By James Stuart, eHow Contributor
The taiga is an ecosystem, or biome, that makes up a significant part of Canada and the northern regions of Asia and Europe. The taiga is the world's largest biome and primarily comprises coniferous trees, which are made up of needles and stay green year round. The taiga biome is also known as the boreal forest.
The taiga has a very cold climate with winter temperatures as low as minus-54 degrees Celsius. Summer temperatures reach as high as 21 C. On average, the taiga gets 12 to 33 inches of annual precipitation. Despite the cold temperatures, snow is uncommon, and most of this precipitation comes in the form of rainfall during the humid summers. Taiga ecosystems are found in northern locales where the tilt of the earth ensures long nights and short days in the winter.
Trees and Plants
Taiga areas are made up primarily of evergreen trees. These trees have developed several methods of coping with the extreme climates of the north. Evergreen trees have needles instead of leaves, which help keep the trees warm in the winter. Wildfires are common in the taiga, and coniferous trees have evolved thick trunks that are resistant to fire. Most other plants find it difficult to survive in these conditions, but moss and lichen thrive.
Animals living in the tundra have evolved to cope with, or avoid, the harsh winter conditions. Some, like grizzly bears, spend the fall eating huge quantities of food in preparation to hibernate through the long winters. Other animals, such as bobcats and red foxes, are adept at hunting out the hidden habitats of rodents. Most of these animals have thick coats of fur to protect them from the cold. In the summer, insects flood into the taiga and birds, including the bald eagle, migrate north to feast.
Cold annual temperatures mean that organic material decomposes very slowly in the taiga. Dead plant material blankets the ground, giving it a spongy texture. This also makes the soil low in nutrients. Boreal forests tend to be very dark, as the thick canopy allows very little light to reach the ground. In some parts of the world, extensive logging has put this biome and its plant and animal life at risk.
The Taiga is one of the three main forest biomes. The other two are the temperate forest and the tropical rainforest. The taiga is the driest and coldest of the three. The taiga is sometimes called the boreal forest or the coniferous forest. It is the largest of all the land biomes.
What makes a forest a taiga forest?
The taiga has several characteristics that distinguish it from the other forest biomes:
• Evergreen trees - This forest is covered with evergreen, or coniferous, trees. These are trees that don't drop their leaves, or needles, in the winter. They keep their leaves so they can soak up as much sunlight for as long as possible. The dark green color of their leaves also helps them to soak up more sun and gain more energy through photosynthesis.
• Cold weather - The taiga has the coldest weather of the forest biomes. Winters can get as cold as -60 degrees F. Winter can last for six months with the temperature averaging below freezing. Summers are warmer, but very short.
• Dry - The precipitation is only slightly more than the desert or the tundra. Average precipitation is between 12 and 30 inches per year. It falls as rain in the summer and snow in the winter.
• Thin layer of soil - Because the leaves don't fall from the trees, like in the temperate forest, the layer of good soil is thin. Also, the cold weather causes a slow rate of decay taking it longer for nutrients to get back into the soil.
• Short growing season - With a long winter and short summer, plants don't have a lot of time to grow in the taiga. The growing season only lasts for around three months. This compares to at...