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Vegetation is a general term for the plant life of a region; it refers to the ground cover provided by plants, and is, by far, the most abundant biotic element of the biosphere.

Vegetation serves several critical functions in the biosphere, at all possible spatial scales.

First, vegetation regulates the flow of numerous biogeochemical cycles, most critically those of water, carbon, and nitrogen; it is also of great importance in local and global energy balances.

Such cycles are important not only for global patterns of vegetation but also for those of climate.

Second, vegetation strongly affects soil characteristics, including soil volume, chemistry and texture, which feed back to affect various vegetational characteristics, including productivity and structure.

Third, vegetation serves as wildlife habitat and the energy source for the vast array of animal species on the planet (and, ultimately, to those that feed on these).

Vegetation is also critically important to the world economy, particularly in the use of fossil fuels as an energy source, but also in the global production of food, wood, fuel and other materials.

Perhaps most importantly, global vegetation (including algal communities) has been the primary source of oxygen in the atmosphere, enabling the aerobic metabolism systems to evolve and persist.

Lastly, vegetation is psychologically important to humans, who evolved in direct contact with, and dependence on, vegetation, for food, shelter, and medicines.

Note: This article excerpts material from the Wikipedia article "Vegetation", which is released under the GNU Free Documentation License.

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