The taiga is a forest of the cold, subarctic region. The subarctic is an area of the Northern Hemisphere that lies just south of the Arctic Circle. The taiga lies between the tundra to the north and temperate forests to the south.

Alaska, Canada, Scandinavia, and Siberia have taigas. In Russia, the world’s largest taiga stretches about 5,800 kilometers (3,600 miles), from the Pacific Ocean to the Ural Mountains. This taiga region was completely glaciated, or covered by glaciers, during the last ice age.

The soil beneath the taiga often contains permafrost—a layer of permanently frozen soil. In other areas, a layer of bedrock lies just beneath the soil. Both permafrost and rock prevent water from draining from the top layers of soil. This creates shallow bogs known as muskegs. Muskegs can look like solid ground, because they are covered with moss, short grasses, and sometimes even trees. However, the ground is actually wet and spongy.

Plants and Fungi

Taigas are thick forests. Coniferous trees, such as spruce, pine, and fir, are common. Coniferous trees have needles instead of broad leaves, and their seeds grow inside protective, woody cones. While deciduous trees of temperate forests lose their leaves in winter, conifers never lose their needles. For this reason, conifers are also called “evergreens.”

Conifers have adapted to survive the long, cold winters and short summers of the taiga. Their needles contain very little sap, which helps prevent freezing. Their dark color and triangle-shaped sides help them catch and absorb as much of the sun’s light as possible. In the taiga, tree growth is thickest beside muskegs and lakes formed by glaciers.

Taigas have few native plants besides conifers. The soil of the taiga has few nutrients. It can also freeze, making it difficult for many plants to take root. The larch is one of the only deciduous trees able to survive in the freezing northern taiga.

Instead of shrubs and flowers, mosses, lichens, and mushrooms cover the floor of a taiga. These organisms can grow directly on the ground, or have very shallow roots. They can survive in the cold, and with little water or sunlight.


Animals of the Taiga

Many kinds of animals live in the taiga. All animals have to be well-adapted to the cold. Birds native to the taiga usually migrate south during the freezing winter months. Small animals, mostly rodents, live close to the floor. Many birds of prey, such as owls and eagles, hunt these animals from the trees of the taiga.

Moose, the largest type of deer in the world, is able to live in the cold taiga. Like all deer, moose are herbivores. They favor the aquatic plants growing on the taiga’s bogs and streams.

Few large carnivorous animals live in the taiga. Bears and lynx are fairly common. The largest cat in the world, the 300-kilogram (660-pound) Siberian tiger, is a native taiga species. Siberian tigers live in a small part of eastern Siberia. They hunt moose and wild boars.

Threats to Taigas

Taiga ecosystems are threatened by direct human activity and climate change. Animals of the taiga, such as foxes or bears, have always been hunted. Their warm fur and tough skin, turned into leather, have helped people survive in harsh climates for thousands of years.

The most serious threat to taigas does not come from hunting activity, however. Civilization is dependent on sturdy buildings for homes, industry, and schools. The trees of the taiga are cut down for lumber projects, as well as paper, cardboard, and other supplies. The export of wood and paper products is one of the most economically important industries in Canada, for instance.

Clearcutting is the most popular type of logging in taigas. Clearcutting involves cutting down all the trees in a designated area. This destroys habitats for many organisms that live in and around the trees, and makes it difficult for new trees to grow. Clearcutting also increases the risk of erosion and flooding in the taiga. Without a root system to anchor it, a taiga’s soil can be blown away by wind or worn away by rain or snow. This exposes the bedrock and permafrost beneath the taiga, which does not support many forms of life.

Climate change puts taigas in danger in different ways. Warming climate contributes to a partial thawing of the permafrost. Since this water has no place to drain, more area of the taiga is taken over by muskegs. Few trees take root.

Warming temperature also changes animal habitats. It pushes native species out and attracts non-native species. Animals such as the Siberian tiger are not adapted to warm weather. Its coat is too heavy, and it stores too much body fat to thrive in a temperate habitat. Non-native insects such as the bark beetle can infest trees such as spruce. Millions of these insects bore into the bark of trees, laying eggs. The infested trees die. Bark beetle infestations can kill entire forests and thousands of hectares of taiga.

taiga
The boreal forest is often associated with the southern part of the taiga.

Tipsy Timber
In drunken forests, trees tilt in different directions. These trees arent tipsy from beer or other alcohol, but from taiga soil conditions. When permafrost layers in the soil thaw, the ground sags. This causes nearby trees, which have very shallow roots, to lean toward the depression.

absorb
Verb

to soak up.

acre
Noun

unit of measure equal to .4 hectares.

adapt
Verb

to adjust to new surroundings or a new situation.

anchor
Verb

to hold firmly in place.

animal
Noun

organisms that have a well-defined shape and limited growth, can move voluntarily, acquire food and digest it internally, and can respond rapidly to stimuli.

aquatic
Adjective

having to do with water.

Arctic Circle
Noun

paralell of latitude that runs 66.5 degrees north of the Equator.

bark
Noun

typically hard, outer covering of a tree.

bark beetle
Noun

insect that nests in hardwood trees.

bear
Noun

mammal with a very large body, relatively short limbs, and an elongated snout.

Noun

solid rock beneath the Earth's soil and sand.

bird
Noun

egg-laying animal with feathers, wings, and a beak.

boar
Noun

mammal, related to a pig, native to Europe and Asia.

bog
Noun

wetland of soft ground made mostly of decaying plant matter.

bore
Verb

to drill or tunnel into something.

boreal forest
Noun

land covered by evergreen trees in cool, northern latitudes. Also called taiga.

broad
Adjective

wide or expansive.

cardboard
Noun

thick, stiff paper made of wood pulp.

carnivorous
Adjective

meat-eating.

Noun

complex way of life that developed as humans began to develop urban settlements.

clearcutting
Noun

process of cutting down all the vegetation in an area, usually as part of an economic industry.

Noun

all weather conditions for a given location over a period of time.

Noun

gradual changes in all the interconnected weather elements on our planet.

conifer
Noun

plant that produces seeds in hard cones, such as pine. Also called a coniferous tree.

deciduous
Adjective

type of plant that sheds its leaves once a year.

deer
Noun

mammal whose male members have antlers.

designate
Verb

to name or single out.

eagle
Noun

large, powerful bird of prey.

Noun

community and interactions of living and nonliving things in an area.

Noun

act in which earth is worn away, often by water, wind, or ice.

evergreen
Noun

tree that does not lose its leaves.

export
Noun

good or service traded to another area.

expose
Verb

to uncover.

fat
Noun

material found in organisms that is colorless and odorless and may be solid or liquid at room temperature.

fir
Noun

variety of pine tree.

Noun

overflow of a body of water onto land.

flower
Noun

blossom or reproductive organs of a plant.

forest
Noun

ecosystem filled with trees and underbrush.

fox
Noun

type of mammal related to a dog with a thin muzzle and thick tail.

fringe
Verb

to exist on the border or edge.

fur
Noun

thick hair covering the skin of an animal.

glacial retreat
Noun

process by which glaciers melt faster than precipitation can replace the ice.

Noun

mass of ice that moves slowly over land.

grass
Noun

type of plant with narrow leaves.

Noun

organism that eats mainly plants and other producers.

home
Noun

an organism's native place; could be a residence, a town or a country.

hunt
Verb

to pursue and kill an animal, usually for food.

ice age
Noun

long period of cold climate where glaciers cover large parts of the Earth. The last ice age peaked about 20,000 years ago. Also called glacial age.

industry
Noun

activity that produces goods and services.

infest
Verb

to invade, overrun, and take over.

insect
Noun

type of animal that breathes air and has a body divided into three segments, with six legs and usually wings.

larch
Noun

deciduous, coniferous tree.

leaf
Noun

organ growing from the stem of a plant.

leather
Noun

skin of an animal, prepared for use as clothing, protection, shelter, or other use.

lichen
Noun

organism composed of a fungus or fungi and an alga or cyanobacterium.

logging
Noun

industry engaged in cutting down trees and moving the wood to sawmills.

lumber
Noun

precisely cut pieces of wood such as boards or planks.

lynx
Noun

large cat native to Norh America.

migrate
Verb

to move from one place or activity to another.

moss
Noun

tiny plant usually found in moist, shady areas.

mushroom
Noun

fungus, usually with an umbrella-shaped cap on top of a slender stalk.

muskeg
Noun

bog, especially one in North America.

native species
Noun

species that occur naturally in an area or habitat. Also called indigenous species.

needle
Noun

long, thin, pointed leaf.

non-native species
Noun

a type of plant or animal that is not indigenous to a particular area. Non-native species can sometimes cause economic or environmental harm as an invasive species.

Northern Hemisphere
Noun

half of the Earth between the North Pole and the Equator.

Noun

substance an organism needs for energy, growth, and life.

owl
Noun

bird of prey.

partial
Adjective

incomplete.

Noun

permanently frozen layer of the Earth's surface.

pine
Noun

type of evergreen tree with needle-shaped leaves.

plant
Noun

organism that produces its own food through photosynthesis and whose cells have walls.

prey
Noun

animal that is hunted and eaten by other animals.

rock
Noun

natural substance composed of solid mineral matter.

rodent
Noun

order of mammals often characterized by long teeth for gnawing and nibbling.

root
Noun

part of a plant that secures it in the soil, obtains water and nutrients, and often stores food made by leaves.

root system
Noun

all of a plant's roots.

sap
Noun

fluid that distributes nutrients throughout a plant.

Scandinavia
Noun

region and name for some countries in Northern Europe: Iceland, Norway, Sweden, Finland, and Denmark.

seed
Noun

part of a plant from which a new plant grows.

shrub
Noun

type of plant, smaller than a tree but having woody branches.

Siberia
Noun

region of land stretching across Russia from the Ural Mountains to the Pacific Ocean.

Siberian tiger
Noun

endangered species native to far eastern Siberia.

soil
Noun

top layer of the Earth's surface where plants can grow.

spruce
Noun

coniferous, or cone-bearing, tree.

Noun

body of flowing water.

subarctic
Noun

region just south of the Arctic Circle.

survive
Verb

to live.

Noun

evergreen forest in cool, northern latitudes. Also called boreal forest.

temperate
Adjective

moderate.

thaw
Verb

to melt, or turn from ice to liquid.

thrive
Verb

to develop and be successful.

tree
Noun

type of large plant with a thick trunk and branches.

tundra
Noun

cold, treeless region in Arctic and Antarctic climates.