What Is The Taiga?

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The Siberian Taiga. Image credit: amidamien/Shutterstock
  • The Taiga, an area of coniferous forests of the northern temperate zones, covers 17% of the Earth's total land, which makes it the planet's largest biome.
  • Dark coniferous is the most common type of forest found in the Taiga, including spruce, fir, pine and Siberian cedar trees.
  • The Taiga experiences ongoing environmental threats from human activity, such as deforestation, hydroelectric development, and climate change.

The Taiga, an area of coniferous forests in the northern temperate zones, is created by boreal species of spruce, fir, larch, pine, cedar with a small mixture of hardwoods. The Taiga comprises open woodlands with trees spaced widely apart, as well as dense, shaded forests. Russian for "marshy pine forest," the Taiga covers about 50 million acres or 17% of the Earth's total land, which makes it the planet's largest biome.

Also called boreal forests, the Taiga is divided into northern, central, and southern regions. Taiga forests belong to vast expanses of northern parts of Europe, Asia, and North America, along with the southern Rocky Mountains and Sierra alpine regions of the western US, the Japanese islands and the Pacific coast of North America.

Map depicting the Taiga regions of the world. Image credit: Atomic Roderick/Shutterstock

Content:

Climate

The Taiga typically experiences cold, harsh weather with winters lasting up to six months, a short growing season, and little precipitation which occurs only in summer. The area gets very short, mild and humid summers of about 50 to 100 days, with the average temperature in July being about 10 to 13 degrees Celsius (50-55 Fahrenheit). Winters are quite cold with steady snow cover and average temperatures below freezing. Some locations in Russia have even experienced temperatures of -67 degrees Celsius (-90 Fahrenheit)!

Flora And Fauna

Forests And Trees

Cranberries in the Taiga. Image credit: Elena Fox/Shutterstock

Dark coniferous is the most common type of forest found in the Taiga. This includes spruce, fir, pine and Siberian cedar trees. Light coniferous Taiga includes forest pine, larch, and some American species of pine. Timbers form the pure stands of forests (spruce forests, larch forests) and the mixed stands of forests (spruce-fir forest), and there are also shrubs such as juniper, honeysuckle, currant, willow, blueberries, and cranberries.

In North America, the northern boundary of the forest is formed by black and blue-grey spruce and Canadian larch trees, within the North Atlantic Canadian provinces. In the Appalachians, in addition to black spruce, you'll find red spruce and American species of firs. In the southwest, a large number of genus poplar trees grow. To the east, you'll find sugar maple, hemlock, and oak. Canada's Prince Edward Island is rich in resinous pine and red and black spruce, which grows mixed with maple and yellow birch.

In Russia, almost one-third of the territory belongs to the Taiga zone. Large Taiga areas in the mountains are concentrated in Siberia and the Far East in a predominantly continental climate. On each of the Northern Hemisphere's continents, the Taiga forms the northern border of the forest line.

Soil And Herbs

Taiga soil is covered with moss, lichens or rot litter of fallen needles. As for herbs, sorrel, wintergreen, and ferns accompany many of the dark Taiga areas of Eurasia and North America. In addition to the dark coniferous forests in the southern European Taiga strip, oak, linden, and maple trees are found, while alders make an occasional appearance. In the southern regions, especially in the mountains and near the ocean coasts, Taiga vegetation is much richer in composition. In Northern Europe (specifically in Finland, Sweden, and Norway) the Taiga's spruce forests are influenced by the sub-Atlantic climate.

Animals

Brown bear in the Taiga. Image credit: Erik Mandre/Shutterstock

The widespread species of the Taiga that we know and see in other climatic areas include the wolf, fox, otter, weasel, ermine, European hedgehog, hare, the forest and field mouse, mink, deer, and roe deer. The largest predator is the brown bear. In the lowland Taiga of North America, typical species include American hares, Pennsylvania voles, American sables, martens, Canadian lynxes, and those of the same types as in Eurasia, including the moose and Arctic shrew. Well-known birds of the Taiga are wood grouses, hazel grouses, nutcrackers, three-toed woodpeckers, crossbills, boreal owls, and waxwings.

People

Most of the Taiga is pretty unpopulated, and many of the Taiga's largest animals are sensitive to human presence, pollution, and changes to their habitat. However, a few large cities exist in the southern Taiga, like Toronto and Moscow, and there are 18 Indigenous communities throughout the Taiga with populations exceeding 200,000.

The most common jobs of these Indigenous peoples are fishing, hunting, crafts, and reindeer herding. Reindeer and musk deer are the most commonly hunted game and, for fur, sable, weasel, and squirrel, sable are hunted. Some tribes in the Taiga combine herding with other work for their livelihood. These tribes often split up in the summer to migrate north for fishing.

Many areas in the Taiga are developed, so high-quality pastures and space for reindeer are limited, particularly in the region of Western Siberia, which is a large producer of oil and gas. Today, in addition to meeting the commercial needs of the forestry industry, the ecotourism sector is growing rapidly across all climatic zones of the Taiga.

Threats To Taiga Regions Of The World

Clearcutting in the Taiga of Sweden. Image credit: TTphoto/Shutterstock

Mining, logging, and hydroelectric development are the largest industries throughout the Taiga, which are negatively impacting the area at the same time. The Taiga experiences ongoing environmental threats from human activity, such as deforestation. Hydroelectric development has altered stream habitats and flow patterns, flooded large areas, and changed landscapes. Mining pollutes nearby soils and water and creates acid rain.

Most logging in the Taiga is done by clear-cutting with heavy machinery, which removes much of the forest. It takes an extremely long time to regrow mature forests because of the Taiga's soil and climate conditions. Most of the trees being cut down are for the purpose of creating products we use every day, such as beams in houses, hardwood floors, and newsprint. Logging and clear-cutting are removing the homes of animals in the Taiga and reducing the integrity of soil, which affects the productivity of nearby land. Illegal logging is an issue, especially in the far east of Russia. Almost half the oak harvested in 2010 was done from the Taiga and illegally.

Climate change and wildfires are other large threats to the Taiga. Native animals and plants have adapted to the freezing temperatures the areas face, and they can't survive warmer climates. This is causing many species to become endangered or even extinct. As well, the glaciers and snow of the Taiga melt in these warmer temperatures which causes runoffs on mountains that flood the area. Flooding occurs since the base of the Taiga doesn't drain well, because of the area's permanently frozen soil and surface-level bedrock. This causes a chain reaction where trees needing more water begin to die.

Despite the various threats to the Taiga, there is some good news. Because of the biodiversity and ability of the area's flora and fauna to live and grow in cold temperatures, the Taiga plays a crucial role in confronting the threat of global warming. This is because it's a force capable of sustaining and balancing global temperatures to some degree, as well as providing a source of oxygen formation for the entire planet. April to September is an active release period of oxygen over the surface of the Taiga zone, which is then carried by winds across the planet.

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