The tropics are the geographic region of the Earth centered on the equator and limited in latitude by the Tropic of Cancer in the northern hemisphere, at approximately 23°30' (23.5°) N latitude, and the Tropic of Capricorn in the southern hemisphere at 23°30' (23.5°) S latitude. This region is also referred to as the tropical zone and the torrid zone.
(For the history of the term torrid zone, see geographical zone)
This area includes all the areas of the Earth where the sun reaches a point directly overhead at least once during the solar year. (In the temperate zones, north of the Tropic of Cancer and south of the Tropic of Capricorn, the sun never reaches an angle of 90° or directly overhead.) The word "tropics" comes from Greek tropos meaning "turn", because the apparent position of the Sun oscillates between the two tropics with a period that defines the average length of a year.
Tropical plants and animals are those species native to the tropics. Tropical is also sometimes used in a general sense for a tropical climate, a climate that is warm to hot and moist year-round, often with the sense of lush vegetation. However, there are places in the tropics that are anything but "tropical" in this sense, with even alpine tundra and snow-capped peaks, including Mauna Kea, Mt. Kilimanjaro, and the Andes as far south as the northernmost parts of Chile and Argentina. Places in the tropics which are drier with low humidity but extreme heat are such as the Sahara Desert and Central Africa and Northern Australian Outback.
Tropical ecosystems may consist of rainforests, dry deciduous forests, spiny forests, desert and other habitat types. There are often significant areas of biodiversity and species endemism present particularly in rainforests and dry deciduous forests. Some examples of important biodiversity and/or high endicism ecosystems are: Costa Rican rainforests, Madagascar dry deciduous forests, Waterberg Biosphere of South Africa and eastern Madagascar rainforests. Often the soils of tropical forests are low in nutrient content making them quite vulnerable to slash-and-burn techniques, which are sometimes an element of shifting cultivation agricultural systems.
In biogeography, the tropics are divided into paleotropics (Africa, Asia and Australia) and neotropics (Central and South America). Together, they are sometimes referred to as the pantropics. The neotropic region should not be confused with the ecozone of the same name; in the Old World, this is unambiguous as the paleotropics correspond to the Afrotropical, Indomalayan, and partly the Australasian and Oceanic ecozones. The Capensis region of botany is not part of the tropics; it has a Mediterranean climate.