Temperate forests grow between the tropics
and the polar regions in both the Northern and Southern Hemispheres.
They have four distinct seasons with a well-defined winter. Temperate forests
have a moderate climate.
They are home to many plant and animal species. Much of the food humans eat
is grown in areas where temperate forests have been cleared and farms now exist.
If you don’t live in the tropics, chances are a temperate forest once
was growing where you are right now. Temperate forests are also where many
of our favorite foods first came from. Walnuts, apples, mushrooms, and maple
sugar are all foods of the temperate forest.
The soil in temperate forests is rich in nutrients. Temperate forests are
often cleared to make way for farms, houses, and golf courses.
Trees of Temperate Forests
Temperate forests include a mix of trees
that belong to three main groups.
lose their leaves when the days grow shorter and the weather turns cold. The
leaves grow back when the weather warms in the spring and the days grow longer.
Trees like maples, oaks, chestnuts, beeches, and elms are examples of deciduous
have seeds that develop in cones. These trees usually have needles for leaves.
The trees lose the needles gradually so that the tree is never bare. Coniferous
trees are also called evergreens,
because they are green all the time. Pines, firs, and cedars are examples of
evergreens grow in temperate forests in warm parts of the world
like New Zealand, Australia, southwest South America, and the Mediterranean.
These trees have flat, leathery leaves. These trees do not lose their leaves
in the winter. The leaves are waxy, which helps keep them from losing too
much water in winter when the air is dry. Olive, holly, tea, and eucalyptus
trees are all broad–leaved evergreens.
Animals like koalas and wallabies are temperate forest species that live
in the warmer, broad-leaved evergreen forests of Australia.
In Temperate Forests, Litter Is a Good Thing
Fallen leaves create leaf litter. Leaf litter is one of the most important
parts of the temperate forest. This is where the forest recycles most of its nutrients.
Inside and beneath this leaf litter, thousands of small animals live, including
many invertebrates like
beetles, millipedes, centipedes, and ants. Unseen microscopic creatures such
as fungi and bacteria live
there, too. All these organisms help
break the leaf litter into nutrients other plants and animals can use.
A Different Look Each Season
Seasons change the look of temperate forests
every few months. The four seasons are winter, spring, summer, and fall.
Winter - Forests may look rather lifeless during this time, especially
if the forest is made up mainly of deciduous trees. Most wildlife hides from
the cold or flies far away to warmer places. Many temperate forests are blanketed
in snow for much of the winter.
Spring – Days begin to lengthen and get warmer. Wildlife slowly
returns and new leaf and flower buds appear on deciduous trees. Insects hatch
and become food for many returning birds and
awakening rodents and reptiles.
Summer – The forest is green and food is plentiful. Woodland
animals have babies. The forest is awake and busy during the day and night.
Fall – As daylight shortens and temperatures fall, deciduous
trees reduce the amount of green chlorophyll in
their leaves. The leaves turn orange, yellow, red, and brown. Falling leaves
create thick leaf litter on the forest floor that will be recycled into
the soil. Animals store nuts and other food resources for
the winter when there will be very little food.
Temperate forests have four distinct seasons: winter, spring, summer, and
fall. Each season has different temperatures and weather patterns.
©G.Ellis/GLOBIO.org/©Flow Simulation Ltd.
Each forest receives a different amount of precipitation in
the form of rain and snow. Temperate forests consisting mainly of broad-leaved
evergreens receive the least. Most forests get their precipitation in winter
and spring. Annual precipitation in temperate forests ranges from 75-150
cm a year.
A Temperate Forest from Top to Bottom
Temperate forests can be divided into three
layers: the canopy, understory,
and forest floor.
Open up the forest below to discover more.
Temperate Forest Creatures
Many of the animal species we know and recognize
live in temperate forests. In Australia, koalas, possums, wallabies, wombats,
kookaburras, and many small marsupials depend
on the forest. In Europe, boars, badgers, squirrels, and songbirds live in
temperate forests. In Canada and the United States, deer, bears,
mountain lions, bobcats, rabbits, woodpeckers, and many smaller birds make
the temperate forest their home. In China,
endangered species such as giant
pandas and red
pandas survive in the temperate forest.
Wildlife in temperate forests is not always easy to see. Many species have
markings or coloring that camouflages them.
Others are nocturnal,
that is, they are most active at night. Owls, bats, possums, and many wild
cats are nocturnal.
A Food Supply That Comes and Goes
Food supply affects when and where most wildlife
is found. In the spring and summer, food is plentiful, and the weather is mild.
Most animals have babies during this time of the year. In winter, plants go dormant,
insects disappear, and there are no fruits or flowers. Very little food is
available during the winter months. For this reason, most wildlife either sleeps
in a den or nest or migrates to
a warmer place.
Valuable Timber and Rich Soil
Temperate forests are important for people, too. Many trees that people use
for timber to make houses, ships, and furniture grow in temperate forests.
Trees from temperate forests are also used to make paper and other products.
The land beneath these forests is often very rich and good for farming. People
have cut many temperate forests to make space for farms.
Nature’s Cleaning Service
Temperate forests provide people with many more resources than just wood and
farmland. Clean air and clean water are direct benefits of a healthy forest.
In countries like Australia, protection of temperate forests is critical to
maintaining clean water. In areas where the forest has been clear
cut, the soil loses it nutrients and may wash away. Over time, few plants
can grow anymore and the land looks like a desert.
In the last 30 years, scientists have discovered
that air pollution from factories, coal-burning power plants, cars, and other
sources mixes with rain to make acid rain. Over time, acid rain kills trees
and other plants.
Conservation of areas of temperate forest can protect many species that
call the forest home, like this endangered northern spotted owl.
An Uncertain Future
Conservation of temperate forests is important but difficult to carry out.
People often demand that their needs come before those of wildlife and the
long-term health of the forests. This approach could mean that in the future
the only large areas of temperate forest will be those protected in national
parks and sanctuaries.