Ecosystems have the following subdivision:
Map of described ecosystems
Definitions of words ecosystem and biotope are somewhat ethereal and elusive.
Antelope Valley California Poppy Reserve, one of most unique ecosystems in United States.
Rennett Stowe, Flickr / CC BY 2.0
Biotope is rather small area with uniform environmental conditions and specific community of life. For years there is ongoing identification and classification of biotopes and their aggregations with hundreds of them listed around the world.
From one side - this brings in some order, for example, lays foundation for proper planning of nature conservation areas. From the other side - too often nature does not fit in classification systems - at some moment every single corner seems to be a biotope on its own.
In Wondermondo we can freely set these worries aside. Here are examined those biotopes and ecosystems which ARE unique and should be conserved (often - with some management such as grazing).
Here are described those unique ecosystems and biotopes which:
- have striking, unusual looks. Good example is stand of Dragon's Blood Trees - Rokeb di Firmihin (Yemen). Most people don't imagine that something like this is possible on Earth.
- just look unusually beautiful, for example the endless sea of flowers in Skilpad Wild Flower Reserve (South Africa).
- are located in unusual place. Example: northernmost forests in the world (Ary-Mas and Lukunsky grove in Russia) are in the middle of endless tundra.
- are shaped by unique processes. Lake Vostok in Antarctica is oversaturated with oxygen which in low temperatures and under high pressure most likely serves as a habitat for yet unknown organisms to be discovered somewhere in future.
- contain unusually high number of endemic species - found only here. Thus mere 240 metres long Movile Cave (Romania) contains 33 species found nowhere else on Earth.
- contain large number of representatives of very rare species. The small Aldabra is virtually dominated by Aldabra Giant Tortoise and this animal actively shapes the ecosystem of island.
- are unique in some other way.
The sight of the gathering of countless penguins or antelopes is very fascinating and intriguing. There are locations in the world where such gatherings are permanent or regular - and location with intriguing sights belongs to landmarks.
Wondermondo places animal colonies as a separate subcategory under ecosystems.
Wondermondo is proud to introduce to a list which is something unique by itself - a list of 66 unique and unusual biotopes of the world. As always, this list is not exhaustive and any interested person would add here biotopes to his own likings. But biotopes listed below are by no means unique:
- Madeiran laurisilva - Portugal, Madeira. Unique, circa 150 km2 large subtropical humid forest, remnant of once widespread forests. The most impressive subtropical forest in Europe, contains circa 600 endemic species of plants and animals.
- Movile Cave - Romania, Constanţa County. Unique cave ecosystem consisting of 48 species. 33 species are found only in this cave.
- Stora Alvaret - Sweden, Kalmar County, Öland. The largest (260 km2) alvar - limestone barren - in Europe. Contains unique plant communities, including some of the northernmost restricted endemic plants - Oland Wormwod (Artemisia oelandica (Besser) Krasch.).
- Sistem Postojna-Planina - Slovenia, Notranjsko-kraška. Circa 25 km long cave system, recognized as the most biodiverse cave system in the world with 84 species of animals (mostly insects).
- Ary-Mas and Lukunsky grove - Russia, Krasnoyarsk Krai, Taymir Peninsula. Northernmost forests in the world, consist of low stands of Dahurian larch (Larix gmelinii (Rupr.) Rupr.). Lukunskij forest grows up to 72°31' latitude.
- Cedars of God - Lebanon, North Governorate. Prominent, 102 ha large remnant of cedar forests which once covered large area in region. Consists of especially large and beautiful cedars of Lebanon (Cedrus libani A.Rich.) up to 35 metres tall and 14 metres in circumference. Since 1876 surrounded by a wall.
- Knuckles Range - Sri Lanka, Central Province. Biodiversity super-hotspot. Small mountain range (circa 200 km2) contains numerous nearly intact biotopes, including extremely rich cloud forests. Numerous relict species of plants and animals found nowhere else on Earth. Contains also the unique Pitawala Parana - natural grassland circa 10 ha large with two endemic species.
- Samur River Delta - Russia, Republic of Dagestan. Relict stand of subtropical vegetation in othervise arid region. Contains remnants of broadleaved forest rich with lians.
- Rokeb di Firmihin - Yemen, Socotra. The best stand of some of the most unusual looking trees in the world - Dragon's Blood Tree (Dracaena cinnabari Balf.f.).
- Valley of Flowers - India, Uttarakhand. High-altitude Himalayan valley with beautiful meadows of alpine flowers complemented by beautiful views on surrounding mountains. Mass flowering starts in early spring and lasts up to September. Known in Hindu mithology since ancient times, inhabited by fairies according to local legends.
- Aldabra - Seychelles, Aldabra Atoll. Second largest atoll in the world, area 155.4 km2. Contains world's largest population of giant tortoises - Aldabra Giant Tortoise (Dipsochelys dussumieri) consisting of some 152,000 tortoises. Tortoises have created unique biotope with numerous endemic plant and animal species, including endemic birds.
- Avenue of the Baobabs - Madagascar, Menabe. Beautiful alignment of Madagascaran baobabs Adansonia grandidieri Baillon. A group of stout, majestic, up to 30 metres high baobabs are located around a dirt road, creating a unique landscape. Landscape is not natural - initially the circa 800 years old trees were growing in a dense forest which has been cleared away.
- Chirinda Forest - Zimbabwe, Manicaland. 606 ha large stand of moist montane tropical forest (at the height of 1,100 - 1,250 metres), southernmost African tropical rainforest. Contains numerous endemic species and enormous trees. Here grows also the Big Tree - circa 65 metres high and 4.5 metres stout (diameter) African Mahogany (Khaya anthotheca).
- Dendrosenecio woodlands on Mt. Kilimanjaro - Tanzania, Kilimanjaro. Just below the snow line of Mt. Kilimanjaro there begin stands of highly unusual, up to 10 metres high plants, endemic to Mt. Kilimanjaro.
- Diana's Peak National Park - Saint Helena Island. One of the last remnants of natural St.Helena tree fern thicket - unique biotope formed over millions of years on one of the most isolated islands of the world. Contains numerous endemic plant and animal species, including interesting tree species.
- Fairy rings in Hartmann's Valley and Fairy rings in Giribes Plains - Namibia, Kunene Region, Kaokoland. Largest of the mysterious fairy rings of Namib desert. Slightly concave, round areas without any vegetation, around the rim of fairy rings a ring taller plants. In spite of several investigations no explanation for this phenomenon has been found, although one likely explanation is activity of termites.
- Giant groundsel forests on Mt. Kenya - Kenya, Eastern Province. Afro-alpine zone of the mountain (just below the snow line) contains unique stands of unusual plant - up to 8 metres high Dendrosenecio keniodendron ((R.E.Fr. & T.C.E.Fr.) B.Nord.) which has evolved special form for survival in harsh montane conditions. Numerous other endemic species of plants and animals.
- Harenna Forest - Ethiopia, Oromiya. Unique montane forest, little explored but as far is it known - one of the most biodiverse areas in the region. Receives more rain than most areas around as it is located on enormous southwest-facing slope. Contains natural groves of high quality coffee.
- Knervslakte – South Africa, Western Cape. Hilly, arid terrain (48,500 ha), ground covered with quartz gravel. High level of endemism, 266 plant species are found only here. Especially interesting and diverse are the unique stoneplants – tiny succulents up to 10 cm high. Area of unusual beauty during the bloom of succulents.
- Kubu Island - Botswana, Central District. Circa 1 km long and up to 20 metres high granitic island in the middle of vast Makgadikgadi Plains - giant salt flats. Area of eerie, unusual beauty, adorned with a group of giant baobabs. Remnants of prehistoric structures - large stone wall and hundreds of circular stone cairns.
- Baobab stands in Mangoki Valley - Madagascar, Fianarantsoa Province. Possibly largest concentration of baobabs in the world, beautiful stands of Grandidier's baobabs (Adansonia grandidieri Baillon). Trunks of the largest trees reach 7 metres in diameter.
- Modjadji Cycad Forest – South Africa, Limpopo Province. Largest cycad (Encephalartos transvenosus) forest in the world (560 ha), resembles a prehistoric world, area of unusual beauty. Some cycads reach 13 metres height. Closely connected to the history of local, legendary Rain Queens.
- Skilpad Wild Flower Reserve – South Africa, Northern Cape. The 1000 hectare reserve is one of the best places to observe the beautiful floral carpets characteristic to Namakwaland. Every year from August to October the area is covered with colourful, mainly orange floral carpet.
- Vallée de Mai - Seychelles, central part of the Island of Praslin. Relict of Gondwana, unique palm forest which contains six endemic species of palms including Coco de Mer (Lodoicea maldivica) having the largest seeds of any plant in the world, up to 42 kg heavy.
- Lake Alchichica - Mexico, Puebla. Unique maar lake with high level of endemism, especially noted due to rare stromatolites met only in few locations around the world. Endemic salamander and fish. Renovned location of unusual experiences such as UFO sightings, lights in the lake.
- Antelope Valley California Poppy Reserve - United States, California. High desert environment, area of the richest and most consistent flowering of California poppy (Eschscholzia californica Cham.).
- Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest - United States, California. Grove of Great Basin Bristlecone Pine (Pinus longaeva D.K.Bailey), contains oldest known individual trees in the world, more than 4,750 years old.
- Athabasca Sand Dunes - Canada, Saskatchewan. Unique geophysical feature - largest inland sand dune massif in the world, 100 kilometres long. Sand dunes reach up to 300 metres height. Contains 9 endemic plant species what is unique for a location that far north.
- Black Hole of Andros - Bahamas, South Andros. Flooded sinkhole with a layer of violet jelly layer of bacteria at 18 metres depth. Microorganisms have heated the water up to 40 degrees C°.
- Bracken Bat Cave - Texas, United States. Largest bat-colony and largest colony of mammals in the world. In the cave are living circa 20 million Mexican free-tailed bats (Tadarida brasiliensis I.Geoffroy).
- Cocos Island - Costa Rica, Puntarenas. This small (240 km2) island is covered with lush rainforest, with hundreds of endemic plant and animal species.
- Cuatrociénegas Valley - Mexico, Coahuila. Unusual part of Chihuahua desert with thousands of geothermal spring pools. Extremely high biodiversity including more than 70 endemic species not found outside this valley. Most unique are stromatolites in spring lakes, endemic plants in gypsum dunes, fishes in lakes.
- Giant Forest - United States, California. Unique forest with stands of giant sequoia trees (Sequoiadendron giganteum (Lindl.) J.Buchh.) - the largest trees in world. This is the easiest to access sequoia grove but also contains the largest trees - five of the ten largest trees on Earth are located in this grove. Area - 7.6 km2.
- Lost Horse Valley - United States, California, Joshua Tree National Park. Best grove of Joshua Tree (Yucca brevifolia Engelm.) - visually impressive plant.
- Poza Seca - Mexico, Tamaulipas. Unique travertine capped sinkhole: formerly open sinkhole has sealed itself with a limestone lid. Most likely it hides unknown life forms, not investigated.
- Saguaro National Park, West - United States, Arizona. One of the best locations to see the unique saguaro cactus (Carnegia gigantea Britton & Rose) stands with thousands of these giant cacti. Biologically one of the most diverse deserts in the world.
- Forest on Robinson Crusoe Island - Chile, Valparaíso. Unique forest where all the species of trees are endemic - not met anywhere else in the world. 132 endemic species of plants and several hundred species of endemic insects. Area of very high scientific importance.
- Wax palms of Cocora Valley - Colombia, Quindío. The highest palms Ceroxylon quindiuense (Karsten) in the world. Although the measured height is 43 metres, it is told that these extremely slender palms can reach a height of 60 m, some sources mention even 80 m! This palm grows in mountains up to 3,500 m high - this also is a record for palms.
- Incahuasi Island (Fish Island) - Bolivia, Potosí Department. Unusual monument of nature - 25 ha large stony island in the middle of Salar de Uyuni - the largest salt flat in the world. Island is covered with a grove of gigantic cacti Echinopsis atacamensis ssp. pasacana (F. A. C. Weber), what together with the surrounding unusual landscape creates eerie sight.
- Lagoa Salgada - Brazil, Rio de Janeiro. Hypersaline lagoon with unique columnar carbonate stromatolites - natural formations by 19 species of cyanobacteria.
- Monte de Ombúes - Uruguay, Rocha Department. Possibly the largest and most spectacular forest of the unique ombú tree (Phitolacca dioica L.) - herb of tree like form, reaching circumference of 15 metres. For most part ombú is solitary tree, but here it forms 20 km² large stand.
- Cerro Autana - Venezuela, Bolivar. This spectacular tepui (local table-top mountain) has up to 900 metres high, abrupt walls with a summit one kilometre long and 200 - 350 metres wide. This small summit area is covered with diverse biotopes containing 8 endemic species not seen outside this small platform.
- Sima Humboldt and Sima Martel - Venezuela, Bolivar. 314 and 248 metres deep, ancient quartzite sinkholes located on the top of forested table-top mountains and containing patches of isolated, primeval rainforest on their bottoms.
Australia and Oceania
- Christmas Island subtropical forest - Australia, Christmas Island. Island covered with tropical rainforest with numerous endemic species of plants and animals. Unique due to some 50 - 100 million red crabs (Gecarcoidea natalis Pocock) - dominant species, clearing the forest floor of leaves and other organic matter.
- The Daintree Rainforest – Australia, Queensland. Possibly the oldest rainforest in the world, growing 135 million years. Largest continuous rainforest in Australia, 1,200 square kilometres large, extremely high biodiversity. Contains unique, endemic primitive flowering plants.
- Elizabeth Springs – Australia, Queensland. Remote springs in arid region, where over the last 1.8 million years has developed a unique ecosystem with endemic species, such as a fish – Eliabeth Springs goby (Chlamydogobius micropterus Larson), snail etc.
- Fraser Island – Australia, Queensland. Largest sand island in the world, 1,840 square kilometres. Contains dunes up to 24 metres high, tall rainforest growing at elevations up to 200 metres, unique ‘vallum’ heaths and more than 100 unique, crystal clear dune lakes retained in the sand by organic matter deposits.
- Haleakalā silversword grove - United States, Hawaii, Maui. This unusual plant grows only in alpine desert on the top of Haleakalā volcano. Unusual succulent plant grows up to 2 metres high if counted the tall flower stalk.
- Jellyfish Lake (Ongeim'l Tketau) - Palau, Eil Malk in Rock Islands. Unique marine lake, has underground connection to the sea. Stratified in two layers which do not mix. Isolated from the sea 12,000 years and contains a distinct population of two species of jellyfish - endemic Mastigias sp. and most likely endemic Aurelia sp. Millions of these jellyfishes make strict daily migration around the lake. Several more similar lakes in nearby islands but Jellyfish Lake is the only one open to tourists.
- Lord Howe Island – Australia. This remote, 56 square kilometres large Australian island has its own ecoregion where half of plants and some birds and other animals are endemic. Unique characteristics is diverse glowing mushrooms in the forest, some bright enough to be used for reading in night. Endemic kentia palms are popular, beautiful houseplants.
- Mount Bosavi crater - Papua New Guinea, Southern Highlands Province. Crater in extinct volcano, some 4 km wide and 1 km deep. In 2009 here were discovered 40 new, endemic species, including 82 cm long Bosavi Wooly Rat.
- Nihoa Island - United States, Hawaii. 70 ha large island with its own palm, several endemic bird species, flowers and giant crickets.
- Palm Valley – Australia, Northern Territory, near Alice Springs. Relict of the tropical past of Central Australia in the middle of enormous desert, contains grove of endemic palm Livistona mariae F.Muell. and other rare plants. Ecosystem is fed by spring water.
- Tiae dry forest - New Caledonia, Northern Province, near Pouembout. One of the last remaining stands of New Caledonian dry forest, also one of the last stands of one of the most beautiful flowering plants - Ixora margaretae ((Hallé) Mouly & B.Bremer), known also as Captaincookia margaretae Hallé.
- Tree heath south of Freycinet Estuary – Western Australia, Shark Bay. Unique biotope with at least 51 endemic species.
- Vailulu'u Eel City and Moat of Death - American Samoa, Nafanua volcano. Group of hydrothermal vents inhabited by numerous eels (Dysommina rugosa). This is unusual - in general vertebrates do not live near hydrothermal vents.
- Wooramel Seagrass Bank – Western Australia, Shark Bay. Largest seagrass grove in the world, covers 1,030 square kilometres.
- Geothermal areas of Cryptogam Ridge - Antarctica. Here geothermal heat has been keeping ice-free areas of soil. Over the time in this isolated area have developed endemic species of microorganisms, as well as mosses and liverworts.
- Lake Vostok - Antarctica. Largest subglacial lake in Antarctica, similar in size to Lake Ontario, up to 1 kilometre deep, with area 15,000 km2. Lake water is oversaturated with oxygen, exceeding the level of oxygen in ordinary freshwater lakes 50 times. Lake has been frozen for half a million years at least and here most likely has been developed unique habitat of microorganisms. This habitat has not been reached and investigated yet.
- Penguin colony of Lusitania Bay - Australia, Macquarie Island. This subantarctic island has several endemic plant and animal species and unusually looking biotopes of megaherbs. But especially impressive is the giant colony of royal penguins (Eudyptes schlegeli Finsch.) - the island is the only known breeding ground of these beautiful birds. Lusitania Bay colony recently has been fully occupied and penguins are coming to other parts of island as well. In total it is estimated that there are 0.5 - 3 million penguins breeding in this island.
- Kairei hydrothermal vents - Indian ocean, Central Indian Ridge, circa 2,420 m deep. Group of hydrothermal vents with very high H2 concentration. It is possible that the unique ecosystem around these vents closely resembles the ancient ecosystems (consisting mainly of microorganisms) which existed on Earth in the seas before the photosynthesis process started. This unique ecosystem exists due to specific geological conditions around the vents. Here lives also a unique gastropod with shell made of iron oxides.
- Lost City - Atlantic ocean, Atlantis Massif. Unique field of black smokers - hydrothermal vents with some 30 calcium carbonate towers - each 30 - 60 meters tall. Vents release methane and hydrogen, what makes them different from other known black smokers. One of most unique ecosystems of microorganisms developed in abiotic conditions.