The boreal forest, also known as the taiga, is located in a nearly continuous belt in the North. In North America, the taiga occupies much of Canada and Alaska, stopping north of the Canadian border. The taiga of Asia extends across Russia and into northeastern China and Mongolia, and in Europe, most of Finland, Sweden and Norway are made of taiga. In the taiga, where the sun is never directly overhead, solar energy is less intense in the taiga due to its being distributed over a large surface area, and therefore temperatures are mainly low.
The trees which can be found in the boreal forests vary from continent to continent. Scotch pine trees dominate the taiga of northern Europe and south-central Siberia due to the humid climate. Also, with the forest management, these trees grow in Scandinavia and Finland as well. In Europe, the Norway spruce trees dominate the productive and humid parts and the two other species which grow there are the European aspen, the Siberian spruce and the birch trees. In Asian boreal forests, birch, Siberian larch and fir, Chosenia plant, Siberian stone pine and Asian spruce can be found. Northern American tree species are distributed across the continent, with the exception of the balsam fir which is located in eastern and central North American taiga. The major taiga tree species are well adapted to the extreme cold weather that dominates the boreal climate. Apart from the various tree species, taigas are abundant in diverse species of mosses, lichens, berries and orchids.
Around one-third of the taiga ground is covered in species of moss, and lichens cover woodlands, sparse taiga and can also be seen growing on tree trunks. Berries such as lingonberry, baneberry, cloudberry and crowberry are found in certain areas of the taiga, as well as three species of orchids – calypso, coralroot, lady’s slipper. Due to its subarctic climate taigas have low biodiversity, but the species of mammals, birds and insects that inhabit them have evolved to survive the long and harsh winters which characterize the climate. Of mammals, the largest that can be found are the moose, the Eurasian reindeer and the North American caribou. Predators such as bears, wolves and lynx prey upon the snowshoe hares and beavers, minks and muskrats, the last three occupying wetland habitats. In North American boreal forests flying squirrels can be found. Of birds, there are hawks, woodpeckers, and waterfowl.
Songbirds such as flycatchers and warblers and shorebirds such as snipe, yellowlegs, pintails and scaup also inhabit the taiga. There are few species of insects living in the taiga, mainly mosquitos, moths, butterflies and beetles. The taiga biome is negatively affected by human lifestyles. Taiga animals which are being hunted and have always been hunted are threatened since their furs, which are turned into leather, help people survive the harsh climate for centuries. These animals, such as bears, foxes or rabbits are slain for their tough skin and warm fur. However, the current most serious threat originates from deforestation, not from hunting.
Since humans need buildings for their homes, educational institutions and businesses, taiga trees are cut down for new building sites as well as the production of timber and paper products. Deforestation results in the destruction of the habitats surrounded by trees in which the various species of mammals, insects and plants live. As they are cut down, it becomes increasingly difficult for the trees to regrow, thus the habitats are destroyed. Climate change is another factor which negatively impacts the taiga ecosystem, albeit in a different way. The rising temperatures help to thaw the frozen ground, which brings about swamps since the water has no place to drain. In these affected areas, few trees and plants can grow due to the excessive amount of water. Animals are also influenced by the warming temperatures.
Native species which are not adapted to warmer climates emigrate from the taiga, while non-native species which prefer warmer temperatures are attracted to the changed taiga climate. For example, animals with heavy fur coats which store excess amounts of body fat to survive the harsh colds cannot adapt in time to the warmer climate, and they have to relocate to a colder ecosystem.