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Abiotic Elements in the Boreal Forest

written by: Terrie Schultz•edited by: Rebecca Scudder•updated: 6/30/2011

Abiotic factors such as temperature, sunlight and precipitation play an important role in the boreal forest biome. Learn about the abiotic factors in the boreal forest.

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    Some of the Abiotic Factors in the Boreal Forest

    Taiga, or Boreal Forest 

    The boreal forest, also known as the taiga, is a biome that is primarily found in the northern regions of the world, including Eurasia, northern Europe and North America. It lies between the tundra of the far north and the deciduous forests and grasslands of the temperate zone.

    Abiotic means "without life." Abiotic factors are all of the non-living things that are components of a habitat, such as sunlight, temperature, rainfall and soil conditions. Abiotic factors play an important role in ecosystems because they determine the conditions in which the plants and animals live, and to which they must adapt.

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    The boreal forest has very long, cold winters and short, mild summers. Because of its northern location, cold air coming down from the arctic creates frigid winters that last for 6 or 7 months. Winter temperatures range from a high of 30 to a low of -65 degrees F (-1 to -54 degrees C), while in the summer, temperatures range from a high of 70 to a low of 30 degrees F (21 to -1 degrees C). Average temperatures remain below freezing for more than six months of the year, and the average overall yearly temperature is 32 degrees F (0 degrees C).

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    Since boreal forests are found in the northern regions, they may receive up to 20 hours of sunlight per day in the summer, while during the winter daylight is limited to just a few short hours. The conditions of long days and mild temperatures during the summer allow a rapid burst of plant growth, but the summer growing season lasts for only about 3 months before temperatures begin to drop.

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    The boreal forests receives between 20 and 200 centimeters (8 to 79 inches) of precipitation per year. Since the cold winter season is longer than the summer, most of the precipitation occurs in the form of snow.

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    Soil Conditions

    The soil of the boreal forest is acidic, due to fallen conifer needles that accumulate on the forest floor. It is also poor in nutrients, which limits the number and types of plants that are able to grow there to those that can tolerate such soil conditions. The ground is swampy or marshy in many parts of the boreal forest because the snow melts late in the spring and the short, cool and rainy summers do not allow the water on the ground to completely evaporate.

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    How Abiotic Factors in the Boreal Forest Affect Plants and Animals

    The abiotic factors in the boreal forest strongly affect the plants and animals that live there, making it necessary for them to adapt to the conditions of cold and snow for much of the year. The vegetation of the boreal forest is dominated by evergreen conifers such as fir, pin and spruce that have needles rather than leaves. This type of tree conserves energy by not having to regrow its leaves every spring, and also sheds snow more easily. Many of the animals of the boreal forest have adaptations for cold and snow, such as thick fur, wide paws and coat colors that change according to the season.

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    Blue Planet Biomes, Taiga

    The Boreal Forest Biome

    University of California Museum of Paleontology, The Forest Biome

    Image Credit: NOAA, Wikimedia Commons,

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