An ecoregion (ecological region), sometimes called a bioregion, is the next smallest ecologically and geographically defined area beneath "realm" or "ecozone". Ecoregions cover relatively large area of land or water, and contain characteristic, geographically distinct natural communities and species. When defined by the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF), the boundaries of an ecoregion approximate the original extent of the natural communities prior to any major recent disruptions or changes. The WWF has identified 825 terrestrial ecoregions, and approximately 450 freshwater ecoregions across the Earth.
World Wide Fund for Nature's full definition of an ecoregion, which is widely accepted and used, is the following:
- A large area of land or water that contains a geographically distinct assemblage of natural communities that
- (a) share a large majority of their species and ecological dynamics;
- (b) share similar environmental conditions, and;
- (c) interact ecologically in ways that are critical for their long-term persistence.
A terrestrial ecoregion is a certain area of land which is different from the area near it. It has a distinct climate, geology, type of soil, water availability, and distinct living species (the animals and plants that live in the ecoregion).
For example, one ecoregion can be a desert. It would have sand, very little water, very hot temperatures during the day and very cold at night. The plants could be just bushes, small trees, cactii. The animals could be scorpions, little mammals, spiders.
Or for example, an ecoregion could be a tropical forest It would have warm temperatures all day, a lot of rainfall all year, a huge river crossing, and a very organic soil. The plants could be huge trees or ferns. The animals could be insects, birds, fish and apes.
The scheme used to find out these ecoregions is more or less the same as that for terrestrial ecoregions. Major habitat types are identified: polar, temperate shelfs and seas, temperate upwelling, tropical upwelling, tropical coral, pelagic, abyssal, and hadal (ocean trench) — which correspond to the terrestrial biomes. Major biogeographic realms, analogous to the seven terrestrial ecozones, represent large regions of the ocean basins: North Temperate Atlantic, Eastern Tropical Atlantic, Western Tropical Atlantic, South Temperate Atlantic, North Temperate Indo-Pacific, Central Indo-Pacific, Eastern Indo-Pacific, Western Indo-Pacific, South Temperate Indo-Pacific, Southern Ocean, Antarctic, Arctic, and Mediterranean.
The classification of Marine ecoregions is not developed to the same level of detail and comprehensiveness as that of the terrestrial ecoregions; only the priority conservation areas of the Global 200 are listed.
See Global 200 Marine ecoregions for a full list of marine ecoregions (World Wide Fund for Nature).
Freshwater ecoregions are the freshwater habitats of a particular geographic area, including rivers, streams, lakes, and wetlands. Freshwater ecoregions are distinct from terrestrial ecoregions, which have biotic communities of the land, and marine ecoregions, which are biotic communities of the oceans.
- Brunckhorst, D. 2000. Bioregional planning: resource management beyond the new millennium. Harwood Academic Publishers: Sydney, Australia.
- World Wide Fund for Nature: ecoregions
- Sierra club: ecoregions Archived 1996-11-21 at the Wayback Machine
- Activist network cultivating Ecoregions/Bioregions
- A National Ecological Framework for Canada Archived 2005-07-24 at the Wayback Machine
- Ecoregions of North America Archived 2015-09-24 at the Wayback Machine
- Interactive map and images of North American ecoregions at bioimages.vanderbilt.edu
- Map of the ecozones