Outforia Quicktake: Key Takeaways
- Coniferous forests are home to needle-bearing trees and a range of specialized animals, fungi, and plants. These forests are characterized by low light levels and often-cold conditions, though tropical coniferous forests do exist.
- These forests are mainly found in the Northern Hemisphere, including Asia, Europe, and North America, with certain regions in the Southern Hemisphere. Species of trees commonly found in coniferous forests include spruce, pine, and fir trees.
- The acidic and nutrient-poor soil conditions, along with the evergreen vegetation, are primary characteristics of coniferous forests. The flora and fauna have adapted to these conditions, including having thick fur or feathers for animals.
- Some of the plants that can survive in these forests include mosses, grasses, and shrubs. These are adapted to live in damp, low-light conditions.
- Coniferous forests, or biomes, are identifiable through specific traits such as pH, precipitation, temperature, light intensity, and the types of animals and plants found in the area.
A coniferous forest is made up of conifer trees that bear needles instead of leaves and cones instead of fruits. Coniferous forests are a type of biome with their own ecosystems and specialized animals, fungi, and plants.
You’ll always notice when you’re walking in a coniferous forest. The quiet and the darkness, for one.
As the trees are evergreen, not much light makes it to the forest floor. That doesn’t mean there isn’t any life. It’s just that the animals and plants that live in coniferous forests have found clever ways to thrive in these more challenging conditions.
Coniferous forests contain life that has adapted to low light and often-cold conditions. Coniferous forests are not always cold, though. There are even tropical coniferous forests.
Read on to find out more about the secret life of these shady evergreen spaces.
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Types of Biomes
Coniferous forest is a type of biome. A biome is a large area of land with its own special soil, climate, vegetation, and wildlife.
To put coniferous forests in perspective, here’s a list of Earth’s five main biomes:
These can be broken down further into 26 specific biomes, such as temperate grassland or coniferous forest. To find out more about biomes, click on the link.
The Eden Project in Cornwall, UK, is famous for creating miniature biomes inside domes. The climate and soil are controlled so that visitors can experience what life in other parts of the planet is like.
Characteristics of a Coniferous Forest
A coniferous forest is a special place. Here’s why.
- Acidic soil: When coniferous trees break down into soil, they create acidic soil with a pH of less than 7. This means animals and fungi living within coniferous forests need to adapt to living in an acidic environment.
- Poor soil: The soils where conifers thrive are nutrient-poor. Conifers are adapted to survive in these conditions where other trees and plants cannot.
- Cold climate: The temperatures surrounding conifer forests are cold in the winter and cool in the summer. Heavy snowfall and summer rain help to maintain moisture. Temperatures often fall below freezing.
- Evergreen coniferous vegetation: Most of the plants and trees keep their needles all year round. This is known as being evergreen. Conifers are a group of trees known as Gymnosperms. The name means “naked seed,” as they have a hard, woody cone instead of fruit.
- Well-adapted wildlife: Many of the animals that live in coniferous forests have thick fur and feathers. They have other adaptations, too, such as hibernating through the coldest parts of the winter.
Where to Find Coniferous Forests
You can find coniferous forests in Asia, specifically in Japan, Korea, Siberia, and China. There are conifers on the slopes of the Himalayas and in the Hindu Kush.
You can find them high in the mountain ranges of Europe, especially the Alps, Carpathian, and Vosges Mountain ranges. Northern European countries, such as Scandinavia, are a good place to go to find conifers.
North America has vast tracts of coniferous forest. From Alaska through Newfoundland, Washington, Oregon, and California, there are huge areas of coniferous wilderness you can get really lost in.
Coniferous forests are found mostly in the Northern Hemisphere. You can, however, find them in the Southern Hemisphere, in Mexico, in parts of Argentina and Brazil, and in parts of Africa.
Native Tree Species in Coniferous Forests
The most common trees to find in coniferous forests are conifers. Joking aside, we can break these down into individual species such as spruce, pine, and fir trees.
In western Europe, the most common conifers are Scots Pine and Norway spruce. In Eurasia, Siberian Pine, Siberian fir, and Larch, as well as Dahurian Larch, are the dominant species.
In the US, Black and White Spruce and Balsam Fir, as well as Lodgepole Pine and Alpine Fir, are the most prevalent species.
Not all conifers are the same, as you will see. Their needles, growth habits, and cones can be quite easily told apart once you know what to look for.
Spruce trees (Picea sp.)
Spruce trees include our beloved Christmas trees, which are often Blue Spruce (Picea pungens). There are approximately forty different species.
There’s Black Spruce, Red Spruce, and Norway spruce, to name a few.
They have short, four-sided needles that are attached to the twig with a woody peg that remains when the leaf falls.
The needles are arranged in a spiral structure. The trees are pyramid-shaped. Cones are egg-shaped or cylindrical and droop downward once fertilized.
Spruce needles are also edible, with a lovely lemony resin flavor that can be used in drinks and as a marinade for fish. They are high in Vitamin C. Just don’t mix them up with Yew, which is poisonous.
Pine trees (Pinus sp.)
Pine trees are a very common conifer and of great economic importance for the building and paper industries.
Most species have edible seeds, some of which, like the Stone Pine, are commercially harvested. They have sticky resinous sap, which can be used for turpentine, resin, and glue.
Species of Pine include Scots Pine, Monterey Pine, and Eastern White Pine.
Young pine trees are usually conical in shape. Older pines often spread out into a round shape. They have needles contained in a deciduous, papery sheath. These needles can be in bunches of anything from two to eight.
There are at least 115 species of pine in the world. Read more about the many types of pine here.
Fir trees (Abies sp.)
Fir trees have needles that grow directly from the branch. If you pull a needle off, you will see a circular scar, as the base of the needle is shaped like a suction cup.
Each scale of a fir cone bears two winged seeds. Cones grow in an upright position.
Some species of fir include Silver Fir and California Red fir, as well as Nordmann Fir and Fraser Fir, which are classic Christmas tree favorites.
They are used for timber and ornamental purposes.
Other evergreen conifers
You may also find cedars in coniferous forests. Larch, cypress, and yew are all conifers. Larch is unusual for a conifer as it is deciduous. Yew is weird for a conifer, too. It has fleshy, berry-like structures instead of cones.
Below are the needles of European Larch.
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Native Plants in Coniferous Forests
Due to the low light levels and poor soils (which are both caused by and suitable for conifers), not many smaller herbaceous plants can survive in a coniferous forest. There are some hardy plants that can deal with this situation, however.
Mosses (Bryophyta sp.)
Mosses are adapted to live in damp and shady places. They can survive and photosynthesise in temperatures as low as minus 15 °C or as high as 40 °C. They don’t have roots, either.
They have rhizoids, which are like small hairs that can absorb nutrients from air and water.
Mosses help stabilize new environments, such as bare earth after a forest fire. They do this by retaining water. They also act like blankets, keeping the soil’s temperature steady.
Mosses are known as Bryophytes.
Grasses that can tolerate the acidic and shady conditions of a conifer forest include Arrow bamboo (Pseudosasa japonica).
Arrow bamboo is very tolerant of shade. It only grows in temperate conifer forests, such as those found in giant panda habitat.
Native Americans used to eat the edible fruits of the Saskatoon berry (Amelanchier alnifolia). It has another name: Western Serviceberry. It’s endemic to the Pacific Northwest. It provides important forage for elk, moose, and deer.
Salal (Gaultheria shallon) is another Pacific Northwestern shrub. It has leaves that can be used as a hunger suppressant. Bears, mice, insects, and birds all eat it.
Beaked Hazelnut (Corylus cornuta) is an edible nut-bearing shrub also from the Pacific Northwest. Both squirrels and people eat it.
How to Identify a Coniferous Forest Biome
Scientists such as meteorologists use various ways of measuring and observing to classify and identify areas of the Earth as a particular biome. Here are some ways of measuring climate.
- pH: The acidity of the soil can be tested with a pH test kit. If it is below 7, the pH is acidic, like a coniferous forest. If it is more than 7, the soil is alkaline.
- Precipitation: Rain is collected in a measurable container over a set period of time. Depending on the rainfall and temperature, a coniferous forest could be classified as boreal, temperate, subtropical, or tropical.
- Light intensity
- Observation: As mentioned above, certain types of plants and animals thrive in coniferous forests.
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- Dinosaurs ate conifers. In the Mesozoic era, conifers were the dominant plant on land.
- There is a thick belt of coniferous forest stretching all the way across the top of the Northern Hemisphere, from the US to Russia or Siberia.
- Most paper is made from conifers. Conifers can be very fast-growing. This makes them an economical source of timber and paper products. This is a big business in the US.
- Conifers retain their needles so that they can begin photosynthesising as soon as there is enough light in the Spring. Some conifers keep their needles for up to 15 years.
Coniferous Forest FAQs
Is a boreal forest the same as a coniferous forest?
The Boreal Forest is another name for the coniferous forest belt that runs along the Northern Hemisphere. In North America, this forest is called the “taiga.”
Boreal forests can also be found above a certain height in the Northern Hemisphere, in mountainous regions.
Are coniferous forests always cold?
Coniferous forests are often cold, but not always. There are temperate coniferous regions too, such as Japan and California.
There are even tropical coniferous forests, which are classified as a separate biome. You can find some of these in the Bahamas, Bermuda, and Nicaragua.
What is a biome?
A biome is a region of the Earth that has a specific climate, animals, soil, and vegetation.
According to the WWF (World Wide Fund for Nature), there are 26 biomes. It is still argued what exactly constitutes a biome and what makes an ecosystem or habitat. Learn more about the different types of biomes here.