The boreal forest or snow forest, is a biome, or in other words a constellation of different habitats, characterized by coniferous forests such as pines, spruces and larches. It is found in high northern latitudes, between the tundra, and the temperate forest, but there is considerable regional variation.
Russia, Mongolia, Japan, Norway, Sweden, Iceland, Finland, United States, Canada, and Scotland (UK) are the countries where the boreal forest can be found . Even though we don’t hear it mentioned as often as tropical rainforests in the media, it is the largest type of forest on Earth! And if this is not enough to convince you, here are 12 facts that will definitely have you thinking how fascinating boreal forests are:
- The boreal forest takes its name from the Greek god of north wind “Boreas”.
- The boreal forest is also known as Taiga. Taiga is a Russian word that comes from Turkish and means “coniferous forests” .
- Canada’s boreal forest region covers almost 60% of the country’s land area, essentially spanning from the Atlantic to the Pacific. It is over 5,740,000 square kilometres and it is one of the largest and most complex ecosystems on the planet .
- The Taiga has the lowest annual average temperatures after the tundra and permanent ice caps. Even though there is variation in the temperatures reached in boreal forests depending on where they are located, the lowest reliably recorded temperatures in the Northern Hemisphere were recorded in the Taiga of north-eastern Russia .
- Given low temperatures, a lot of animals either migrate to warmer climates once the cold weather begins or hibernate. Some however, have gone even further and adapted to the extreme cold temperatures by producing a layer of insulating feathers or fur to protect them from the cold and predators. The ermine, a small mammal, is a good example of this adaptation. Its dark brown summer coat changes to white in the winter.
- At approximately 12 million square kilometres, Russian boreal forests represent the largest forested region on Earth, larger than the Amazon. They contain more than 55% of the world’s conifers, and 11% of the world’s biomass .
- The Canadian boreal forest is home to some of the cleanest and deepest freshwater lakes on the planet. The Great Bear Lake is considered the world’s largest unpolluted lake whereas the Great Slave Lake is North America’s deepest .
- While wildfires can occur in boreal forests, the 2003 forest fires in Siberia released as much greenhouse gas into the atmosphere as the total EU reduction commitment under the Kyoto protocol .
- Scotch pine dominates boreal forests in northern Europe and south-central Siberia. It is the most widely distributed pine species in the world, growing from northern Scotland to the Russian Pacific shore .
- Nearly half of all bird species commonly occurring in Canada and the United State rely on the boreal forest for nesting or migratory stopover habitat .
- The Canadian boreal forest as we know it today took shape about 5,000 years ago – a very short time ago in geological time scale .
- The boreal forest is home to North America’s largest land mammal, the wood bison. A full-grown male bison can weigh as much as 1,000 kilograms, span a length of up to 3.8 meters, and stand almost 2 meters tall .