Bio-Realms – A Better Way Than Continents to ‘Divide’ the World?

Continents are confusing …

a world map with question marks over it, showing the confusion that comes with the current system of continents
original by Brett Zeck

There’s an ongoing question that pokes at the side of so many people in this world. Should I take my shower before or after work? Woah, not that! You dirty minds. While either way you choose has its benefits, I was thinking about the continents. Most people agree that there are seven continents … no wait, there are definitely five … maybe three real ones and a handful of small ones? 

You see the issue; it’s hard to define what a continent really is. Is it a large landmass completely separate from all others like a social-distancing master? Or, is a continent just any big chunk of land that generally fits together, separated only by a thin isthmus or huge range of mountains, for example? I get the feeling this was so much easier back in the Pangaea days.

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I’m not here to prove what is a continent and what isn’t. Instead of trying to define them, we can look at what could be a much better way of “dividing” our world — if we must divide it at all. This potentially better system is by way of the bio-realm. But first, why is the continent system so jacked up in the first place?

Why is the continent system jacked up?

For one, it’s hard to tell what a continent is and how it should be divided. The names of continents we have now were mostly named by outsiders, with proposed etymologies coming mostly from European or Middle Eastern origins. Keep in mind the names of some of these places are so archaic that they can get seriously hard to trace.

Some factors that make the continents confusing can be:

  1. There’s such a diversity of cultures and demographics on any given continent that an umbrella term can’t capture them all (“African” for Tunisia and the Congo, “Asian” for India and Japan)
  2. Many countries fall into a weird buffer zone (Is Egypt African or Asian? Is Armenia Asian or European? What is the Caribbean? The Middle East? Oceania?)
  3. Many countries can’t agree on what the real continents are anyway (North and South America, or just America? Is it Eurasia, or maybe Afro-Eurasia? Australia, Oceania, or Australasia? Good-ness!)

That is pretty jacked up. So, what are the bio-realms? Why might they be better than continents?

Into a new “realm”

Biogeographic realms, in this circumstance, are a way to look at the world by dividing it among major ecological and geographical areas. This means places that share a somewhat continuous ecology (plant and animal life, in most cases, climate and habitat types too). Plus, don’t you just love the word “realms?” It sounds like we’re traveling into some kind of fantasy dimension. 


Okay, so the bio-realms are:

  • Nearctic Realm (North America excluding the tropics)
  • Neotropical Realm (all of the Americas in or south of the tropics, i.e. Central & South America + the Caribbean)
  • Palearctic Realm (all of Europe and Asia north of the tropics, including Northern Africa)
  • Afrotropical Realm (all of Africa in or south of the tropics, including the tropics of Arabia and the Arabian Sea coast west of Pakistan)
  • Indo-Malayan Realm (all of Asia in or south of the tropics, going east from Pakistan)
  • Australasian Realm (Australia, New Zealand, and Melanesia, including Papua and Maluku Islands)
  • Oceanian Realm (Micronesia and Polynesia, generally the Asia-Pacific region)
  • Antarctic Realm (Antarctica and the surrounding seas)

*I like to separate between West and East Palearctic since the region is so huge, but that’s personal preference, not scientific or anything

One cool thing about this system of looking at the world is that it is more fluid. For example, Mauritius and Madagascar can be considered Afrotropical in terms of geography but Indo-Malayan in terms of culture and history. On a broader note, this grouping can help people get a truer sense of what the world really looks like. The bio-realms are intended to be solely geographical, but without really trying, they pretty well represent most of the historic and cultural interactions that people have had over the millennia too. 

For instance, Morocco had a lot more interaction and influence in nearby Spain than it did in faraway Uganda. Pretty much all of Latin America — and the Caribbean with which it shares many similarities — are in or south of the tropics anyway. South and Southeast Asia have been interacting with and have a lot more in common with each other than they do with the rest of Asia. North African countries have a lot more shared history and identity with Europe and the Middle East than they do with Sub-Saharan Africa in general. 

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Of course, the world is globalizing and interconnectivity between cultures is constantly on the rise. Even still, the divisions of bio-realms make a lot more sense when grouping places together based on shared geography, climate, and cultures. 

Like with the continents, there are definitely problematic zones that aren’t so easy to categorize. Places like Melanesia, the Sahara, and the Himalayas are still tricky because the cultural and geographic lines aren’t so clear-cut from one side to the other. Several countries like Mexico, China, and Indonesia would fall into two realms, while countries like Pakistan fall into three. That could get a little weird. Even with these issues, I appreciate that the bio-realms at least show how there are great levels of diversity within those countries, amplifying their special roles as doorways between realms. (See, isn’t this fun?!)

Going back to the purpose of this article, the bio-realm system wouldn’t be a way to divide people but to more accurately view the world the way it really is. They are not supposed to be a sharp clear line of separation, but rather a wide fuzzy line that combines similar areas into large general categories. The system is much more accurate at representing the world’s actual geography, somewhat better at grouping the world’s people, but still flawed like any other manmade labeling system.


What do you think about the bio-realms? Did you understand this way of dividing the world? Could it be valuable to utilize this system and the continental system together? Or would you rather stick with the good old continents? 

Thank you for reading, and take good care of each other, whatever realm you reside in! 

Contact or collaborate: tietewaller@gmail.com, or Give me a shout!

4 thoughts on “Bio-Realms – A Better Way Than Continents to ‘Divide’ the World?

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