Welcome To The Coniferous Forest
Coniferous Forest Biome
The northern coniferous forest biome occupies a vast area below the tundra, extending completely across Canada and into interior Alaska. The biome is also referred to as the boreal forest or taiga. Compared to the arctic tundra, the climate of the boreal forest is characterized by a longer and warmer growing season. Precipitation averages 20 inches per year, but ranges from 40 inches in the eastern regions to 10 inches in interior Alaska. Available soil moisture is high as a result of cool temperature and low evapotranspiration rates. Mineral soils are generally thin and poorly drained. Large expanses of land are covered with thick deposits of peat and organic soils, ranging in depth from several feet to nearly a hundred. These soils have very high moisture holding capacities and are often completely saturated.
The Coniferous forest is home to acres and acres of evergreen trees. Conifers have needles instead of broad leaves. They do not have flowers or fruits. In late winter or early spring they form two kinds of cones. Cones which have pollen and cones that are fertilized by wind-blown pollen. A spruce tree may keep its needles for fifteen years, while other species may keep theirs for only two or three years. The conifers harden (winterize) in winter, which is a process that makes them more resistant to freezing. Grass grows under the trees where the ground is dry and where there is enough sunlight. Shaded areas grow ferns and mosses. Fungi grow on fallen trees and help old needles and twigs to decompose. Below are photos, facts and links for more information for some of the vegetation found in the Coniferous forests.
From Alaska to Canada to Russia, it is estimated that vast amounts of petroleum products lie under these forests. Increased instability in the Middle East, more effective technology for working in the cold, and the high demand for fossil fuels are pushing exploration and development into areas once thought impossible to exploit. It is not clear whether the slow-growing coniferous forests can recover. Other threats abound. Perhaps the most serious is Global Warming; as the planet warms the southern reaches of the boreal forest will become warm enough for deciduous trees to outcompete the conifers and replace them. It is not clear whether the tundra areas to the north will support forests even under warmer conditions, and it is less clear if the trees will be able to move north rapidly enough in any event. There is some evidence to suggest that additional carbon dioxide and methane - both greenhouse gasses - will be liberated from warmer tundra and taiga soils as the built up detritus of thousands of years is finally free to decompose. This additional release of greenhouse gasses could accelerate global warming even further. Logging is always a threat; unless carefully managed these forests are very slow to regrow and corporate pressures may reduce the amount of management and/or accelerate cutting beyond what can be sustained. Large areas of boreal forest have also been flooded as part of hydroelectric projects (right).