Temperate forests are those found in the moderate climates between the tropics and boreal regions in both the Northern and Southern Hemisphere. They may also be called “four-season forests” because the mid latitude climates harboring them tend to experience four distinct seasons. A vast diversity of different forest types make up this broad category, from the broadly distributed temperate deciduous forests to pine woods and relatively geographically restricted temperate rain forests.
All forests have lots of trees, but there are different types of forests. They are often described as different biomes. One of the main differences is where they are located in relation to the equator and the poles. There are three main types of forest biomes: the rain forest, the temperate forest, and the Taiga. Rain forests are located in the tropics, near the equator. Taiga forests are located far north. Temperate rain forests are located in between.
What makes a forest a temperate forest?
- Temperature – Temperate means “not to extremes” or “in moderation”. In this case temperate is referring to the temperature. It never gets really hot (like in the rainforest) or really cold (like in the Taiga) in the temperate forest. The temperature is generally between minus 20 degrees F and 90 degrees F.
- Four seasons – There are four distinct seasons: winter, spring, summer, and fall. Each season is about the same length of time. With only a three month winter, plants have a long growing season.
- Lots of rain – There is lots of rain throughout the year, usually between 30 and 60 inches of rain.
- Fertile soil – Rotted leaves and other decaying matter provide a rich, deep soil that is good for trees to grow strong roots.
Where are the temperate forests located?
They are located in several locations around the world, around halfway between the equator and the poles.
Types of Temperate Forests
There are actually many types of temperate forests. Here are the main ones:
- Coniferous – These forests are made up mostly of conifer trees such as cypress, cedar, redwood, fir, juniper, and pine trees. These trees grow needles instead of leaves and have cones instead of flowers.
- Broad-leafed – These forests are made up of broad-leafed trees such as oak, maple, elm, walnut, chestnut, and hickory trees. These trees have big leaves that change color in the fall.
- Mixed coniferous and broad-leafed – These forests have a mix of conifers and broad-leafed trees.
Temperate forests have a wide range of temperatures that correlate with the distinctive seasons. Temperatures range from hot in the summer, with highs of 86 F, to extremely cold in the winter, with lows of -22 F. Temperate forests receive abundant amounts of precipitation, usually between 20 and 60 inches of precipitation annually. This precipitation is in the form of rain and snow.
Deciduous forests are typically found in the Northern Hemisphere. Some locations of temperate forests include:
- Eastern Asia
- Central and Western Europe
- Eastern United States
Due to abundant rainfall and thick soil humus, temperate forests are able to support a wide variety of plant life and vegetation. This vegetation exists in several layers, ranging from lichens and mosses on the ground layer to large tree species like oak and hickory that stretch high above the forest floor. Other examples of temperate forest vegetation include:
- Forest canopy tier: Maple trees, walnut trees, birch trees
- Small tree tier: Dogwoods, redbuds, shadbush
- Shrub tier: Azaleas, mountain laurel, huckleberries
- Herb tier: Blue bead lily, Indian cucumber, wild sarsaparilla
- Floor tier: Lichens and mosses
Mosses are nonvascular plants that play an important ecological role in the biomes they inhabit. These small, dense plants often resemble green carpets of vegetation. They thrive in moist areas and help to prevent soil erosion and also serve as a source of insulation during colder months. Unlike mosses, lichens are not plants. They are the result of symbiotic relationships between algae or cyanobacteria and fungi. Lichens are important decomposers in this environment littered with decaying plant material. Lichens help to recycle plant leaves, thus generating the fertile soil in this biome.
Temperate forests are home to a diverse wildlife biosystem including various insects and spiders, wolves, foxes, bears, coyotes, bobcats, mountain lions, eagles, rabbits, deer, skunks, squirrels, raccoons, squirrels, moose, snakes, and hummingbirds.
Temperate forest animals have many different ways to deal with the cold and lack of food in winter. Some animals hibernate during the winter and arise in spring when food is more plentiful. Other animals store food and burrow underground to escape the cold. Many animals escape the harsh conditions by migrating to warmer regions in winter.
Other animals have adapted to this environment by blending in with the forest. Some camouflage themselves as leaves, looking almost indistinguishable from the foliage. This type of adaptation comes in handy for both predators and prey.
Major Temperate Forests of the World
There are major temperate forests located around the world including:
- Eastern North America
- Eastern China
- Southeast Australia
- New Zealand
Plants of the Temperate Forests
The plants of the forests grow in different layers. The top layer is called the canopy and is made up of full grown trees. These trees form an umbrella throughout most of the year providing shade for the layers below. The middle layer is called the under story. The under story is made up of smaller trees, saplings, and shrubs. The lowest layer is the forest floor which is made up of wildflowers, herbs, ferns, mushrooms, and mosses.
The plants that grow here have some things in common.
- They lose their leaves – Many of the trees that grow here are deciduous trees, meaning they lose their leaves during the winter. There are a few evergreen trees as well that keep their leaves for the winter.
- Sap – many trees use sap to help them through the winter. It keeps their roots from freezing and is then used as energy in the spring to start growing again.
Animals of the Temperate Forests
There are a wide variety of animals that live here including black bears, mountain lions, deer, fox, squirrels, skunks, rabbits, porcupines, timber wolves, and a number of birds. Some animals are predators like mountain lions and hawks. Many animals survive off of nuts from the many trees like squirrels and turkeys.
Each species of animal has adapted to survive the winter.
- Remain active – Some animals stay active during the winter. There are rabbits, squirrels, fox, and deer which all stay active. Some are just good at finding food while others, like squirrels, store up and hide food during the fall that they can eat during the winter.
- Migrate – Some animals, like birds, migrate to a warmer place for the winter and then return home come springtime.
- Hibernate – Some animals hibernate or rest during the winter. They basically sleep for the winter and live off of fat stored in their body.
- Die and lay eggs – Many insects can’t survive the winter, but they lay eggs that can. Their eggs will hatch come spring.