Components of Physical Environment


Millions of species of plants and animals have come and gone over the last billion years. Some species, however, like the coelacanth, have remained almost unchanged in millions of years. The dinosaurs are never coming back, as they failed to adapt to a dramatic change in their physical environment, which is a driving force in evolution. The physical and chemical makeup of the ecosystem in which an organism dwells is the physical environment, and the components of the environment include soil types, landforms, rainfall and temperature.


  • The type of soil in a region will influence what plant species will thrive there and, in turn, what animals species can be found as well. Soil is composed of three major components: sand (the coarsest), silt (intermediate in size) and clay (composed of small individual particles). The amount of each of these components determines the overall soil texture. There is also variety in the amount of organic matter and nutrient content in soil from one ecosystem to another.


  • Mountains, valleys, hills, plains, plateaus, mesas or any other natural features of the Earth's surface are examples of landforms. The physical environment in a mountainous region is clearly different from that in the middle of a wide sprawling plain, and creatures adapted well to an ecosystem dominated by one of these landforms would likely face a challenge in another. Landforms usually change extremely slowly. Mountains don't appear overnight -- or even over a hundred years. However, as the occasional major earthquake or volcanic eruption demonstrates in the rare awesome spectacle, landforms can sometimes change suddenly.


  • The amount of rainfall in a region is a significant component of its physical environment, and the variety is enormous. Parts of Hawaii and Colombia average over 13,000 mm of rain per year. The Atacama desert in Chile, on the other hand, averages under 1 mm. Yet life is found in both places, although there is a lot less in the Atacama.


  • Temperature, like rainfall, varies dramatically around the earth from one ecosystem to another. Organisms adapted to the physical environment of the arctic circle would not fare well in equatorial Africa. Most scientist agree the extinction of the dinosaurs was caused by a large meteor that produced so much debris with its cataclysmic impact that it profoundly affected global temperature. Scientists believe carbon dioxide emissions have an effect on global temperatures through the greenhouse effect, though, unlike a collision with an enormous asteroid, this is happening much more slowly.


  • Photo Credit Thomas Northcut/Digital Vision/Getty Images
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