What is an ecotone?

When we read or hear the word ecotono it is more common to confuse the concept or something related to an ecological tone. It is a word that is not used in the usual vocabulary and, therefore, the meaning is not usually known. 
What is an ecotone?
The ecotone is nothing more than a natural transition zone between two different and adjacent ecosystems.

In this article we will tell you what are the characteristics of the ecotone and how they are formed.

What is an ecotone?

The ecotone is the natural zone that exists between ecosystems with different characteristics. For example, we can find a transition zone between a forest and a plain. The forest does not end at one point or, but gradually decreases its density. The ecological limit that exists between ecosystems can be up to several hundred meters or even kilometers. The systems can be:
  • Biomes. A biome is the geographical area defined by a series of climatic and geological factors that determine the vegetation and fauna that we find in it.
  • Landscapes. When we analyze a landscape we can see that the end of a type of ecosystem is not fully defined but, being a natural space, it has its transition stages between which one area ends and the next begins.
  • Ecosystems An ecosystem is an area where numerous species that interact with each other and with abiotic elements cohabit.
  • Communities or populations. In this case, plant populations and tree species are spoken. They are the species that most represent the transition zones between different systems.

Why an ecotone is formed?

These transition zones are formed due to the action of different physical and environmental variables. Among the characteristics that most influence are the climate, the topography, the composition and structure of the soil or the presence of different types of populations, whether animals or plants, which are called biotope.

Depending on these variables and their values, the transition may be more abrupt or more gradual. For example, the existence of a river course may be the end of a system and the beginning of another more abruptly. However, the existence of a mountain and a considerable slope, can make the end of a forest can transition gradually.

It should be noted that this intermediate zone has a great biological confluence. This means that there are interactions between species in adjacent areas. We also find a greater biological wealth. As more interactions exist between individuals of different species, more adaptations will occur in any type of habitat or biotope. This phenomenon is known as the edge effect.

Each species or community of species acts in a certain way depending on the environmental conditions that exist in the ecotone. For example, these conditions may be due to the type of pH that the soil has, the average temperature, the incident solar radiation, the wind regime or the amount of water available, among others. 

Taking into account the values ​​of these variables and interaction between living beings we can see that each species will specifically fulfill a function within the ecotone. This is called the ecological niche. We can find ecological niches where the functions of each living being can be organizers, decomposes tasks, transporters, or dispensers, among others.

Types of ecotone

As we have mentioned before, there are different types of ecotone depending on the type of ecosystem that exists between the transition zone. These areas can be divided or categorized in different ways.

1º If we refer to the type of biome, the ecotones will be determined by climatic factors such as water, temperature and topographic factors.

2º If we refer to the type of landscape, the ecotones will be characterized by the type of climate, the topography and some chemical characteristics of the soil can also be included.

3º if we talk about ecotones of populations or communities, we have to talk about the influence that the interaction between species has and its effect on their composition and distribution.

We will be putting some examples of ecotones and their characteristics:

Tundra and taiga with boreal forest

If we go to America and Europe we can see that there are borders between the tundra and the boreal forest. This is an example of ecotone between two different biomes that are characterized by having a different climate between each of them. 

In the tundra we find polar areas with temperatures that do not exceed ten degrees on average. Rainfall is usually 250mm per year. One of the characteristics that stands out in this area is permafrost. It is a soil that remains frozen throughout the year.

On the other hand, we have the boreal forest that is located south of the tundras. In this ecosystem, the average temperature ranges from 30 degrees below zero to 19 degrees. Its rainfall is between 400 and 450mm on average per year. 

Therefore, the ecotone that forms between these two biomes does not have much extension. However, in Europe we can find an ecotone of up to 200 kilometers in length. It is characterized by being a fragmented landscape in which there are areas that are covered by dense forests and others in which lichen and heather dominate.


It is another type of ecotone that derives between a terrestrial and an aquatic ecosystem. This transition zone plays a fundamental role in environmental sanitation, so conservation is vital. 

This area helps improve water quality by capturing sediments, absorbing nutrients and releasing chemicals. These ecotones can be:
  • Oasis in the desert.
  • Forest-savanna-desert.
  • Forest-wasteland-vegetation area with low height.
  • Coast

As you can see, it is necessary to conserve all these geographical areas because they are of great biological importance. They are transitions of different life forms throughout the planet that do not stop contributing their part to the development of living beings.

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