Taiga or Boreal Forest Biome
Written by: Sisi Gao
Illustrated by: Jo Ramirez and Brendan Koehler

show/hide words to know

Bog: an area with spongy, wet ground that holds a lot of dead plant matter.

Conifer: a type of tree or bush that makes cones and evergreen leaves, some of which we call needles.

Decomposition: when dead plants, animals, or other living matter rot and break down into nutrients that can be used by other plants and living things.

Evergreen: a plant that has leaves throughout the year. Hence, this plant is for\"ever\" green.

Hibernate: the act of sleeping through the cold winter months, like some animals do to survive the winter... more

Lichen: a living organism that is not a plant or an animal. Lichens usually have two living organisms, fungus and algae that work together in a beneficial manner... more

Migratory: moving from place to place. Birds often migrate to avoid cold and hot temperatures. Some travel thousands of miles each year when migrating.

Conifers in the snow boreal forest

Much of the taiga is a dark, dense forest. Image by Orcaborealis.

A cold wind whips through a huge coniferous forest. In its wake, falling snow swirls and evergreen branches sway. Sunlight filters through the dark green canopy, but it is too weak to warm your hands. Snow slides down from the peaks of cone-shaped trees and clumps on the hard forest floor. All around you, the woods stretch, lovely, dark and deep. You are standing in the largest land biome in the world: the taiga.

In Russian, “taiga” translates to “forest.” This biome is also known as the snow forest or Boreal Forest, named after the Greek god of the north wind. Coniferous trees dominate most of this biome, but occasional lakes and bogs punctuate the evergreen landscape.

Lonely Winter Nights

Moss and lichen in snow

Moss and lichen can survive the harsh conditions of the taiga. Image by Randi Hausken.

It takes some serious stubbornness to survive the harsh winter of the taiga. For as long as 9 months, temperatures range between -54°C to -1°C (-65°F to 30°F) and snow falls furiously. Because the taiga is located so far north, the sun does not shine for very long during the winter. With such short days, the cold affects everything, even death. The cold temperatures slow down the rate of decomposition so much that nutrients from dying plants and animals take a long time to break down before they can return to the soil.

However, even under the harsh conditions of the long and dark taiga winter, life does find a way. Lichen, mosses, mushrooms, and conifer trees thrive on thin soil that lacks nutrients.

Animals that remain active through the winter sport thick coats to guard against the cold. Many animals eat whatever plants they can find, munching on the seeds of pine cones or green shoots buried beneath the snow. Some snack on other animals. For others that won't find enough food over the winter, hibernation is another option. Yet others leave the taiga and migrate south to warmer biomes for the winter. Eventually, the winter passes and gives way to warmer temperatures.

Bustling Summers

Luna moth Actias luna

Life in the taiga can endure or be short-lived, like in the luna moth. Click for more detail.

As the days grow longer, the air warms up. Temperatures range between -7°C to 21°C (19°F to 70°F) in the summer. This may not sound very warm to you, but for those that live in the taiga, the summers are hot and humid enough to bring on the breeding season. Hibernating animals emerge from their burrows to seek mates. Insect populations bloom. Migratory birds arrive at bogs to find partners and start building nests. The taiga awakens with lots of activity because the summer is short – between one and three months – and the flowers and animals in the taiga must mate and produce their young before the winter returns.

Images via Wikimedia Commons. Canadian taiga by peupleloup.

Sisi Gao earned her PhD in Biology at Arizona State University. She's currently a scientific writer working in cancer biology.

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Bibliographic details:

  • Article: Trailing Through Taiga
  • Author(s): Sisi Gao
  • Publisher: Arizona State University School of Life Sciences Ask A Biologist
  • Site name: ASU - Ask A Biologist
  • Date published: August 2, 2014
  • Date accessed: June 12, 2024
  • Link: https://askabiologist.asu.edu/explore/taiga

APA Style

Sisi Gao. (2014, August 02). Trailing Through Taiga. ASU - Ask A Biologist. Retrieved June 12, 2024 from https://askabiologist.asu.edu/explore/taiga

American Psychological Association. For more info, see http://owl.english.purdue.edu/owl/resource/560/10/

Chicago Manual of Style

Sisi Gao. "Trailing Through Taiga". ASU - Ask A Biologist. 02 August, 2014. https://askabiologist.asu.edu/explore/taiga

MLA 2017 Style

Sisi Gao. "Trailing Through Taiga". ASU - Ask A Biologist. 02 Aug 2014. ASU - Ask A Biologist, Web. 12 Jun 2024. https://askabiologist.asu.edu/explore/taiga

Modern Language Association, 7th Ed. For more info, see http://owl.english.purdue.edu/owl/resource/747/08/
Taiga forest

The taiga is also known as the boreal forest. In many areas, conifer trees are dense and the forest stretches for thousands of miles without end.

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