30 Fascinating Facts About the Boreal Forest

boreal forest in Canada


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The boreal forest is the world's largest land-based biome. Spreading over continents and covering many countries, the boreal plays a significant role in the planet's biodiversity and even its climate. Here are 30 facts you want to know about this incredible space.

Origin of the Name

1. The boreal forest is named after Boreas, the Greek god of the Northwind.


taiga in winter photo

Becker0804 / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

2. The biome is known as boreal in Canada, but is also known as taiga, a Russian word. Taiga is most commonly used to refer to the biome's more barren northern locations while boreal is used for the more temperate, southern area (we're just using boreal for ease).

World Distribution

boreal forest map

Atomic Roderick / Shutterstock

The boreal covers most of inland Canada and Alaska, most of Sweden, Finland, and inland Norway, much of Russia, and the northern parts of Kazakhstan, Mongolia, and Japan.4. The boreal represents approximately 30% of the world's forest cover.

5. Canada contains 9% of the world's forests. 77% of Canadian forests are in the boreal zone.

6. The largest area of wetlands in any ecosystem of the world is found in the Canadian boreal region, containing more lakes and rivers than any similarly sized landmass on earth!

7. There are two major types of boreal forest -- the closed canopy forest in the South which has the longest, warmest growing season of the biome, and the high boreal forest with farther-spaced trees and lichen groundcover.

8. There is little rainfall in the boreal biome. Precipitation comes in the form of fog and snow, with a little rain during the summer months.


9. While typically low on biodiversity, the boreal around the globe supports a range of animals. Canada's boreal forest is home to 85 species of mammals, 130 species of fish, some 32,000 species of insects, and 300 species of birds.

10. In the spring, as many as 3 million birds migrate north to the boreal forest to breed.

11. Threatened and endangered wildlife within the Canadian boreal forest includes such iconic species as the woodland caribou, grizzly bear, and wolverine. Habitat loss from logging is a primary reason for the decline of these species.

12. Many animal and plant species inhabit both Asia's and North America's boreal forest, thanks to the Bering land bridge that once connected the two continents.

13. While some of the iconic animals living in boreal forests are very familiar, including wolves, bears, Arctic fox, and muskox, it might be surprising to remember that the Siberian Tiger also calls the Taiga home.

Siberian tiger photo

Daisyree Bakker / Flickr / CC BY 2.0

14. The great gray owl, North America's largest owl, is a year-round resident of Canada's boreal. What would a cold, coniferous forest be without a big, grey owl?

Weather and Climate Change

15. The boreal is cold. The lowest recorded temperatures in the Northern Hemisphere were recorded in the boreal (or taiga) of northeastern Russia. The town of Oimyakon has reached temperature as low as nearly -70°C in the northern areas during winter.

fires siberia photo

NASA Goddard Space Flight Center / Flickr /Public Domain

16. There is little rainfall in the boreal biome. Precipitation comes mostly in the form of snow, with a little rain during the summer months.

17. The zone of latitude occupied by the boreal forest has seen some of the most dramatic temperature increases, especially in winter and especially during the last quarter of the 20th century.

18, The warming trend threatens to transform the boreal forest area into grassland, parkland, or temperate forest, introducing a significant shift in species of both plants and animals.

19. Outbreaks of forest-destroying plagues have come in the form of spruce-bark beetles, aspen-leaf miners, larch sawflies, spruce budworms, and spruce cone worms -- all of which have been worsening in recent years due in large part to the warming of the average temperature.

20. The boreal forest stores enormous quantities of carbon, possibly more than the temperate and tropical forests combined, much of it in peatland.


21. The Canadian boreal emerged with the end of the last Ice Age about 12,000 years ago, with coniferous tree species migrating north. The forest as we know it today in terms of biodiversity took shape only a few thousand years ago -- a very short time ago in geological time scale.

22. Wildfires are an important part of the reproductive cycle for some species.

23. The trees of the boreal forest tend to have shallow roots, due to the thin soils.

24. The soils of the boreal forest are often acidic, due to falling pine needles, and low on nutrients since the cold temperatures do not allow much foliage to rot and turn into dirt.

dead lodgepole pine photo

vsmoothe / Flickr / CC BY 2.0


25. To date, only 12% of the boreal forest is protected around the globe -- and over 30% has already been designated for logging, energy and other development.

26. Logging has played its role in the boreal forest, with large swaths of Siberia's taiga harvested for lumber after the fall of the Soviet Union. Meanwhile, in Canada, logging companies are under constraints, yet many still practice clearcutting, a strategy that in some cases is harsh on the forest ecosystem.

27. Most companies harvesting timber in Canada are certified by third parties, such as the Forest Stewardship Council or Sustainable Forestry Initiative. You will often see "FSC" or "SFI" certified on products made from sustainably harvested wood.

28. In 2010, an historic agreement among 20 major timber companies and 9 environmental groups brought about a plan to protect 170 million acres of boreal forest in Canada. It was named the Canadian Boreal Forest Agreement.

Aurora Borealis

aurora over cabin photo

heatherbuckly.co.uk / Flickr /CC BY 2.0

29. The word "boreal" might be most familiar because of the phenomenon aurora borealis, or Northern Lights, which is a natural light display seen in high latitudes.

The aurora borealis was named after the Roman goddess of dawn, Aurora, and the Greek name for the north wind, Boreas, by Pierre Gassendi in 1621. However, the Cree call this phenomenon the "Dance of the Spirits".

30. While the aurora borealis can cause changes in temperature and wind inside and near the aurora, none of these disturbances reach down to where the weather takes place and so it does not impact any of the boreal, or taiga, over which it occurs.

View Article Sources
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  13. Changes Since the Last Ice Age.” National Aeronautics and Space Administration.

  14.  “7 facts on disturbances and deforestation.” Government of Canada.

  15. Boreal Forest Ecology.” Yale School of the Environment.

  16. Deluca, Thomas H., and Celine Boisvenue. “Boreal Forest Soil Carbon: Distribution, Function and Modelling.” Forestry: An International Journal of Forest Research, vol. 85, 2012, pp. 161–184., doi:10.1093/forestry/cps003

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  19. Axelrod, Joshua and Lance Larson. “Pandora’s Box: Clearcutting in the Canadian Boreal Unleashes Millions of Tons of Previously Uncounted Carbon Dioxide Emissions.” Natural Resources Defense Council.

  20. Forest Certification in Canada.” Government of Canada.

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