Place directly influences both ecology and culture – even people, much as we resist admitting it, are shaped by where we live. Land masses affect climate, leading to rain shadows where the oceanward side of mountain ranges are much wetter than the landward side; oceans moderate temperature. Resources like minerals and plants depend on appropriate geology and climate. Americans traditionally fence our properties because we came to a vast country where wood is easily accessible (whereas Europe logged their forests far earlier). Tribes from Western Washington have cultures far different from Native Americans in the midwest, southwest, and east coast, based on varied climates and resources.
Drawing conclusions from the real world – past and present – helps writers and artists create more realistic science fiction and fantasy universes. I attended Norwescon for the first time this year, and spent the weekend immersed in panels that shared lots of insights about creating realistic worlds.