Found across the cool climes of the Northern Hemisphere, from North America across Western and Eastern Europe as far as Japan, two types of temperate forests call our planet home: deciduous and coniferous.
Soil-rich deciduous forests exist in an age-old cycle of growth and regrowth, losing their leaves in the autumn before regaining them in the spring, their colours reflecting the four distinct seasons of the year and providing a glorious backdrop for anyone lucky enough to visit.
Our deciduous forests are the lungs of the planet, helping us to breathe and providing a rich habitat for everything from bears, racoons and deer to snakes, snails and spiders. Over two billion people rely on deciduous forests, and these habitats are working hard every day to mitigate the effects of climate change, decrease soil erosion, and provide food, fuel and protection. It isn’t an exaggeration to say that we rely on them for our continued survival.
Meanwhile, evergreen coniferous forests spread for miles across the coldest and driest swathes of our planet, adapting to survive throughout the seasons. These hardy landscapes are built to withstand the coldest of weathers - from the most remote parts of Canada, across northern Europe, to the vast mountain ranges of Asia and the distant climes of Siberia.
Found in our most northern regions, blasts of Arctic air keep evergreen coniferous forests cold in winter and cool in summer. Winter snow and rain in the warmer months help to keep the level of moisture needed to sustain life in this seemingly harsh environment.
Making up one third of the planet’s forests, fast-growing evergreen coniferous forests are essential stores for the world’s carbon. As the planet warms and we face increasingly warmer temperatures, the planting of evergreen trees such as pines over broadleaf trees that store less carbon is being encouraged.
Covering almost 10 million square kilometres, temperate forests are packed with life - and the ecosystems found within them are essential to the continued maintenance of life on Earth.
- Deciduous trees
- High precipitation
- Little sunlight
- Broadleaved trees, creating a canopy
- Moisture-rich, acidic soil
- Flowering plants
- Stratum (the tallest trees)
- Small trees and saplings
- Ground plants
- Tall evergreen trees
- Cones and pines
- Understories (smaller trees and shrubs)
- Mountainous landscapes
- Cool and moist temperatures
- Heavy snow
- Shallow, acidic soil
- Shallow tree roots
Temperate forests are at risk of logging, and agriculture and urbanisation have threatened their existence for hundreds of years. Only a small percentage of the deciduous forests that were thriving a few hundred years ago still exist, and they are spread out over wide areas. It is estimated that the planet is losing an acre of evergreen coniferous forest every 12.9 seconds.
The consequences of deforestation and logging include loss of habitats for bird, animal and plant life, as well as human conflicts such as poverty and forced movement away from a traditional way of life for indigenous people.
Fires, droughts and hurricanes are causing destruction to large forested areas in countries across the world. As the planet heats up, the cold landscapes that evergreen coniferous forests need to survive could be diminished.
Our warming planet has also already seen the reality of forest fires, which is a particular threat in Siberia, where two thirds of the planet’s evergreen coniferous forests are found - a serious issue, as these habitats store much of the world’s carbon.
A trip to a temperate forest can provide a great opportunity to get close to nature, whether you’re wild camping, animal tracking, or foraging in order to cook your own food. Walking, hiking and cycling are popular activities, and there are some incredible locations in which to do that if you’re seeking an adventure. The Great Smoky Mountains National Park and the Eastern Deciduous Forest Region, both in the USA, can provide a wealth of opportunity for exploration - the latter spreads its canopies across 26 states. In Europe, this kind of habitat can be found in large swathes of Germany, France and the Czech Republic, as well as on a smaller scale throughout the continent. Further south, Mediterranean forests are ripe with fruit and have been named ‘the orchards of the world.’ Remember, though: these habitats are delicate. Leave only footprints.
The otherworldly landscapes created by the coniferous forest often mean stunning vistas that can be far-removed from our own. Activities when exploring a coniferous or evergreen forest might include scuba diving or canoeing on the forest’s many lakes in summer, as well as ice-skating in winter. In Canada and Alaska, wide-open spaces with mountains, lakes and numerous opportunities to spot wildlife make the landscape a perfect spot for camping, fishing and sailing.
Off the water, a trip to an evergreen coniferous forest is likely to be a great opportunity for mountain climbing or skiing, and you could even organise a wildlife-spotting tour if you want to get as close as possible to the landscape’s often mysterious inhabitants. Dog-sledding can be a thrilling way to take in the landscape that these habitats have to offer. Get ready to feel like you’re stepping into the pages of a fairytale.
In the temperate forest, colours are at their most glorious in the autumn, before the leaves are shed. In the spring, new life abounds. Characteristics that will make you stop and stare include ancient trees, waterfalls, open glades, cliff faces and lakes. The dense pine woodland of the coniferous temperate forest often gives way to stunning landscapes that are almost untouched by human life. Lake Baikal in the mountains of Siberia, the deepest lake in the world, is surrounded by hiking trails and stretches almost as far as the eye can see - truly a breathtaking experience.
Temperate forests are home to a wealth of life, from hawks, owls, bears, wolves, moose, red foxes and deer to snakes, frogs, spiders, mice, crossbills and numerous types of insect. Both large and small mammals, as well as numerous bird species and many varieties of cold-blooded vertebrates, have adapted to thrive in the temperate forest.
Temperate forest habitats are alive with miles upon miles of trees. Beech, birch, chestnut, oak, maple, elm and aspen are found in deciduous forests, whilst spruce, fir, larch, hemlock, cedar, and pine are some of the most common examples found in evergreen coniferous forests. Plants on the forest floor include wildflowers, moss, ferns, and various types of shrub.
Temperate forests are found across the cool northern hemisphere, from North America to Western Asia. Canada and the northern United States, parts of Mexico, most countries in northern Europe, parts of Russia, and Japan, South and North Korea and China all have the temperature that allows this habitat to thrive. Siberia is home to one third of all the evergreen coniferous forests on the planet.