Boreal forests are the earth's most common and overall largest land based biome. Boreal forests are also known as taiga, a Russian word which simply means swampy, moist forest. Boreal forests are coniferous and contain large amounts of evergreen trees. This biome plays a large role in the conditions of our earth's climate.
A forest is an ecosystem dominated by trees. According to the parameters established by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), an area must cover at least half a hectare, or about one and a quarter acres, to be considered a forest. The trees in the area must also be able to grow to heights above 16 feet and have a canopy that covers at least 10% of the sky. On a global scale, forests are shaped by the amount of solar radiation and precipitation, both of which are influenced by latitude. These climatic conditions determine what organisms can survive in an area and have helped shape the evolution of forests for millions of years. Based on latitude, there are three types of forests: boreal, temperate, and tropical.
Boreal forests are found between 50 and 60 degrees latitude in North America, Asia, and Europe. Beneath boreal forests is land shaped by glaciers that left a legacy in the geology, hydrology, and soils of the area. Boreal forests' bitter cold climate makes it difficult for life, leading to low species diversity compared to temperate and tropical forests. The plants and animals that do live in boreal forests are specially adapted to cope with short growing seasons and cold temperatures. Due to their vastness and remoteness, boreal forests are important stores of carbon.
Boreal forests, found farthest north, experience long, cold winters with short growing seasons. Temperate forests, located in the mid-latitudes, have four distinct seasons. Tropical forests, found along the equator, experience high temperatures, long growing seasons, and harbor incredible amounts of biodiversity.
Of the three forest types, boreal forests have the shortest growing season, about 130 days. Boreal forests tend to have 3 shallow, acidic, nutrient-poor soils. Conifers are the most abundant type of tree, although there are some well-adapted deciduous trees, such as willows, poplars, and alders, as well. Prominent species include black and white fir, jackpine, balsam fir, and tamarack. In the understory, blueberry and cranberry bushes provide high energy food for wildlife.
Open Canopy Boreal: Also known as lichen woodland, open canopy boreal forests occur at higher latitudes and have lower species diversity.Closed Canopy Boreal: Found at lower latitudes, closed canopy boreal forests have richer soil and denser tree stands that allow little light to reach the forest floor. Less harsh conditions, however, lead to greater species diversity.
Boreal forest or taiga covers around 17% of the earth's terrestrial area and, therefore, is greatly affected by climate change and also has great influence on climate change. Boreal forests play a huge role in intercepting and absorbing solar radiation and converting it to heat. One example of the impact of boreal forests on global warming includes what happens when these forests start to replace frozen areas of the planet and increase heat further.
Forests support humans on local and regional scales by providing ecosystem services like pollination, climate regulation, and soil conservation. Despite the value of intact forests for human well-being, forests around the world are threatened by human activities, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO).
The animals that live in boreal forests are specially adapted to cope with extremely cold temperatures-as low as -22 degrees Fahrenheit (-30 degrees Celsius)-and low resource availability for large portions of the year. Boreal caribou are one of the few animals that live in the taiga year-round, and they survive by ranging areas of nearly one million acres to find food. These once abundant caribou, however, are now at risk of extinction from loss of habitat and infrastructure carving up remaining forests. Many bird species visit boreal forest wetlands during their annual migrations, moving south as temperatures drop and food becomes scarce.
Climate change is a major threat to boreal forests. Almost 80% of boreal forests are on top of permafrost, a layer of soil that remains frozen throughout the year. As temperatures increase at unnaturally fast rates, the ground becomes soft and swampy and many trees eventually lose stability and die. Scientists from the International Boreal Forest Research Association believe that boreal forest conservation is the key to slowing climate change.
Boreal forests are still full of life that's adapted to withstand frigid temperatures year-round, such as caribou reindeer, or animals that can migrate long distances every winter. Full of deciduous trees and conifers, Boreal forests cover vast expanses in Canada, Alaska, and Russia, Boreal forests are also an important carbon sink. Like all forests they absorb carbon dioxide a main contributor to global warming and climate change removing it from the atmosphere and helping to keep the entire planet healthy.
While these forests are all different, there is one unfortunate unifying factor: they are all threatened. We're losing 18.7 million acres of forests every year to deforestation and degradation, mainly in the tropics. That's equivalent to 27 soccer fields a minute. The causes may be different-some are cleared for ranching and agriculture, while others are illegally harvested for timber-but the loss and forest degradation is equally devastating. The good news is that World Wildlife Fund and our partner organizations around the world are not going to let this continue. We're implementing innovative, permanent solutions to conserve forests around the world.