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Ecozones delineate large areas of the Earth's surface within which organisms have been evolving in relative isolation over long periods of time, separated from one another by geographic features, such as oceans, broad deserts, or high mountain ranges, that constitute barriers to migration. As such, ecozone designations are used to indicate general groupings of organisms based on their shared biogeography. Ecozones correspond to the zoogeographic regions of zoology.
Ecozones are characterized by the evolutionary history of the organisms they contain. They are distinct from biomes, also known as major habitat types, which are divisions of the Earth's surface based on life form, or the adaptation of plants and animals to climatic, soil, and other conditions. Biomes are characterized by similar climax vegetation. Each ecozone may include a number of different biomes. A tropical moist broadleaf forest in Central America, for example, may be similar to one in New Guinea in its vegetation type and structure, climate, soils, etc., but these forests are inhabited by plants and animals with very different evolutionary histories.
The patterns of plant and animal distribution in the world's ecozones were shaped by the process of plate tectonics, which has redistributed the world's land masses over geological history.
The WWF scheme is broadly similar to Udvardy's system, the chief difference being the delineation of the Australasian ecozone relative to the Antarctic, Oceanic, and Indomalayan ecozones. In the WWF system, The Australasia ecozone includes Australia, Tasmania, the islands of Wallacea, New Guinea, the East Melanesian islands, New Caledonia, and New Zealand. Udvardy's Australian realm includes only Australia and Tasmania; he places Wallacea in the Indomalayan Realm, New Guinea, New Caledonia, and East Melanesia in the Oceanian Realm, and New Zealand in the Antarctic Realm.
The WWF scheme further subdivides the ecozones into bioregions, defined as "geographic clusters of ecoregions that may span several habitat types, but have strong biogeographic affinities, particularly at taxonomic levels higher than the species level (genus, family)." The WWF bioregions are as follows:
- East Asia north of the Himalayan system's foothills to the arctic
- Central Asia - Iranian Plateau and north to the arctic.
- Western Asia
- Northern Africa
- Europe (Northern, Middle, Eastern, Southwestern, and Southeastern Europe biocountries) - Mediterranean to the arctic.
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