In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Boreal Biome

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Foundational Works
  • Defining the Boreal Biome
  • Paleoecology
  • Community Ecology
  • Ecosystem Processes
  • Peatlands and Floodplains
  • Climate Change
  • Conservation Initiatives

Ecology Boreal Biome
Lee E. Frelich
  • LAST REVIEWED: 21 February 2023
  • LAST MODIFIED: 21 February 2023
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199830060-0085


The boreal biome, with vast forests across northern North America, Europe, and Asia, has been of interest since the science of ecology got its start in the late 1800s. Many also refer to the boreal forest as “taiga,” and the two terms are considered interchangeable here. Scientists, conservationists, and forest managers have long realized that the difficulty of traveling in the remote territory of the boreal forest offers the chance to characterize the natural ecological function and design effective conservation strategies prior to large-scale exploitation by humans. There are key insights to be gained into ecological theories related to community structure, trophic structure, disturbance ecology, and landscape ecology. Large-scale intact boreal ecosystems allow studies of trophic interactions including top-level predators, landscape dynamics created by natural disturbance, and comparison of natural and human disturbance. Boreal forests reign supreme as places to study large-scale high-severity fires. Essentially, boreal forests have the room to make it possible to carry out studies that cannot be done in the temperate zones, where so much of the landscape has been converted to human usages. These forests also have a large impact on global ecology through interactions with the climate system, carbon storage, and timber resources. The global importance of the boreal forest in the context of global warming has propelled a rapidly growing investment in research during the last few decades.

General Overviews

Several synthetic works on boreal ecosystem dynamics bring together topics such as disturbance, climate, plant, and animal communities, nutrient cycling, and human impacts. These highlight long-standing areas of excellence in research on the boreal biome from Alaska in Chapin, et al. 2006; central North America in Heinselman 1996; and Scandinavia in Hari and Kulmala 2008. Larson 1980 synthesizes all of North America, while Andersson 2005 and Saucier, et al. 2015 present global syntheses that include North America and Eurasia.

  • Andersson, F., ed. 2005. Ecosystems of the world 6: Coniferous forests. Amsterdam: Elsevier.

    A comprehensive overview of the world’s conifer-dominated forests. Chapters 2 and 3 cover boreal forests of Eurasia and North America, respectively.

  • Chapin, F. S., M. W. Oswood, K. Van Cleve, L. A. Viereck, and D. L. Verblya, eds. 2006. Alaska’s changing boreal forest. New York: Oxford Univ. Press.

    A contemporary synthesis of history, community ecology, disturbance, landscape, and biogeochemical processes in the boreal forest of Alaska in the context of changing climate.

  • Hari, P., and L. Kulmala, eds. 2008. Boreal forest and climate change. Dordrecht, The Netherlands: Springer.

    DOI: 10.1007/978-1-4020-8718-9

    A synthesis of boreal forest ecosystem processes related to carbon balance, water, nutrients, and the atmosphere from scientists at the University of Helsinki. A model of boreal forest ecosystem response to changing climate is developed, along with discussion of interactions between the boreal forest and climate.

  • Heinselman, M. L. 1996. The boundary waters wilderness ecosystem. Minneapolis: Univ. of Minnesota Press.

    An integrative look at the boreal forest of northern Minnesota, including fire history, successional patterns after disturbance, pre- and post-European settlement human history, climate, geology, physiography, soils, wildlife ecology, and potential responses to climate change.

  • Larson, James A. 1980. The boreal ecosystem. New York: Academic Press.

    A general work on many aspects of the boreal forest, including history, climate, soils, plant communities, nutrient cycling, forest productivity, and forest economy. The book concentrates on the North American boreal forest but contains many references to Eurasian boreal forests.

  • Saucier, J -P., K. Baldwin, P. Krestov, and T. Jorgenson. 2015. Boreal forests. In Routledge handbook of forest ecology. Edited by K. S. -H. Peh, R. T. Corlett, and Y. Bergeron, 7–29. London: Routledge.

    A global synthesis of knowledge about boreal forest ecosystems. Presents an excellent overview of the floristic subdivisions of the boreal biome, disturbance dynamics, and threats to the boreal forest.

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