Taiga, generally referred to in North America as boreal forest or snow forest, is a biome characterized by coniferous forests consisting mostly of pines, spruces, and larches.
The taiga or boreal forest has been called the world's largest land biome. 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 Russia from Karelia in the west to the Pacific Ocean (including much of Siberia), much of Norway and Estonia, some of the Scottish Highlands, some lowland/coastal areas of Iceland, and areas of northern Kazakhstan, northern Mongolia, and northern Japan (on the island of Hokkaidō).
The main tree species, the length of the growing season and summer temperatures vary across the world. The taiga of North America is mostly spruce, Scandinavian and Finnish taiga consists of a mix of spruce, pines and birch, Russian taiga has spruces, pines and larches depending on the region, while the Eastern Siberian taiga is a vast larch forest.
Taiga in its current form is a relatively recent phenomenon, having only existed for the last 12,000 years since the beginning of the Holocene epoch, covering land that had been mammoth steppe or under the Scandinavian Ice Sheet in Eurasia and under the Laurentide Ice Sheet in North America during the Late Pleistocene.
Although at high elevations taiga grades into alpine tundra through Krummholz, it is not exclusively an alpine biome, and unlike subalpine forest, much of taiga is lowlands.
The term "taiga" is not used consistently by all cultures. In the English language, "boreal forest" is used in the United States and Canada in referring to more southerly regions, while "taiga" is used to describe the more northern, barren areas approaching the tree line and the tundra. Hoffman (1958) discusses the origin of this differential use in North America and how this differentiation distorts established Russian usage.
Climate change is a threat, and how the carbon dioxide absorbed should be treated by carbon accounting is controversial
Since North America and Asia used to be connected by the Bering land bridge, a number of animal and plant species (more animals than plants) were able to colonize both continents and are distributed throughout the taiga biome (see Circumboreal Region). Others differ regionally, typically with each genus having several distinct species, each occupying different regions of the taiga. Taigas also have some small-leaved deciduous trees like birch, alder, willow, and poplar; mostly in areas escaping the most extreme winter cold. However, the Dahurian larch tolerates the coldest winters in the Northern Hemisphere in eastern Siberia. The very southernmost parts of the taiga may have trees such as oak, maple, elm and lime scattered among the conifers, and there is usually a gradual transition into a temperate mixed forest, such as the eastern forest-boreal transition of eastern Canada. In the interior of the continents with the driest climate, the boreal forests might grade into temperate grassland.
There are two major types of taiga. The southern part is the closed canopy forest, consisting of many closely spaced trees with mossy ground cover. In clearings in the forest, shrubs and wildflowers are common, such as the fireweed. The other type is the lichen woodland or sparse taiga, with trees that are farther-spaced and lichen ground cover; the latter is common in the northernmost taiga. In the northernmost taiga the forest cover is not only more sparse, but often stunted in growth form; moreover, ice pruned asymmetric black spruce (in North America) are often seen, with diminished foliage on the windward side. In Canada, Scandinavia and Finland, the boreal forest is usually divided into three subzones: The high boreal (north boreal) or taiga zone; the middle boreal (closed forest); and the southern boreal, a closed canopy boreal forest with some scattered temperate deciduous trees among the conifers, such as maple, elm and oak. This southern boreal forest experiences the longest and warmest growing season of the biome, and in some regions (including Scandinavia, Finland and western Russia) this subzone is commonly used for agricultural purposes. The boreal forest is home to many types of berries; some are confined to the southern and middle closed boreal forest (such as wild strawberry and partridgeberry); others grow in most areas of the taiga (such as cranberry and cloudberry), and some can grow in both the taiga and the low arctic (southern part of) tundra (such as bilberry, bunchberry and lingonberry).
The forests of the taiga are largely coniferous, dominated by larch, spruce, fir and pine. The woodland mix varies according to geography and climate so for example the Eastern Canadian forests ecoregion of the higher elevations of the Laurentian Mountains and the northern Appalachian Mountains in Canada is dominated by balsam fir Abies balsamea, while further north the Eastern Canadian Shield taiga of northern Quebec and Labrador is notably black spruce Picea mariana and tamarack larch Larix laricina.
Evergreen species in the taiga (spruce, fir, and pine) have a number of adaptations specifically for survival in harsh taiga winters, although larch, which is extremely cold-tolerant, is deciduous. Taiga trees tend to have shallow roots to take advantage of the thin soils, while many of them seasonally alter their biochemistry to make them more resistant to freezing, called "hardening". The narrow conical shape of northern conifers, and their downward-drooping limbs, also help them shed snow.
Because the sun is low in the horizon for most of the year, it is difficult for plants to generate energy from photosynthesis. Pine, spruce and fir do not lose their leaves seasonally and are able to photosynthesize with their older leaves in late winter and spring when light is good but temperatures are still too low for new growth to commence. The adaptation of evergreen needles limits the water lost due to transpiration and their dark green color increases their absorption of sunlight. Although precipitation is not a limiting factor, the ground freezes during the winter months and plant roots are unable to absorb water, so desiccation can be a severe problem in late winter for evergreens.
Although the taiga is dominated by coniferous forests, some broadleaf trees also occur, notably birch, aspen, willow, and rowan. Many smaller herbaceous plants, such as ferns and occasionally ramps grow closer to the ground. Periodic stand-replacing wildfires (with return times of between 20 and 200 years) clear out the tree canopies, allowing sunlight to invigorate new growth on the forest floor. For some species, wildfires are a necessary part of the life cycle in the taiga; some, e.g. jack pine have cones which only open to release their seed after a fire, dispersing their seeds onto the newly cleared ground; certain species of fungi (such as morels) are also known to do this. Grasses grow wherever they can find a patch of sun, and mosses and lichens thrive on the damp ground and on the sides of tree trunks. In comparison with other biomes, however, the taiga has low biological diversity.
Coniferous trees are the dominant plants of the taiga biome. A very few species in four main genera are found: the evergreen spruce, fir and pine, and the deciduous larch. In North America, one or two species of fir and one or two species of spruce are dominant. Across Scandinavia and western Russia, the Scots pine is a common component of the taiga, while taiga of the Russian Far East and Mongolia is dominated by larch. Rich in spruces, Scots pines in the western Siberian plain, the taiga is dominated by larch in Eastern Siberia, before returning to its original floristic richness on the Pacific shores. Two deciduous trees mingle throughout southern Siberia: birch and Populus tremula.
Source: Wikipedia contributors. "Taiga." Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, 26 Jun. 2021. Web. 28 Jun. 2021.