Taiga – Concept, characteristics, flora, fauna, climate and examples

We explain what the taiga is, also called “boreal forest”, its characteristics, climate, flora, fauna and various examples.

taiga biome forest conifers
The taiga is a cold-climate forested biome, found in the northern hemisphere.

What is taiga?

The taiga or boreal forest it is one of the biomes in which the largest forest mass on the planet resides, composed almost entirely of coniferous forests. Its name comes from the Russian тайҕа, which means “land of small sticks”.

The taigas are located in the cold northern regions of the northern hemisphere, in the vicinity of the Arctic Circle, in northern Russia (including Siberia), Europe, Canada and Alaska (USA), constituting an intermediate biome between the steppe and the tundra. In the southern hemisphere there are no taigas, but its equivalent would be the Magellan subpolar forest.

It is a very important biome for the oxygenation and fixation of the planet’s carbon (that is, its cooling), since the vast expanses of taiga forests absorb large amounts of CO2, one of the main greenhouse gases.

Taiga characteristics

taiga biome forest characteristics lung greenhouse wood
Besides being a source of wood, the taiga forest is one of the lungs of the world.

The origin of this biome dates back to the last portion of the Pleistocene (23,000 to 16,500 years ago), at the end of the last Ice Age. In a much colder world, its plant species were widely distributed around the world, but they were declining to the margin they occupy today, as the glaciers began their retreat 18,000 years ago.

The taiga is one of the lungs of the planet, along with the tropical rainforests. But unlike these, it does not have a great plant and animal biodiversityRather, it is an example of life adapted to a cold, dry and hostile climate, a prelude to the frozen desert of the polar regions. Nevertheless, is an important source of wood for industrial use.

Taiga climate

taiga biome forest weather winter snow ice
The species that live in the taiga are adapted to very cold winters.

The taiga climate presents a average temperature of 19 ° C in summer, and a minimum of -30 ° C in winter. That is, it is an icy climate in which permafrost predominates. Precipitation averages 450mm per year.

For these reasons, the species that live in these regions are adapted to cold and drought. For example, plant life has a window of optimal conditions of just four months.

Taiga flora

taiga biome forest coniferous thorns flora
The needle-shaped leaves of conifers allow photosynthesis without loss of water.

The dominant vegetation in the taiga is conifers, sometimes of the same type, forming long stretches of forest. Its needle-shaped leaves cope well with freezing temperatures, which lose little water. In addition, being evergreen (they do not lose their leaves in autumn), they can photosynthesize continuously and immediately as soon as the Sun appears.

Its heights are around 40 meters, with a pyramidal crown. Due to its bushy branches, there is little impact of sunlight on the understory and little life around it, other than ferns, lichens, and mosses. In general, the taiga is a biome with little plant biodiversity.

However, in the southern regions, where the climate becomes more benign, it is usual for deciduous trees of different nature to appear (poplars, birches, willows, etc.) forming mixed forests.

Taiga fauna

taiga biome forest fauna bear
The fauna of the taiga is adapted to the cold thanks to its abundant fur.

Similar to the flora, the fauna of the taiga is little varied and not very abundant. It is composed almost entirely of species adapted to the cold climate, with abundant fur, such as foxes, elk, mink, lynx, weasels and the top predators of the ecoregion, bears.

Small rodents abound, such as mice, and rabbits or hares, as well as various species of birds. During the summer the weather improves a lot and then the burrowing worms and insects appear.

Examples of taiga

taiga biome forest example ural mountains russia
A large expanse of the Ural Mountains in Russia is covered by taiga.

The main taigas on the planet are:

  • Slave-Muskwa Lake forests in Canada.
  • Canadian Uruguayan boreal forests, in Canada.
  • Taiga of the Ural Mountains, Russia.
  • Taiga of eastern Siberia, in Russia.
  • Taiga and grasslands of Kamchatka, Russia.

Taiga and tundra

taiga biome forest tundra
The taiga usually precedes the tundra, but they are two very different biomes.

The taiga usually precedes the tundra geographically, which is how the biogreographic regions near the poles are known. There the vegetation decreases in size due to the arid conditions of the soil (usually permafrost) and the very little rainfall.

The tundra is a form of treeless plain, of soils covered with mosses and lichens with abundant peat bogs. They are frequent in the extreme south of Chile and Argentina, near the Antarctic circle, as well as the islands of South Georgia, Auckland and Kerguelen, and in the few areas of Antarctica that are not covered by ice.

In the northern hemisphere they can also be found, on the northern coasts of Russia, Canada, Alaska and the European Arctic coast, as well as southern Greenland.

There are also three types of tundra, depending on their geographical location:

  • Alpina. Typical of mountainous regions.
  • Arctic. Typical of the Arctic region, more abundant in water and therefore in plant life.
  • Antarctica. Typical of Antarctica, much drier and with much less biodiversity still.

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