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What is a biome?

In this activity, students will learn more about the geography and climate of British Columbia (BC) using visuals and props. 

Biomes are largely based on the geography and climate of a region. Therefore, a biome is a geoclimatic zone that is identifiable on a global scale and includes things such as plants and animals.

A desert is an example of a biome and can be identified by its general temperature, precipitation and geography. Deserts can be categorized even further into arid, semi-arid, coastal, and cold deserts.

In Canada, we have the 4 overarching biomes: tundra, desert, grassland, and forest.

Within BC, we have the following subcategories: semi-arid desert, temperate rainforest, boreal forest (taiga), and alpine tundra.

Semi-Arid Desert

The semi-arid desert in BC is located in the Okanagan. It is characterized by very low precipitation levels, as well as extreme heat in the summer (cold at night) and quite dry winters.  Amusingly, it even has sagebrush, a plant that is known to grow in dry climates. An example of an animal from this area is the Northern Pacific Rattlesnake.

Temperate Rainforest

Temperate rainforest runs along the whole coast of BC from northern California to southern Alaska. The average rainfall of this biome is about 200 cm with some variations. Also, this climate is moderated by the ocean, so it doesn't display extreme temperatures.

The temperature rainforest subcategory is characterized by living things including old growth trees, banana slugs, pacific water shrews, and a plethora of fungi and lichens!  The biodiversity of this area, and of course the oceanic intertidal zone it borders, is very high.

Boreal Forest

The boreal forest has coniferous trees, cold temperatures, and precipitation in the range of 20 and 200 cm. The precipitation is often in the form of snow. Boreal forests can include mountainous regions as well as plateaus, along with any of the valleys present in the area it covers. Moose, snowshoe hares, and bobcats are among the many animals that live in this region.

Alpine Tundra

The Alpine tundra is dependent on elevation and is restricted to the mountainous regions of BC. The average monthly temperature hovers between -4 and 0 °C.  Therefore the major type of precipitation here is snow, which ranges from 7 to 30 cm per year.

Some species that live there are Pikas and mountain goats, as well as the white-tailed ptarmigan. These species need to be very hearty to live in this area.

Objectives

  • Describe the characteristics of the biomes of BC.

  • Describe the basic needs of living things in each biome in BC.

Materials

  • Per Class or Group:
    4 sets of vials containing different levels of water to represent the different levels of precipitation.

    Each set:
    Temperate Rainforest – full vial
    Boreal Forest – half filled vial
    Desert – very little filled vial
    Tundra – paper flakes or fake snow (optional)

    Biome Name Cards
    pictures of the represented biomes (temperate rainforest, boreal forest, desert and tundra)

    Optional: animal cards (pictures of animals from the different biomes)

Key Questions

  • What characteristics make biomes unique from one another?
  • Are you able to identify the different biomes?

What To Do

Preparation

  1. Create four different vials to represent the range of precipitation levels. The tundra zone vial should be mostly snow. The most amount of precipitation should be in the Temperate Rainforest vial, followed by the Boreal Forest, the Desert, and then the Tundra.
  2. Create matching Biome Name Cards, and pictures to represent the different zones, and also pictures of animals from each area.
  3. ​Optional: Have cards of animals that live in the biome.

Teacher Tip: This activity seems to work best in small groups, so that the students all get a chance to learn about each type of biome that they may see within their own province.

Activity

  1. Give each student a vial of ‘precipitation.’ They then need to look for three other people with different amounts in their vials compared to the amount they have.
  2. Next, have students look through the pile of pictures in order to match the amount of precipitation to the biome they think it best represents.
  3. Finally, have them look for the animals they might find living in their biome. The idea is to match all three pieces of the ‘biome puzzle’ (vial and two cards) together, in order to complete the activity.

Extensions

  • Have the students research the biomes and get them to list all the requirements that make that biome unique.

Other Resources

Forest Service of BC| Biogeoclimatic Zone Maps