Outstanding ecosystems around the world

Wondermondo is proud to introduce to a list which is something unique by itself – a list of 66 unique and unusual ecosystems of the world. As always, this list is not exhaustive and any interested person would add here ecosystems to his own likings. But ecosystems listed below are by no means unique:

This is not alien planet. Group of Dragon's Blood Trees in Socotra
This is not alien planet. Group of Dragon’s Blood Trees in Socotra. (possibly taken outside Rokeb di Firmihin) / Rod Waddington, Flickr / CC BY-SA 2.0


  • Madeiran laurisilva – Portugal, Madeira. Unique, approximately 150 km2 large subtropical humid forest, remnant of once widespread forests. The most impressive subtropical forest in Europe, contains some 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. Ecosystem of this cave was isolated from the outer world for 5.5 million years and air inside the cave has a different chemical composition.
  • 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.).
  • Postojna-Planina Cave System – Slovenia, Notranjsko-kraška. Approximately 25 km long cave system, recognized as the most biodiverse cave system in the world with 84 species of animals (mostly insects).


Cedars of God, Lebanon
Cedars of God, Lebanon / BlingBling10, Wikimedia Commons, GFDL license.
  • Ary-Mas and Lukunsky grove – Russia, Krasnoyarsk Krai, Taymir Peninsula. Northernmost forest in the world, consist of low stands of Dahurian larch (Larix gmelinii (Rupr.) Rupr.). Lukunsky forest grows up to 72°31′ latitude.
  • Cedars of God – Lebanon, North Governorate. Prominent remnant of cedar forest (102 ha) which once covered large area in region. Consists of especially large and beautiful cedars of Lebanon (Cedrus libani A.Rich.) up to 35 meters tall and 14 meters in circumference. Since 1876 surrounded by a wall.
  • Knuckles Range – Sri Lanka, Central Province. Biodiversity super-hotspot. Small mountain range (roughly 200 km² large) 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 with approximate area of 10 ha, 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 lianas.
  • Rokeb di Firmihin – Yemen, Socotra. The best and last forest 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 mythology since ancient times, inhabited by fairies according to local legends.


Avenue of the Baobabs
Avenue of the Baobabs / Bernard Gagnon, / CC BY-SA 3.0
  • Aldabra – Seychelles, Aldabra atoll. Second largest coral atoll by land area in the world, with unique ecosystem. Contains world’s largest population of giant tortoises – 100,000 endemic Aldabra Giant Tortoises (Aldabrachelys gigantea), which dominate the ecosystem. Numerous other endemic species of animals and plants, including the flightless Aldabra rail (Dryolimnas cuvieri aldabranus).
  • 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 roughly 800 years old trees were growing in a dense forest which has been cleared away.
  • Chirinda Forest – Zimbabwe, Manicaland. Stand of moist montane tropical forest (at the height of 1,100 – 1,250 metres, area 606 ha), southernmost African tropical rainforest. Contains numerous endemic species and enormous trees. Here grows also the Big Tree – some 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 forest 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. Approximately 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 (530 ha), resembles a prehistoric world, area of unusual beauty. Some cycads reach height of 12 – 12.2 meters. Closely linked 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.

North America

Grove of very old Great Basin bristlecone pines, California
Grove of very old Great Basin bristlecone pines, California / , Flickr / CC BY 2.0
  • 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. Renowned 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. This grove of Great Basin Bristlecone Pine (Pinus longaeva D.K.Bailey) contains the oldest known individual trees in the world, some are 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 meters 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 some 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 – 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. The most impressive 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. One of the most biologically diverse deserts in the world.

South America

Caño Cristales with waterfall and the red Macarenia clavigera, Colombia. September 2012
Caño Cristales with waterfall and the red Macarenia clavigera. September 2012 / Mario Carvajal, / CC BY-SA 3.0
  • Caño Cristales – Meta. Unique river with a bottom covered with the endemic Macarenia clavigera plants. These plants in the time period from the late July to November turn bright red, thus making the river very colorful and providing one of most spectacular sights in Colombia.
  • 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.
  • Incahuasi Island (Fish Island) – Bolivia, Potosí Department. Unusual monument of nature – stony island (25 ha) 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, Amazonas. This spectacular tepui (local table-top mountain) has up to 900 meters high, abrupt walls with a summit one kilometer long and 200 – 350 meters wide. This small summit area is covered with diverse ecosystems containing 8 endemic species not seen outside this small platform.
  • Sima Humboldt and Sima Martel – Venezuela, Bolivar. 314 and 248 meters 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

Baie des Tortues, New Caledonia
Baie des Tortues / Thomas Cuelho, / CC BY 2.0
  • Baie des Tortues – New Caledonia, South Province. Visually very impressive and striking grove of the rare Araucaria luxurians trees at the beach.
  • 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. The largest sand island in the world, 1,840 km². 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. The 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 km² 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. Small island (70 ha) with its own species of palm, several endemic bird species, flowers and giant crickets.
  • Palm Valley – Australia, Northern Territory, near Alice Springs. Oasis in the middle of enormous desert, the only place in the central part of Australia where grow palms: the rare Livistona mariae as well as other rare plants. Ecosystem is fed by spring water. It is likely that palms were brought here by people some 15 – 30 thousand years ago.
  • 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. The 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 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 kilometer 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 the 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, approximately 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 a 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, which makes them different from other known black smokers. One of the most unique ecosystems of microorganisms developed in abiotic conditions.

Described ecosystems

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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.

Unique forest of Scalesia pedunculata, Santa Cruz in Galapagos Islands
Unique forest of Scalesia pedunculata, Santa Cruz / Haplochromis, / CC BY-SA 3.0

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:

Daisies in Namaqualand, South Africa
Daisies in Namaqualand, South Africa / , Flickr / CC BY 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.
Jellyfish Lake from air with swarms of jellyfish visible, Palau
Jellyfish Lake from air with swarms of jellyfish visible / , 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.

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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