Taiga also known as boreal forest or snow forest, is a biome characterized by coniferous forests.
It is the world’s largest terrestrial biome, covering 17 million square kilometres (6.6 million square miles) or 11.5% of the Earth‘s land area.
Although at high elevations taiga grades into alpine tundra, it is not exclusively an alpine biome; and unlike subalpine forest, much of taiga is lowlands.
In North America, it covers most of inland Canada, Alaska, and parts of the northern contiguous United States. In Eurasia, it covers most of Sweden, Finland, much of Norway and Estonia, some of the Scottish Highlands, some lowland/coastal areas of Iceland, much of Russia, and areas of northern Kazakhstan, northern Mongolia, and northern Japan.
A different use of the term taiga is often encountered in the English language, with “boreal forest” used in the United States and Canada to refer to only the more southerly part of the biome, while “taiga” is used to describe the more barren areas of the northernmost part of the biome approaching the tree line and the tundra biome.
The Taiga is an important ecosystem for the health and stability of the planet and a place of profound beauty.
It is the terrestrial biome with the lowest annual average temperatures after the tundra and permanent ice caps.
The boreal forest, or taiga, supports a relatively small range of animals due to the harshness of the climate.
Plants and animals in the taiga are adapted to short growing seasons of long days that vary from cool to warm. Winters are long and very cold, the days are short, and a persistent snowpack is the norm.
Animal life in the taiga includes caribou, moose, foxes, beavers, weasels, lynx, wolves and bears. Most animal life is medium to small-sized, including rodents, rabbits, snowshoe hare, martens, stoat and mink.
The largest animal in the taiga is the wood bison, found in northern Canada, Alaska and has been newly introduced into the Russian far-east.
The world’s largest wild cat, the Siberian tiger, is native to taiga.
Several mammals display obvious adaptations to taiga. Some larger mammals, such as bears, eat heartily during the summer in order to gain weight, and then go into hibernation during the winter. Other animals have adapted layers of fur or feathers to insulate them from the cold.
The taiga is the migratory destination of large numbers of birds for the summer breeding season. These include several passerine songbirds typical of shrub and forest habitats, such as thrushes, flycatchers, and warblers. Predators of these birds occur in the forest as well, such as the sharp-shinned hawk and the northern goshawk. Woodpeckers excavate tree cavities, which subsequently are used by many species of birds and mammals.
Swarms of biting insects during the summer make the taiga a miserable place for humans and other warm-blooded animals.
Fire has been one of the most important factors shaping the composition and development of boreal forest stands.
Much of the area currently classified as taiga was recently glaciated. As the glaciers receded, they left depressions in the topography that have since filled with water, creating lakes and bogs (especially muskeg soil), found throughout the Taiga.
In the taiga biome the Sun is never directly overhead (90°) as it can be in the tropics. The maximum solar angle decreases with increasing latitude. At latitude 50° N in the southern part of the taiga biome the maximum solar angle is 63.5°, and at the Arctic Circle it is only 47°.
Snow may remain on the ground for as long as nine months in the northernmost extensions of the taiga ecozone.
Large areas of Siberia’s taiga have been harvested for lumber since the collapse of the Soviet Union.
In Canada, less than 8 percent of the boreal forest is protected from development and more than 50 percent has been allocated to logging companies for cutting.
Many nations are taking direct steps to protect the ecology of the taiga by prohibiting logging, mining, oil and gas production, and other forms of development.
Some of the larger cities situated in this biome are Murmansk, Arkhangelsk, Yakutsk, Anchorage, Yellowknife, Tromsø, Luleå, and Oulu.