Boreal Forests

Authored by: Jean-Pierre Saucier , Ken Baldwin , Pavel Krestov , Torre Jorgenson

Routledge Handbook of Forest Ecology

Print publication date:  October  2015
Online publication date:  October  2015

Print ISBN: 9780415735452
eBook ISBN: 9781315818290
Adobe ISBN: 9781317816447


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The boreal biome is one of the largest forested biomes on Earth and forms a circumpolar belt of forests and woodlands between the treeless arctic zone and the temperate zone. It is typically characterized by a cold continental climate with relatively short, mild summers and long, cold winters. About one-third of the biome occurs in the zone of permafrost (Brown et al. 1997). Boreal forests and woodlands represent approximately 33 per cent of the world’s forested area (FAO 2001). Boreal forests are dominated by a relatively few, primarily coniferous, genera (Picea, Abies, Larix, Pinus) that are adapted to cold temperatures, low nutrient conditions and recurrent stand-replacing disturbance. Short growing seasons and cold, acidic mineral soils under conifer canopies result in extensive feathermoss carpets on upland sites. Sphagnum mosses occupy landscape positions with permanently high water tables, resulting in acidic organic soils that often develop into peatlands. On both upland and lowland sites, decomposition rates are slow and nutrient cycling is typically restricted to the upper soil layers where oxygen and increased temperatures support microorganism and fungal metabolism. Understory vegetation of boreal forests is also dominated by a relatively few botanical families, especially the Ericaceae (the heath or blueberry family) which is adapted to cold, nutrient impoverished habitat conditions. With proximity to the oceans, winters become milder and summers cooler; snow covers the ground for longer periods and the growing season is shortened. In these oceanic boreal climates, conifers are generally absent and are replaced by birch (Betula spp.), alder (Alnus spp.) or ericaceous shrublands that can tolerate such harsh conditions.

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