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LOCATION: Taiga, also known as coniferous or boreal forest, is the largest terrestrial biome on earth. It extends in a broad band across North America, Europe, and Asia to the southern border of the arctic tundra. It is also found at cool, high elevations in the more temperate latitudes, for example, in much of the mountainous western region of North America. Much of the taiga in North America was once covered with glaciers. As the glaciers receded, cuts and depressions were left in the landscape that have since filled with rain creating lakes and bogs.

aWEATHER: Long, cold winters, and short, mild, wet summers are typical of this region. In the winter, chilly winds from the arctic cause bitterly cold weather in the taiga. The length of day also varies with the seasons. Winter days are short, while summer days are long because of the tilt of the earth on its axis. Fire is not uncommon in the taiga during the summer. Fires may seem destructive, but they actually help this biome by removing old sick trees, making room for new growth. Precipitation is relatively high in the taiga and falls as snow during the winter and rain during the summer. The total yearly precipitation in the taiga biome is 10 - 30 inches (25 - 75 cm).

PLANTS: Compared to other biomes, the taiga has less diversity in plant life. The most common type of tree found in the taiga is the conifer, or cone-bearing tree. Conifers, also known as evergreens, include pines, spruces and firs. There may also occasionally be deciduous species present, such as oak, birch, willow, or alder, in a particularly wet or disturbed area. The soil in the taiga is thin, acidic and not very nutrient rich. It also is rocky. Due to these factors, plants in the taiga have different adaptations than the plants we find around Santa Barbara.

The< name, evergreen, describes an important adaptation of conifers. Just like Kermit, they are always green! Because they don't drop their leaves in the winter, they don't have to regrow them in the spring. This is good for trees in a tough environment because growing new leaves takes a lot of energy. Another adaptation of conifers to live in the taiga has to do with their needles. Although the taiga has moderately high precipitation, the frozen winter ground makes it difficult for trees to get water. Having thin needles with a waxy coating limits water loss of the conifer through transpiration. The dark color of the pine needles is also important. What happens when you where a dark T-shirt on a sunny day? You get hot, right? This is because your dark shirt is absorbing energy from the sun. Well, the dark needles do the same thing for the evergreen. They help the tree absorb the maximum amount of energy from the sun for photosynthesis. Conifers also have that pointy shape for a good reason. The winter snow slides right off of their branches. Without this shape the heavy snow might break or damage the conifer branches.

bANIMALS: The cold climate of the taiga makes it a difficult place for many animals to live. Many have thick coats of fur to insulate against the cold, and some hibernate. Others migrate to warmer areas in the chilly winters. Animal populations are mainly seed-eating squirrels and jays; small mammals like ermine and moles; and larger browsing animals such as deer, moose, elk, and snowshoe hare. The bogs and ponds in the taiga provide a great summertime breeding place for many different insects. Migratory birds often come to the taiga to nest and feed on all these insects. The typical predators for this area are grizzly bears, wolves, lynxes and wolverines. These are pretty ferocious, so their prey must adapt to flourish. Some animals hide from predators by changing color to blend into the different summer and winter habitats. For example, the ermine is dark brown in the summer, but in the winter it turns white. What excellent camouflage!

PEOPLE AND THE TAIGA: There are a few large cities in the southern cparts of the taiga, such as Moscow and Toronto, but most of it is relatively unpopulated. There are also a few native communities of people who still live indigenously in the taiga. The major industries of the taiga include logging, mining, and hydroelectric development. These activities have had negative impacts on areas of this biome and may continue to negatively affect it in the future. A majority of the logging in the taiga is done by clear-cutting, using heavy machinery to remove much of the surrounding forest. Hydroelectric development may seem beneficial because it uses water to generate power, but it has damaged the taiga by changing stream habitats and flow patterns, and flooding large areas and changing the landscape. Mining is a concern because it may result in pollution of surrounding soils and water, specifically acid rain. Regrowth of mature forests takes a long time because of the climate and soil conditions of the taiga. Many large vertebrates who live in the taiga are sensitive to human presence, habitat alteration, and pollution. Two simple things you can do to help the taiga are learn more about this biome, and use paper wisely making sure to recycle. This will help reduce the need for logging of trees for pulp used to make paper.