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The taiga biome is an ecosystem specific to the far northern areas of North America, Europe, and Asia.

It is characterized by long, cold winters, short, cool summers, and lots of coniferous trees. Learn more about these regions and take a quiz at the end.

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Is Your Home a Biome?

When you walk outside your front door and look around, what do you see? For example, what types of trees are there? What is the temperature like? Do you see any animals scampering about? Of course, there are many different answers to these questions. The fact is, the Earth we live on is vastly different depending on where you are. Some of you may look around and see cactus and parched earth, because you live in a desert. Others may see a large expanse of trees because you live near a forest.

Although you may not know it, you live in a biome. In this lesson, we’ll learn about biomes and explore the largest land biome in the world. It is called the taiga biome, and we will learn more about where it is and who lives there.

Overview of Biomes

A biome is a geographical region on Earth that has a particular climate, vegetation, and animal life. It has its own ecosystem, with organisms adapted to living there. Deserts, rainforests, and grasslands are all examples of biomes. Each of these areas is located in a particular region on Earth and has a unique climate as well as unique plant and animal life.

Let’s take a quick look at a biome that is very well known: the tropical rainforest. A rainforest has a warm and very wet climate, thick vegetation, and is located near the equator. Now, it is because the rainforest is located near the equator that it has those particular qualities. Could we find rainforest biomes in Canada or New England? Of course not.

Temperatures are too cold in these northern regions, and the climate would not be conducive to a rainforest.Biomes also have specific types of vegetation and animals that are adapted to living in that particular climate. We would certainly not find large deciduous trees in the Sahara Desert – there’s not enough rain there to support leafy trees. It would also be highly unlikely to happen upon rainforest animals, such as wild chimpanzees or Bengal tigers roaming the frozen tundra.

These animals are adapted to live in warm temperatures, not cold. Although there is sometimes some overlap, each biome is essentially unique in the organisms found there.

Location and Climate of Taiga Biome

Now that we know what a biome is, let’s take a closer look at the taiga biome. Taiga is a Russian word meaning ‘swampy forest.

‘ The taiga is located only in the Northern hemisphere and covers 27% of the Earth’s surface. It stretches across the top of North America and Eurasia, covering most of Canada and Russia. It’s so far north that it begins just where the tundra ends.You may be familiar with tundra being a frozen land of ice and snow.

Since the taiga biome is located just south of it, you can imagine that it is a fairly cold region. Taiga can also be found at high elevations in mountainous regions that are farther south, like the mountains of Western North America.From a climate standpoint, if you enjoy balmy temperatures, the taiga may not be the place for you. Since it is so far north, it is chilly, even in the summer.

Summer temperatures don’t get much higher than 70 degrees. Winter is very long and cold, with approximately six months of temperatures averaging below zero.There is a great deal of snow on the ground during the winter, and this snow actually serves an important purpose for certain animals. The snow insulates the ground, keeping it from reaching the state of permafrost that is characteristic of the tundra. Therefore, small mammals can scamper through snow tunnels at ground level in order to forage and survive the harsh winter.

Vegetation of the Taiga

The dominant types of vegetation found in the taiga are coniferous trees. Conifers are those that have needles instead of leaves and are usually evergreen.

They are hardy and tough and can withstand the harsh temperatures and conditions of the taiga.Fir trees, spruces, and pines dot the landscape of the taiga, as do a few deciduous trees such as birch and alder. Because of the extreme conditions, there is not exactly an abundance of vegetation.One other interesting point about the taiga is that in the summer, when the snow melts, the terrain becomes swampy. Remember when we mentioned that taiga is Russian for ‘swampy forest?’ This is the reason why.

At one time, there were large glaciers covering this area. Once the glaciers melted away, large depressions were left in the ground. These fill with rainwater and melted snow, creating bogs.

Animals of the Taiga

Many animals that you might associate with the forest live in the taiga. You will find browsing mammals, such as deer, moose, and elk, in these regions.

There are also squirrels and chipmunks, as well as various members of the weasel family. Others include snowshoe hares, beavers, and porcupines. The larger predators are also there, including grizzly bears, wolves, lynx, and wolverines.

These are all hardy animals that are adapted to living in this type of climate and environment.One adaptation that serves some of these animals well is the change of color of their coat in the winter. A relative of the weasel, the ermine, as well as the snowshoe hare, turn from brown to pure, snowy white in the winter. Imagine how much easier it is for these animals to hide from predators when they blend in so well with the snow. Additionally, some animals, like the lynx and snowshoe hare, have large paws that act as snowshoes to help them maneuver through deep snow.

But there are more creatures to be found in the taiga. The swamps and bogs that come forth in the summer serve as prime breeding grounds for various insects. Thus, as the insect population thrives, it attracts visiting migratory birds who feast on them. There are also birds, such as jays and nutcrackers, who can feed on the seeds of the native vegetation.

Lesson Summary

The taiga is a biome located in the high latitudes of North America, Europe, and Asia. The taiga has long, cold winters and short, cool summers.

Vegetation consists primarily of coniferous trees and some deciduous trees. There are many animals adapted to live in the taiga, including deer, bears, insects, and birds.

Key Terms

  • biome: a geographical region on Earth that has a particular climate, vegetation, and animal life
  • taiga: a Russian word meaning ‘swampy forest’; a biome located in the high latitudes of North America, Europe, and Asia. The taiga has long, cold winters and short, cool summers
  • coniferous: trees that have needles instead of leaves and are usually evergreen; able to withstand harsh climate conditions
The taiga biome has long, cold winters and short, cool summers.
Taiga

Learning Outcomes

Upon completion of this lesson, you should be able to:

  • Define biome
  • Locate the taiga biome geographically
  • Identify and describe the flora and fauna found in the taiga

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