In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Temperate Coniferous Forests

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Foundational Works
  • Defining the Temperate Coniferous Biome
  • Community Ecology
  • Ecosystem Processes
  • Paleoecology
  • Climate Change
  • Conservation and Research Initiatives

Ecology Temperate Coniferous Forests
Lee E. Frelich
  • LAST REVIEWED: 26 May 2023
  • LAST MODIFIED: 26 May 2023
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199830060-0162


Temperate conifer forests are geographically and taxonomically diverse, occurring on five continents (North America, Europe, Asia, South America, and Africa). They contain some of the most iconic forests and tree species on the planet. Superlative examples include the rainforests of Douglas-fir, Sitka spruce, red cedar, and hemlock in the US Pacific Northwest and adjacent Canada, the largest known trees (giant sequoia), and the tallest known trees (Coast redwood) in California, and Fitzroya that live more than three thousand years in Chile. Elsewhere, conifer forests of lesser stature occupy vast tracts of land within the Earth’s temperate climate zones. Much of the forest has been logged, so that very little primary forest remains, and, in some regions, much of the forest has been converted to other land uses such as agriculture and cities. There are interesting biogeographic phenomena, such as physiognomically similar hemlock forests that occur in isolated areas, including the far western United States, northeastern United States, China, and Japan. Pine forests are a very important part of the temperate conifer biome, and they include a large variety of fire dependent forests composed of many pine species throughout much of North America, Europe, and Asia. Artificial conifer forests of Norway spruce and Scots pine occupy much of Europe, including sites that formerly supported deciduous hardwood forests, while plantation forests of loblolly pine occupy much of the southeastern United States, where they replace more complex natural forests that include loblolly along with other pine and hardwood species. Because of the proximity of temperate forests to large metropolitan areas and industrial areas, they provide a large quantity of forest products, such as timber and paper; constitute critical wildlife habitat; and meet the recreational needs of millions of people. Finally, these forests are in regions that will be heavily impacted by climate change. It is likely that the temperate zones will move poleward by several hundred kilometers by the end of the twenty-first century, and conservation issues related to overuse and fragmentation will be exaggerated by the changing climate and need for temperate species to migrate long distances.

General Overviews

Few general overviews exist for temperate conifer forest, which is often lumped in with temperate deciduous forest (or temperate hardwood forest) and presented as the more general category, temperate forest. Nevertheless, a short overview is given in Waring 2002, and although Frelich, et al. 2015 covers temperate forests as mentioned above, it also provides significant coverage of conifer forests. Temperate rainforests in the Western Hemisphere, which include some coniferous forest types in North and South America, are characterized in Alaback 1991, while Beard 1990 examines temperate forests throughout the Southern Hemisphere. Ellenberg 2009, Franklin and Halpern 2000, and Peet 2000 provide regional overviews of forests (including temperate conifer forests) in Europe, the Pacific Northwest, and the Rocky Mountains of North America, respectively. The one comprehensive work is Andersson 2005, which covers all of the world’s coniferous forests in detail.

  • Alaback, P. B. 1991. Comparative ecology of temperate rainforests of the Americas along analogous climatic gradients. Revista Chilena de Historia Natural 64:399–412.

    Temperate rainforests of western North America and Chile are defined, mapped, and compared with respect to climate, physiographic setting, diversity, disturbance, and succession.

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

    A comprehensive overview of the world’s conifer-dominated forests. Chapters 4, 5, 6, and 7 cover non-boreal coniferous forests of Europe, Asia, North America, and South America, respectively.

  • Beard, J. S. 1990. Temperate forests of the southern hemisphere. Vegetatio 89:7–10.

    DOI: 10.1007/BF00134430

    Brief overview places the temperate coniferous forests in the context of other temperate forests throughout the Southern Hemisphere, and also recaps the development of temperate forests and reasons for their existence and persistence during the Tertiary period.

  • Ellenberg, H. 2009. Vegetation ecology of central Europe. 4th ed. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge Univ. Press.

    Comprehensive examination and classification of European vegetation includes sections on the temperate conifer forests of pine, spruce, larch, and fir that occur in the mountains, as well as artificial plantations of pine and spruce that are common in Europe.

  • Franklin, J. F., and C. B. Halpern. 2000. Pacific Northwest forests. In North American terrestrial vegetation. 2d ed. Edited by M. G. Barbour and W. D. Billings, 123–160. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge Univ. Press.

    The environmental settings, composition, and successional dynamics of temperate conifer forests are covered, including hemlock, cedar, fir, pine, Sitka spruce, sequoia, and Douglas-fir from the northwestern United States through Canada and southern Alaska.

  • Frelich, L. E., R. A. Montgomery, and J. Oleksyn. 2015. Northern temperate forests. In Routledge handbook of forest ecology. Edited by K. S. H. Peh, R. T. Corlett, and Y. Bergeron, 30–45. London and New York: Routledge.

    A compact overview of the climate, biogeography, ecological processes, and conservation issues of the temperate biome in the Northern Hemisphere.

  • Peet, R. K. 2000. Forests and meadows of the Rocky Mountains. In North American terrestrial vegetation. 2d ed. Edited by M. G. Barbour and W. D. Billings, 75–122. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge Univ. Press.

    Expert coverage of temperate conifer forests that exist between the grasslands at low elevations and alpine forests at high elevations in the mountains of the western United States, Mexico, and Canada. This includes forests of juniper, hemlock, cedar, Ponderosa and other pines, and Douglas-fir.

  • Waring, R. H. 2002. Temperate coniferous forests. In Encyclopedia of global environmental change. Vol. 2, The Earth system: Biological and ecological dimensions of global environmental change. Edited by H. Mooney and J. Canadell, 560–565. Chichester, UK: John Wiley.

    A brief overview of temperate coniferous forests, including their evolution, geographic distribution, physiological adaptations, ecological processes, and responses to air pollution and increasing CO2.

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