?

Mixed conifers of southwestern Oregon, photo by Dave Powell, USDA Forest Service

Water, geology, and climate have worked together for millions of years to create conditions in which biological communities or ecosystems have evolved. At the broadest geographical level, biomes are regions like tundra, desert, or forest that have characteristic plant and animal groups adapted to that general environment. Ecoregions are distinct geographical areas within biomes like the Yukon River delta, a desert plateau, or the Kittatinny Ridge.

Your area’s ecoregion is made up of biological communities that interact with each other and the physical environment in a tapestry of ecosystems. These ecosystems may be small like a rotting log or enormous like an entire coral reef. Billions of diverse organisms from miniscule bacteria to towering trees have long shared the area that you call your backyard. In recent centuries human activity has also influenced these congregations. It's important to think about these regions and systems both as they existed (and in a few places still exist) before the influence of human beings as well as with human activity of yesterday, today, and tomorrow.

A key element to learning your ecological address is to determine in which ecoregion you live. Discover what birds and other wildlife, insects, and plants should live and interact in the ecoregion that encompasses your home. Once you’ve identified and learned something about this natural habitat, you can look at the organisms one group at a time. Which plants in your yard are local natives. Which birds are year-round residents and which are migrants. What rarely seen wildlife visit your yard at night? What are the beneficial bugs that occur in your yard? Think about the ecosystems at work in your yard. How do creatures and plants interact with one another and the physical world there? There are a multitude of questions such as these that you can explore. But finally – and perhaps most important – what’s missing? … and what can you do about it?


Natural Resources Conservation Service
State offices (for inquiries regarding local habitat)

USDA Forest Service
Ecosystem Provinces

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
Ecosystem Unit Name (broad)

The Blue Planet Biome
Excellent information about world biomes…and more.

The Environmental Literacy Council
Resources regarding ecosystems

Public Broadcasting Service (PBS)
Earth on the Edge

Great information and a vast list of other resources

University of California, Berkeley
Museum of Paleontology
World Biomes

World Wildlife Fund
World bioregions map


General Ecological Information about your Backyard

Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)
EnviroMapper Store Front

Federal, state, and local information about environmental conditions and features in an area of your choice