Ecosystem Examples: From Rainforest To Tundra

Ecosystem examples range from the frigid tundra of Antarctica to tropical rainforests of Costa Rica to your home garden. Each ecosystem varies by light, water, sun exposure, soil, plants, insects, and animals that make up its unique biome. Below we cover the major ecosystems and what makes each one unique.

The ecosystems on Earth are varied and depends on many factors including temperature, location, and composition. From rainforests to tundras, ecosystems serve as natural boundaries that define the different parts of our planet.

We use ecosystems as a tool to study and understand biodiversity, land diversity, and how to best conserve these areas from further degradation.

Ecosystems are defined by the living and non-living parts that compose a particular area.  These areas are not always clearly distinct and in some cases even blur together as the component parts of an ecosystem moves. In general, there are six distinctive ecosystems that define the areas of the Earth.

These ecosystems are forests, deserts, grasslands, tundras, marine, and freshwater. Many of these ecosystems can be further broken down into component parts, but for now, we will look at them as is. It is possible to consider estuaries as an ecosystem, but that is debated because these regions are essentially a blend of both marine and freshwater ecosystem components.

The ariel environment is another potential ecosystem, but generally, it is dismissed as such. This sort of environment is too varied and interacts with all other ecosystems so it cannot be clearly defined for research purposes.

To understand these many ecosystems, we can use examples that are part of these systems to get a better picture of how and why these defined areas are important to consider.


Forest ecosystems are generally defined as large areas of trees that dominate in a region. The temperature and/or elevation aids in defining what kinds of trees compose a region, but they are forests nonetheless.

The Amazon rainforest is perhaps the most famous of all forests as it is within the mainstream quite a lot. It is a tropical rainforest known for its high moisture and temperatures. Representing half of the planets remaining rainforests, the Amazon is the largest rainforest on Earth and represents a treasure trove of biodiversity.

It is likely to have formed over 30 million years ago and now contains millions of different and distinct species. There are around 16,000 tree species, 40,000 plant species, and millions of insect species.


Deserts are generally areas that receive very low levels of precipitation annually, which serves to define it as a desert instead of temperature. The temperature in a desert can vary from high to very low.

The Great Basin Desert is the largest desert in the United States as it covers around 190,000 square miles. The Desert includes most of Nevada, the western and southern parts of Utah, parts of Idaho, and a corner of Oregon.

Its exact boundaries are not clear as some have also considered parts of Colorado and Wyoming to be apart of the desert. Also, the Mojave desert is sometimes considered an extension of the Great Basin desert.


Grasslands are ecosystems defined by grass and are open areas with little coverage compared to a forest. The Canterbury-Otago tussock grassland is one such ecosystem that is thought to have been a forest before it became a grassland.

Located in South Island, New Zealand, the tussock grassland is now used primarily for grazing of livestock and has become resistant to fires and drought. Many of the endemic species have been driven out in favor of introduced pasture grasses. Continued grazing, introducing of outside species, and urban development all pose a threat to the stability of this grassland.


Tundras are ecosystems found in cold regions composed of frozen subsurface dirt and permafrost. The Arctic foothills tundra is located far north in North America. It extends into parts of Canada’s Yukon Territory and Alaska.

The Arctic foothill tundra is covered in permafrost and maintains temperatures below freezing annually. Despite the cold, there is still biodiversity in this region. Different shrubs and berries can be found throughout the area. There are peregrine falcons and other birds in the area. Also, moose and bears have also been found in the region.


Marine ecosystems are aquatic environments known for their salt content. This means that all the oceans around the world, which can also be considered a single ocean as they connect, are marine ecosystems. Given the size of the oceans, marine ecosystems have the most biodiversity among all other ecosystems.

The Pacific Ocean is the largest of the oceans known for, among many other things, the ring of fire. The ring of fire is a geologically active region that is evident by numerous volcanic activity. The Pacific Ocean is home to the Mariana Trench, which is considered the deepest point in the world.

It is home to numerous aquatic species, which has also made it a major fishing area for commercial fisheries. Like the other oceans, it is under threat due to climate change and other anthropogenic problems.


Freshwater ecosystems are defined by their low salt contents, which includes things like lakes and rivers. The Great Lakes are a series of interconnected lakes along the border of the United States and Canada. The great lakes are Lake Superior (the largest of the five), Lake Michigan, Lake Huron, Lake Ontario, and Lake Erie.

These five lakes are freshwater lakes that have sea-like characteristics, including waves, sustained winds, and great currents. As a result, they are sometimes considered inland-seas. Besides being the largest among the five lakes, Lake Superior is also the second largest lake in the world, second only to the Caspian Sea.

Freshwater systems, like rivers, will eventually run into the ocean (marine ecosystem) and this meeting of the two ecosystems create a potential third aquatic ecosystem: Estuaries. For instance, the Delaware Bay is the estuary of the Delaware River.

There are many other examples of regions that can be given to further break down each major ecosystem into lesser ecosystems because that is generally how science operates. This breakdown gives us more precise information into the components of regions, which we can use for a variety of efforts, including conservation and animal migration.