What is Taiga Forest? | Types, Definition, Structure, Function & Facts

What is Taiga Forest?

The taiga forest is one of the three main forest biomes. The other two types are temperate forests and tropical rainforests. The taiga is the driest and coldest of the three regions. The taiga is sometimes called the boreal, or coniferous forest. It is the largest of all terrestrial biomes.

What makes a Forest a Taiga Forest?

The taiga has several characteristics that distinguish it from the other forest biomes:

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Evergreen Trees – This forest is covered with evergreen or coniferous trees. These are plants that do not lose leaves or needles in the winter. They retain the leaves so that they can absorb as much sun as possible for as long as possible. The dark green color of the leaves also helps them absorb more sunlight and gain more energy through photosynthesis.

Cold Weather – Taiga has the coldest weather of the forest biomes. Winters can be as cold as -60 degrees F. Winters can last six months with average temperatures below freezing. Summers are warmer, but very short.

Dry – Rainfall is only slightly higher than in deserts or tundra. Average rainfall is between 12 and 30 inches per year. It falls like rain in summer and snow in winter.

Thin Layer of Soil – Because the leaves do not fall like in temperate forests, the good soil layer is thin. In addition, cold weather slows down decomposition, taking longer for nutrients to return to the soil.

Short Growing Season – With long winters and short summers, plants don’t have much time to grow in the taiga. The growing season lasts only about three months. This compares with at least six months in temperate forests and a year-round growing season in tropical forests.

Where are the Taiga Forests Located in the World?

Taiga forests are situated in the extreme north, usually between the temperate forest biome and the tundra biome. On Earth, this is roughly between 50 degrees north latitude and the Arctic Circle. The largest taiga forest covers much of northern Russia and Siberia. Other major taiga forests include North America (Canada and Alaska) and Scandinavia (Finland, Norway, and Sweden).

Plants of the Taiga

The dominant plants in the taiga are evergreen conifers. These trees include spruce, pine, cedar and fir. They grow close together forming a canopy over the earth, like an umbrella. This canopy absorbs the sun and lets only a little bit of it through the ground.

Taiga conifers produce their seeds in cones. They also have needles for leaves. The conifers have a good capacity to hold water and survive the harsh cold winds each winter. Plants also grow in cones. This helps the snow slide off their branches.

Under the trees few other trees grow. In some wetlands, plants such as ferns, sedges, mosses, and berries grow.

Animals of the Taiga

Taiga animals must be able to survive the cold winters. Some animals, such as birds, migrate south during the winter. Insects that lay eggs can live through the winter and then die. Other animals, such as squirrels, store food for the winter while others hibernate by falling into long, deep sleep.

Predators in this biome include lynx, coyotes, Cooper hawks, and coyotes. Other animals include elk, snow hare, deer, elk, bear, chipmunk, bat, and woodpecker. The animals that live here have certain characteristics that help them survive:

They often have thick fur or feathers to keep them warm.

Many animals have sharp claws and are very good at climbing trees.

They have large feet so they can walk on snow without sinking.

Many change color from white in winter to help them hide in the snow, to brown in summer to help them hide in trees.

Interesting Facts About the Taiga Biome

Taiga is a Russian word that means forest.

Many years ago, the taiga forest was covered with icy glaciers.

The word north means north or “north wind”.

The occasional bushfires are good for the taiga as they open up an area for new growth. Trees have adapted to fires by developing hard bark. This will help some of them survive minor fires.

Many forest plants are perennials that grow back every summer after sleeping through the winter.

These forests are threatened and shrinking due to logging.