Category

Ecosystems

Frailejones - Espeletia pycnophylla and fog, Páramo El Ángel
Frailejones – Espeletia pycnophylla and fog, Páramo El Ángel / Thomas van Hengstum, / CC BY-SA 3.0

WorldBlue Described ecosystems

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WorldYellow What is included in this category?

Definitions of words ecosystem and biotope are somewhat ethereal and elusive.

Antelope Valley California Poppy Reserve
Antelope Valley California Poppy Reserve / , 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.

Criteria

Here are described those unique ecosystems and biotopes which:

The unique Scalesia forest in Santa Cruz
The unique Scalesia forest in Santa Cruz. / Andy Kraemer, Flickr / CC BY-NC 2.0
  • Have striking, unusual looks. Good example is forest 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 forest 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.
Swarm of jellyfish in Jellyfish Lake, Palau
Swarm of jellyfish in Jellyfish Lake / , Flickr / CC BY 2.0

Animal colonies

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.

WorldViolet Top 25 ecosystems

Africa

Aldabra

Seychelles

Second largest coral atoll by land area in the world, with a unique ecosystem. Contains the world’s largest population of giant tortoises – 100,000 endemic Aldabra Giant Tortoises (Aldabrachelys gigantea) that dominate the ecosystem. Numerous other endemic species of animals and plants, including the flightless Aldabra rail (Dryolimnas cuvieri aldabranus).

Aldabra Atoll, Seychelles
Kairei hydrothermal vents

(central part of the Indian Ocean)

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) that 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 shells made of iron oxides.

Vallée de Mai (Vallee de Mai)

Seychelles

Relict of Gondwana, natural palm forest with the endemic coco de mer palm (Lodoicea maldivica) grove and five other endemic palms. Coco de mer grows up to 34 m tall and has the largest seeds in the plant kingdom – up to 42 kg heavy nuts. Many other endemic species of plants and animals, numerous vanilla orchids.

Vallée de Mai, Seychelles
Ngorongoro Crater

Tanzania

The largest volcanic caldera in the world, up to 610 m deep and 260 km² large. Area of an exceptional concentration of wild animals, with 25,000 large animals living in the crater.

Antarctica and Subantarctic islands

Blood Falls

Antarctica

Unusual natural feature – an outflow of hypersaline water, seeping through the ice, tainted with iron oxides in blood color. This approximately 15 m tall fall provides insight into a unique ecosystem that has been isolated from the outside world for 1.5 million years.

Blood Falls from above, Antarctica
Bird Island

South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands (United Kingdom)

One of the richest wildlife sites in the world. The size of this island is just 400 ha but here live 50,000 pairs of penguins, 14,000 pairs of albatrosses, 700,000 petrels, 65,000 breeding pairs of Antarctic fur seals.

Asia

Kaas plateau

India

This plateau has an area of 1,000 ha area and is covered with millions of wild flowers in August – September. More than 850 species of plants grow here, some are endemic – met only here.

Australia and Oceania

Lord Howe Island

Australia

This remote, 56 km² large Australian island has its own ecoregion where half of the plants and some birds and other animals are endemic. Unique characteristics are diverse glowing mushrooms in the forest, some bright enough to be used for reading at night. Endemic kentia palms are popular, beautiful houseplants.

Lord Howe Island
Jellyfish Lake (Ongeim’l Tketau)

Palau

A unique marine lake with an area of 5.0 ha, has an underground connection to the sea. Stratified in two layers that do not mix. Isolated from the sea 12,000 years and contains a distinct population of two species of jellyfish – endemic Mastigias cf. papua etpisoni and most likely endemic Aurelia sp. Millions of these jellyfishes make strict daily migration around the lake. Four more marine lakes with jellyfish on the nearby islands but Jellyfish Lake is the only one open to tourists. The number of jellyfish has reached up to 31 million (January 2005), currently some 5 million.

Jellyfish Lake from air with swarms of jellyfish visible, Palau
Christmas Island crab forest

Christmas Island (Australia)

The forest of Christmas Island is unique in the world due to dominant species – some 50 – 100 million red crabs (Gecarcoidea natalis) – clearing the forest floor of leaves and other organic matter. These crabs are endemic to Christmas Island. Once per year they migrate to the sea to lay their eggs, on the way blocking the roads and paths.

Red Crabs during the migration, Christmas Island
Ecosystem of Henderson Island

Pitcairn Islands (United Kingdom)

The only forested atoll with an intact ecosystem in the world. Endemic species – 9 species of plants and all 4 species of land birds. Numerous invertebrates are endemic, although they are poorly researched. Island is not walkable – it is covered with thicket and rugged limestone peaks.

Shore of Henderson Island
The Daintree Rainforest

Australia

Possibly the oldest rainforest in the world, growing 135 million years. Largest continuous rainforest in Australia, 1,200 square kilometers large, extremely high biodiversity. Contains unique, endemic primitive flowering plants. The oldest part could be centered around Noah Creek.

The Daintree Rainforest, Queensland

North America

Giant Forest

United States

Unique forest with stands of giant sequoia trees (Sequoiadendron giganteum) – the largest trees in the 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. In California are located several more notable groves of these giant trees.

Giant Forest, California
Black Hole of Andros

Bahamas

300 m wide and up to 47 m deep round water filled sinkhole with a layer of violet jelly layer of bacteria at 18 meters depth. Microorganisms have heated up the water to 40°C.

Cross section of South Andros Black Hole in south - north direction, compared with Boeing 747-400
Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest

United States

Grove of Great Basin Bristlecone Pine (Pinus longaeva), contains the oldest known individual trees in the world, more than 4,750 years old.

Grove of very old Great Basin bristlecone pines, California
Monarch Butterfly Biosphere Reserve

Mexico

Wintering habitats of the monarch butterflies (Danaus plexippus). Some trees are covered with a thick layer of millions of butterflies.

Wintering of monarch butterflies near Angangueo
Bracken Bat Cave

United States

Largest bat colony and the largest colony of mammals in the world. In the cave are living some 20 million Mexican free-tailed bats (Tadarida brasiliensis).

Bracken Bat Cave, Texas, United States
El Yunque National Forest

Puerto Rico (United States)

The only tropical rainforest in Puerto Rico. Beautiful area, where mountains raise up to 1,065 m. Rich with species of plants and animals, contains 23 species that are not found anywhere else in the world. Contains a unique dwarf forest.

El Yunque National Forest, Puerto Rico
Monteverde cloud forest

Costa Rica

Cloud forest with extremely high biological diversity. Nature reserve Bosque Nuboso Monteverde has the highest diversity of orchids in the world with more than 500 species, 34 new species were discovered in this forest. Here are found more than 2,500 plant species, 400 bird species, and numerous other organisms.

South America

Mount Roraima

Brazil, Guyana, Venezuela

The famous table mountains in this part of the world have near-unique karst formations in quartzite. Over the many millions of years, it has been eroded by water, creating countless very interesting formations. Roraima is up to 2.8 km high.

View from Mount Roraima, Venezuela
Yungay

Chile

The driest place in the world without any signs of life. Only a few specific microorganisms – extremophiles – are present here. Some areas are rich with nitrates – easily soluble minerals that in other circumstances are consumed by organisms. Here rich nitrate deposits have been formed from atmospheric nitrogen, possibly by lightning.

Landscape near Antofagasta, not too far from Yungay, Chile
Caño Cristales

Colombia

A unique river. Its bottom is covered with the endemic Macarenia clavigera plants. From late July to November these plants turn bright red. Then this colorful river is one of the most spectacular sights in Colombia.

Caño Cristales with waterfall and the red Macarenia clavigera, Colombia. September 2012
Forest on Robinson Crusoe Island

Chile

Temperate forest with a unique level of endemism – out of 211 local plant species 132 are endemic – e.g. met only on this island. The dense forest is formed from trees that are not met anywhere else. Hundreds of endemic species of insects.

Robinson Crusoe Island, San Juan Bautista village in the forefront
Yasuni Forest

Ecuador

Possibly the most biodiverse area in the world. In this rainforest, the diversity of reptiles, amphibians, freshwater fishes, birds, mammals, and vascular plants (with 2,700 – 4,000 species of plants per hectare) reaches their maximum for Western Hemisphere and often – world. Uncontacted tribes live in the forest. Endangered and affected by oil extraction.

The mysterious Yasuni forest, Ecuador

WorldYellow Recommended books

Wild Things, Wild Places: Adventurous Tales of Wildlife and Conservation on Planet Earth


A moving, inspiring, personal look at the vastly changing world of wildlife on planet earth as a result of human incursion, and the crucial work of animal and bird preservation across the globe being done by scientists, field biologists, zoologists, environmentalists, and conservationists.

Tropical Nature: Life and Death in the Rain Forests of Central and South America


A look at the natural history of tropical rain forest in South America, its insects, birds, animals, and plants.


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