Notes: Bioregions

The Question of Bioregions: One common question about the regionalization of our area studies databases is about the absence of the systematic use of biogeographic regions or Bioregions. (Biomes have the same problems we describe here for Bioregions.) This is something we have considered in detail and we do not attempt to classify every record, or even all “environmental” records by the relevant biographic regions. There are several problems with Bioregional descriptoring:

(1) The most fundamental problem is that Bioregions to not match up with political boundaries, which remain the standard for defining territories; using political regions to tag bioregions results in either areas that are too large or too small to cover the Bioregions;

(2) Many “environmental” articles are extremely vague about the location they are describing. A recent article about giant termite spoil mounds in Brazil, covering an area “as large as Britain” gave only the vaguest location information: a “remote part of northeast Brazil”. (Kenneth Chang, “Termite Mounds, By the Millions”, in New York Times, November 27, 2018. p. D2.) In addition, many environmental articles cover vary large areas with many Bioregions, or indeed the whole planet;

(3) Although there some general agreement on what the regions are, there are numerous examples of disagreements in detail about the area of the regions; different bases for bioregions (fauna vs. vegetation vs. soils) defines different sets of Bioregions; and some larger nations have developed their own sets of Bioregions (the original Bioregions were developed by Europeans);

(4) On a smaller scale, the boundaries of Bioregions are fractal: The length and complexity of the boundaries increases the more closely one looks (this is why the length of coastlines can only be approximated);

(5) At the very local level, at the boundary between two Bioregions, there are numerous patches of each Bioregion inside the other Bioregion; and,

(6) Perhaps the most serious concern, is that climate change (Global Warming) will cause the migration of Bioregions towards the poles at an unpredictable rate. (Global Cooling would make Bioregions migrate towards the equator.) Of course, forests don’t migrate well, and entire migrating Bioregions could disintegrate over time. Even if detailed geolocation data could be attached to every “environmental” record, climate change makes Bioregions too unstable to be useful in searches. (Historical and prehistorical Bioregions are also different, even just going back the last Ice Age.)

Having said all that, if the author of an article includes by name a Bioregion, we include it as a geographic descriptor. Unfortunately the use of such Bioregions in articles and reports is much smaller than many might suppose. (National parks, wildlife refugees, RAMSAR sites, etc., are always used as Identifiers and can be found in fulltext searches of the databases.)